Credit card use up, despite healthy accounts

Stephan Shakespeare
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The days when credit cards were used solely for “big ticket” or major purchases are long past. A new report from YouGov SixthSense indicates that credit cards are increasingly being used more like debit cards to pay for everyday items, and not just for goods and services requiring credit.

This is seen clearly in the high frequency with which cards are used: over one-third of credit card holders (35 per cent) use them at least once a week, and another 17 per cent use them two to three times per month. However, the tendency to use cards for everyday spending is not related to users’ financial difficulties or the need for short-term credit. In fact, high frequency users are generally affluent and in good financial health.
Further consumer data provided by YouGov SixthSense suggests that up to 9.6m credit card holders have changed the nature of their credit card usage in the past two years. This group can be broken down into two further categories: firstly, the 2.2m who have moved from a position of owing money on their credit card to not owing anything on their card; and 7.4m who have reduced their credit card debt during the recession.

This blurring of the lines between credit and debit card usage is sure to have an effect on the way providers currently operate; operators must explore non-interest methods of generating revenue from customers, and keeping them satisfied. But this may not be straightforward as changing terms and conditions over the past few years have unsettled customers.

Data from the Financial Services Authority indicates that total complaints received about credit cards are rising rapidly. Between 2006 and 2010, the number of complaints rose by 172 per cent, despite the number of cards in issue falling.

Stephan Shakespeare is chief executive and co-founder of YouGov.