How available is credit for U.S. consumers and how are we using it? Our research team investigates the trends in statistics
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Access to credit is one of the backbones of the American economy, but who uses credit, and how much credit is being used?
Percentage of consumers applying for credit is high
The June 2017 New York Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Expectations found that 43.6 percent of respondents applied for credit during the previous year, which was the highest level since the survey began in 2013.1At the same time, only 25.5 percent reported they were likely to apply for credit in the next year, the lowest level the survey has ever recorded.1
In addition, a survey by FICO reveals that the millennial generation is not as credit-averse as some have speculated. It found that 83 percent of people aged 25-34 use credit cards, with about half reporting they have at least three cards.2
When millennials were asked whether they expect to use credit cards over the next five years, 77 percent said they were “very likely” to keep doing so, and 37 percent said they were “very likely” to apply for a new credit card in the next six months following the survey.2
Between June 2016 and June 2017, 34.4 percent of those 40 years old and younger had applied for a credit card, while only 31.4 percent of 41- to 59-year-olds and 23.1 percent of those 60 or older had put in applications.1
|Average number of credit cards by age:|
Average number of credit cards by age
Average number of retail cards by age
Number of consumers rejected for credit climbs
The New York Fed also reported that in June 2017, 29.5 percent of respondents reported applying for credit. Of those, 24.8 percent of applicants reported being rejected, and 37.7 percent of individual applications were denied.3
Yet this doesn’t seem to have affected consumers’ appetite for new credit.
For example, the share of those surveyed who said that they were too discouraged to apply for credit over the past 12 months despite needing it, decreased from 7.1 percent in February to 5.1 percent in June – the lowest reading since the start of the Credit Access Survey in October 2013.3
Are credit limits rising or falling?
Just as consumers’ access to new credit accounts is an important indicator of credit access, it’s also helpful to look at the average credit limits, including existing accounts.
The TransUnion Q1 2017 Industry Insight Report shows that the average total credit line for those with the highest credit scores, called super-prime consumers, was $33,371 in the first quarter of 2017.4
In the first quarter of 2017, average total credit lines increased by $4,195 for super-prime consumers (since the first quarter of 2010), and a more modest $146 for those categorized as prime-plus. Those seen as prime, near prime, and subprime saw their average credit lines fall since Q1 2010, by $967, $651 and $1,069 respectively.4
For almost half of subprime borrowers (those with credit scores below 620), card limits sit at about $2,000.5
By comparison, 30 percent of borrowers with credit scores between 620 and 659 have limits below $2,000, and 84 percent of borrowers with scores of 780 or higher have limits greater than $10,000.5
Credit utilization rates
It should come as no surprise that the total amount of credit card debt in the United States peaked at the height of the credit crisis (2009) at $865 billion. By 2014, credit card debt fell to $648 billion, but it has climbed since then.6 In fact, the total amount of outstanding revolving debt exceeded $1 trillion at the start of 2017.10
On an individual level, the average credit card balance per consumer in 2016 was $5,551, and our credit utilization rates remained the same at 30 percent. 7
|Credit card balance distribution by credit score, Q2 2016|
|<500 500-999 1,000-4,999 5,000-14,999 15,000-29,999 30,000+|
|Revolving credit card utilization by age:|
The average overall nonmortgage debt per consumer as of the end of 2016 was $39,216.7
How often do Americans use their credit cards?
The overall use of credit cards has fluctuated with the business cycle. Measured by the share of individuals with at least one card, participation peaked in the second quarter of 2008 at 68 percent of borrowers and then declined sharply to 59 percent during the Great Recession.5
How good your credit score is will determine how likely you are to use your credit card. For example, Americans with good or excellent credit scores didn’t see a large drop in card usage during the last recession.
According to an August 2016 Federal Reserve of New York study, those with credit scores of 780 or above had relatively flat rates of credit card usage over the last decade, at about 88 percent.5
Those on the other end of the spectrum, with credit scores of below 620 or 620-659, saw credit card usage rates plummet following the 2008-2009 credit crisis. And while these credit card usage rates are rebounding, they still haven’t come close to the levels of a decade ago.5
About half of borrowers with credit scores below 620 (subprime borrowers), had credit cards in August 2016, compared with more than 60 percent in 2007.5
The 2016 Federal Reserve Payments Study offers some mind-boggling statistics about how often Americans use their credit cards, and how much is spent.
The number of credit card payments reached 33.8 billion in 2015, with a value of $3.16 trillion, up 6.9 billion from 2012.8
Credit card payments grew at an annual rate of 8.0 percent by number or 7.4 percent by value from 2012 to 2015, the largest growth rates among the payment types considered in the study.8
How Americans prefer to use their credit cards
Americans use different methods of payment depending on the type of purchases they are making.
A TSYS 2016 U.S. Consumer Payment Study found that while credit cards were the preferred method of payment (34 to 36 percent) at department stores, gas stations, and supermarkets, at discount stores, the preference for using credit cards dropped to just 25 percent. At discount stores, shoppers preferred to pay with debit cards 34 percent of the time.9
The hesitancy of using a credit card for less expensive purchases also showed up when examining payment preferences by restaurant type. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed indicated they preferred to use a credit card at dine-in restaurants, as opposed to 21 percent at fast-food restaurants, and just 15 percent at coffee shops.
|How likely are Americans to use their credit cards?|
|Payments to individuals|
|Online travel booking|
When it comes to bill payments, only 8 percent preferred to use credit cards to pay individuals such as friends, family members, and individuals providing household services. But that jumped to 23 percent when paying both one-time and recurring bills to others.9
Finally, when it comes to online shopping, a credit card remains the preference of 42 percent of those surveyed when paying for travel, and 47 percent when shopping online for other items. These percentages dwarfed those for payment methods such as debit cards or PayPal when shopping online.9
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York SCE Credit Access Survey June 2017
- FICO Survey: Millennials Still Want Credit Cards June 2016
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York: Consumers Report Diverging Credit Market Experiences and Expectations July 2017
- TransUnion Q1 2017 Industry Insights Report
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York: Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit 2016
- The Deleveraging of U.S. Households: Credit Card Debt over the Lifecycle 2016
- Experian State of Credit Report 2016
- Federal Reserve Payments Study 2016
- TSYS 2016 U.S. Consumer Payment Study
- CreditCards.com 2017 story: Americans’ credit card debt hits $1 trillion
See related:Credit card statistics