Infographic: Card market continues climb but subprime still in hole

Americans now have more credit cards open than at the end of 2008

Sabrina Karl
Personal Finance Writer
Data whiz and visual storyteller


The number of open credit cards in America, after plunging on the heels of the 2008 financial crisis, settled into a three-year valley from 2010-2012. But account numbers have steadily ticked up since then – so steadily, in fact, that Americans now have more cards open than at the end of 2008.

Citing a solidifying labor market and rising wages, the American Bankers Association’s latest Credit Card Market Monitor shows strength across the market for the fourth quarter of 2016, including year-over-year growth in new account openings (9.7 percent), total accounts (8 percent) and monthly purchase volumes (9.9 percent).

But not every segment of the market has emerged from the hole dug by the Great Recession. Within total card accounts, the composition of prime, subprime and super-prime accounts has shifted dramatically. Compared to 7 percent growth overall, the super-prime market has grown 22 percent. Prime accounts grew less than the average, at just 4 percent, but that’s still in positive territory versus the 2008 watermark.

It’s subprime that has yet to surface. Growth in the highest-risk market hasn’t been less steady than other segments – in fact, it’s often been the fastest-growing, as it was in the fourth quarter of 2016 when it showed 16 percent year-over-year growth. But what’s different is the depths to which the subprime market fell in 2010-2012, as it shouldered the biggest brunt of the industry’s credit tightening.

At the end of 2008, subprime accounts numbered 85 million and comprised 26 percent of all accounts. By 2013, subprime accounts had sunk to 52 million accounts and represented just 18 percent. After three years of increases, subprime is now back up to about a fifth of accounts (21 percent) and totals 73 million cards. But that still leaves the segment 14 percent below 2008 figures.

The American Bankers Association’s Credit Card Market Monitor is published every quarter, drawing on data from a nationally representative sample provided by Argus Information Services. The latest monitor was released April 27, 2017.

See related: Subprime card applicants still facing tight credit, More infographics

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Updated: 02-15-2019