Research and Statistics

Many prefer debit for everyday buys, credit for the big ones


For many, debit cards lead credit cards as a primary payment method, a TD Bank survey finds. But for big-ticket items, nearly all groups prefer credit cards

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Whether you typically opt for debit or credit depends on your age, gender, marital status and whether you have kids or own a home. But no matter your demographic or which type of payment method you prefer, it’s likely you’re putting more dollars on plastic these days.

In a May 2016 survey by TD Bank, 45 percent of Americans said a debit card was their primary method of payment for day-to-day purchases, with credit cards directly behind at 44 percent. Cash was a distant third at 10 percent.

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Certain groups exhibited more preference for credit, such as men, homeowners and baby boomers. In fact, the male preference for credit cards was a pronounced 47 percent versus 38 percent for debit cards.

In contrast, women, single Americans and renters leaned significantly toward debit. For female respondents, the strength of preference was opposite that for males, at a 9 percent higher propensity for debit. But renters showed the most distinct lean of any demographic group, with a whopping 55 percent debit preference versus just 29 percent for credit cards.

Millennials, meanwhile, fell right in the middle, reporting an even preference for the two payment methods, and Generation X (those age 35-54) leaned slightly toward debit (47 percent versus 44 percent).

Yet while the debit-credit edge is checkered across groups, the survey found that almost everyone charges far more dollars on their credit cards. For instance, baby boomers spend more than twice as much on their credit cards as on debit cards, while even debit-preferring singles spend about $1.32 on credit cards for every dollar they put on a debit card. Renters were the only group whose credit purchases didn’t dwarf those on debit cards, instead registering as essentially even.

TD Bank’s Consumer Spending Index was conducted by Vision Critical, polling 1,576 consumers from April 1-12, 2016, and weighting the results to reflect the U.S. population. The findings were released May 11.

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