| February 6, 2012

Affluent Americans represent majority of new credit card spenders

Consumers have had a tumultuous relationship with credit cards in the years following the recession. A sizable percentage of Americans struggling with unemployment and financial shortfalls were forced to rely on plastic and racked up significant credit card debt to meet their daily needs. Others shunned credit cards in favor of cash and debit cards, while many households with battered credit found themselves unable to qualify for new lines of credit amid tightened lending restrictions.

However, a new report demonstrates that more affluent Americans may be returning to credit cards. Wealthy households are increasingly becoming a target for new credit card products, as this demographic makes up 37 percent of global credit card revenue, according to market research firm DataMonitor. In addition, the study predicts that the percentage of affluent individuals who will become premium credit card account holders will increase 8.5 percent to 11 million over the next 12 months.

The report focuses primarily on affluent customers, primarily because they hold more credit cards than mass market consumers, maintain active accounts and spend 3.2 times more on credit cards than average consumers. However, market data shows that credit card use is on the rise among all consumer demographics. According to a recent Dow Jones report, a combination of growing consumer sentiment, boosted holiday spending and more financial discipline following the recession may be renewing Americans’ confidence in credit cards.

Consumer sentiment plays a core role in Americans’ spending habits, with data showing that the more confidence individuals are in the economy, the more they will spend on discretionary purchases. Consumer confidence has been rising and falling since the recession, with the January index reading falling to 61.1, down from 64.8 in December, the Conference Board reports. Currently, consumer spending makes up roughly 70 percent of the U.S. economy.

Despite the increases in credit card use, analysts have mixed reviews about the future of credit card spending. Renewed credit card use may indicate a strengthening financial position of households and fiscal discipline, or increased use could also suggest a growing reliance on credit amid economic volatility. A sizable number of Americans report turning toward cash and debit cards to curb debt, while many households are relying on credit counseling to eliminate debt they racked up during the recession.

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