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The American Credit Card Craze

American Credit Card Craze graphic

Charting the American Credit Card Craze

Think U.S. residents love their credit cards? You’re right. U.S. consumers were using more than 1.5 billion credit cards in 2006. Now that number is much higher. How many cards is that? If you stacked them atop each other, the resulting plastic tower would jut some 70 miles into the air. The tower of credit cards would stand nearly as tall as 13 Mount Everests.

That’s a lot of plastic in play. Surprisingly, though, some economists have wondered recently about whether U.S. consumers were actually on the verge of scaling back their credit card use. During the worst days of the Great Recession, consumer spending actually fell. At the same time, consumers made fewer purchases with their credit cards.

This was an extremely unusual stat. U.S. consumers have long been known for their free-spending ways. They’ve also been known for their buy now, pay later attitudes toward using credit.

Recession's Effects on Credit Card Use

Had the Great Recession, and the unemployment and plummeting home values it brought, changed U.S. consumers’ attitudes about credit cards?

Probably not. It’s too early to tell, of course, but new data from the U.S. Commerce Department showed that consumer spending rose once again in the first quarter of 2010. In fact, it rose by an amount not seen since the early days of 2007. So if U.S. consumers did learn a lesson about the value of saving money and living frugally, it appears as if they’ve already forgotten it.

Credit Card Debt

Consider some other intriguing numbers regarding credit card use, too. They all point to a nation that’s not about to give up its love affair with plastic any time soon. For instance, 78 percent of U.S. consumers own a credit card while 80 percent own at least one debit card. And these cardholders aren’t afraid to use their plastic. The average credit card debt for households that have such debt stands at a whopping $16,007. The average cardholder owns three-and-a-half credit cards, while 78 percent of U.S. households have one or more credit cards.

The amount of total revolving debt in play in the United States stands at a rather staggering $864.4 billion. A total of 98 percent of this debt comes from credit cards.

Consumer Satisfaction

By the way, if you’re looking to add a new credit card to your collection, you might be interested in the results of the JD Power & Associates annual customer satisfaction survey. The survey rated American Express as having the best overall customer satisfaction, with Discover Card coming in second, National City third and Wells Fargo fourth.

Are consumers turning away from credit cards? The numbers would suggest that no, they aren’t. In fact, it looks like consumers are ready to plunge back into the world of easy credit in full force.

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