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Research and Statistics

Credit card ownership statistics

Summary

How many credit cards does the average American have, and what types do they have? We’ve compiled industry statistics to answer those questions and more about who’s carrying what cards.

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According to data released Nov. 1, 2019, by the American Bankers Association, there were 374 million open credit card accounts in the U.S. as of the middle of 2019.

That number includes 197 million accounts held by superprime consumers, 103 million held by prime consumers and 74 million held by subprime consumers. The number of credit card accounts increased by 2.5% year-over-year, according to the ABA data. 10

This growth was driven by new superprime accounts, which increased by 3.5% and hit a new all-time high. While more consumers with subprime credit scores are getting credit cards9, subprime accounts are declining as a total share of open accounts, and now make up less than 20% of all accounts. 10

Credit cards are found in most Americans’ wallets. Multiple studies say about 7 in 10 Americans have at least one credit card. Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta data released in August 2019, for example, found 75.5% of consumers had at least one credit card, defined as a card that allows the cardholder to make a purchase by borrowing funds that will be paid back to the credit card company later. 1

These numbers include the small percentage of Americans who have a charge card, which is a type of credit card that must be paid off in full every month. Using the U.S. Census Bureau estimate of 253 million adults in the U.S., 6 that means that over 191 million Americans adults have a credit card, a charge card or both.

Total U.S. credit card credit lines grew by 10.5% to $3.83 trillion in the year leading up to the second quarter of 2019, according to an August 2019 TransUnion report. 4 This was the fastest growth of the total credit lines dollar amount seen in any single year following the Great Recession.

More and more Americans are going cash-free, according to a fall 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center. About 3 in 10 U.S. adults say they “make no purchases using cash during a typical week.” And 46% don’t worry much about carrying cash since there are “lots of other ways to pay for things.”3

See related: Credit card race, age, gender statistics

Types of credit cards Americans own

Americans tend to hold a variety of cards. According to a 2019 survey of 1,000 Americans by The Ascent, from the investing site The Motley Fool, almost 60% of Americans own a cash back credit card, just under 40% own a retail credit card, over 30% own a low-interest card and over 16% own an airline or other travel rewards card. 7

Credit card issuers mailed 287 million card offers to consumers in April 2018. The top most-mailed offers were 0% balance transfer offers (62%) and 0% purchase offers (59%).8

General market offers dominated the April 2018 mailings (50%), while premium offers made up 20%, offers for plain vanilla cards (a simple card with no features) made up 27%, and offers for cards to help build credit made up 3%. 8

Direct mail volume continues to fall, and more consumers are finding credit card applications via digital ads or credit card comparison sites. 9

Card ownership by age

Credit card ownership is most prevalent among baby boomers and college graduates. 4,5,7

Young Americans are waiting longer to get their first credit card, possibly because younger consumers also are dealing with student debt. Also, the Credit CARD Act of 2009 bans credit card approvals for anyone under 21 years old unless they have an adult co-signer or can prove they have sufficient income to pay the bills.

However, that doesn’t mean young people are not using credit cards. According to Sallie Mae’s 2019 “Majoring in Money” report, 57% of undergraduate students owned a credit card in 2019, compared to 30% in 2013, and 38% of undergraduates have two or more cards.

However, a higher percentage of college students (19%) have only one card, compared with college graduates or people who didn’t finish college (14%).5

Debit cards are still more popular, and 85% of undergraduate students carry debit cards. Students overall are more likely to use debit (85%) or cash (81%) than credit cards. Students prefer cash over any other payment method for in-store purchases of less than $20.5 Forty-three percent of college students do not use credit cards. 5

But according to the Ascent survey, millennials are warming up to credit cards. In fact, millennials have an average of three credit cards, fewer than older generations, and they also carry less credit card debt.

However, almost 1 in 4 millennials plans to open a new credit card account in the next year, a higher percentage than both Gen Xers (23%) and baby boomers (13%).7 And millennials were significantly more likely than older adults to have shopped for a new credit card in the past year, according to a September 2019 CreditCards.com poll. 2

Additionally, 57% of college students aged 18-24 and 83% of college grads aged 21-29 use credit cards. 5

Gen Z consumers – those born in 1995 or later – increasingly took part in the credit card market in the first half of 2019. This included Gen Z consumers who were already eligible for credit as well as the newly eligible. About 13 million Gen Z consumers will become credit-eligible in the next three years. 4

See related: Millennials value credit scores over social media followers, study shows

Card ownership by credit score

According to an August 2019 report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, about 2 out of 3 of borrowers with subprime scores (580 to 619), and 1 out of 3 borrowers with deep subprime scores (579 or lower), had at least one open credit card account in 2018.

The percentage of consumers with subprime and deep subprime scores who hold at least one credit card has increased each year between 2015 and 2018. About 9 out of 10 superprime borrowers, those with the highest scores (720 and above), had one or more credit cards in 2018.9

Still, prime and above consumers represent 80% of all open credit card accounts, according to the ABA report. 10

Sources

  1. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s 2018 Survey of Consumer Payment Choice, August 2019
  2. CreditCards.com poll, September 2019
  3. Pew Research Center “American Trends Panel” poll, September and October 2018
  4. TransUnion Industry Insights Report, Q2 2019, August 2019
  5. Sallie Mae “Majoring in Money” report, 2019
  6. U.S. Census Bureau July 2018 estimate of U.S. population, and U.S. Census Population by Age and Sex 2018
  7. The Ascent from Motley Fool, “Why Swipe? American Credit Card Preferences and Habits by Generation,” March 2019
  8. Credit Suisse U.S. card mail volume research note, May 2018
  9. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “The Consumer Credit Card Market” report, August 2019
  10. American Bankers Association Credit Card Market Monitor, November 2019

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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Credit Card Rate Report Updated: April 1st, 2020
Business
14.07%
Airline
15.85%
Cash Back
16.16%
Reward
16.06%
Student
15.87%

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