Research and Statistics

Debit payments surge, but more money is spent on credit cards

Sabrina Karl
Personal Finance Writer
Data whiz and visual storyteller


If you’ve been using your debit card more often than you did the year before, yet charging more dollars to your credit card, your pattern matches what the Federal Reserve has found for the nation in its latest payments study.

The 2018 annual supplement to the Federal Reserve Payments Study finds card payments in general are on a robust growth curve, increasing 10.1 percent by number and 8.4 percent by value from 2016 to 2017, representing an accelerated growth from the previous study periods.

But this latest installment of the data shows a reversal between debit and credit cards in transaction number growth. While credit card payments grew 10.4 percent in number in the previous study period (2015-2016) and non-prepaid debit cards just 6.8 percent, debit transaction numbers surged to 10.4 percent growth in 2016-2017, with credit card payment numbers slowing to 9.4 percent growth.

See related: Older millennials prefer paying with debit, unlike other groups under 55

The picture changes when transactions are counted in dollars, however. In the Fed’s 2015-2016 study period, credit and non-prepaid debit growth by dollar value were similar, at 7 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively. But while debit dollar values accelerated modestly to 7 percent in 2016-2017, the growth in dollars charged to credit soared to 10 percent.

This puts the number of non-prepaid debit transactions at almost 70 billion in 2016-2017 versus just over 40 billion for credit cards. But with a transaction dollar amount of $2.6 trillion, debit transactions averaged $37 each in 2016-2017. Compare that to the $3.6 trillion dollars spent on credit cards during that period, at an average transaction amount of $88.

The Fed’s estimates are based on survey data from a census of general-purpose card networks, payment processors and issuers of private-label cards, with its estimates of non-cash payment dating back to 2001. The 2018 annual supplement was released Jan. 19.

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