Credit cards are a useful tool for many cardholders. Some people use cards as a convenient way to pay for expenses while earning rewards — and pay balances in full each month. Others pay steep interest fees to defer expenses until a later date.
Are you curious about who owns credit cards? Find out how many cards people own on average and learn whether ownership is related to factors like income, education level, or gender. Does how many cards you own relate to what state you live in or how old you are? And most importantly, how do you compare? Get the facts here.
General Credit Card Ownership — 7 Quick Facts
- 83% of adults living in the U.S. had at least 1 credit card in 2020.¹
- The average American owns 3.84 credit cards as of Q3 2020. This is down 4% from 2019 and seems to follow a trend of consumers getting rid of (and consolidating) credit cards due to the financial uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.²
- 183 million Americans have credit cards. Of those, 104 million have Visa cards, 99 million have store cards, 83 million have Mastercards, 56 million have gas cards, and 36 million have American Express cards (some people have multiple card types).³
- There are 1.27 billion cards in use within the United States.³
- 54.3% of 20-year-olds have opened their first credit card or are an authorized user on someone’s account.⁴
- While the type of card owned varies by generation, cash-back cards are the most popular type of credit card.⁵
- On average, women have 4.5 open credit cards while men have 3.6.²
Average Number of Credit Cards Owned by State
As of Q3 2020, New Jersey had the most credit cards open per person: 4.54 accounts on average. Alaska consumers had the least number of credit cards — on average, only 3.06 credit card accounts open per person.
In 2020, the average number of credit cards dropped in every state. Card owners in both Massachusetts and New York saw the biggest decrease (6% for each) in the number of accounts open per person in Q3 2020.²
Card Ownership by Age/Generation
When you break credit card ownership down by generation, you’ll see that older age groups typically carry the most credit cards. For example, people between the ages of 40 and 74 on average had 4+ credit cards open.
On the flip side, younger generations are the fastest-growing group, according to Experian data. Generation Z increased their open credit card accounts by more than 9% in 2020 from 2019. That’s notable, considering Generation Z ranges from ages 18 to 23, an age when card approvals aren’t typically plentiful.
Bottom Line: While you can apply for a card at 18, it can be difficult to get approved if you’re under 21. Check out the best credit cards for college students and recent graduates for suggestions on cards that may be a fit if you’re just getting started.
Card Ownership by Gender
More than 97 million women (which is 78% of women) and 95 million men (81% of men) in the U.S. have at least 1 credit card.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) is a federal law that prohibits credit discrimination on a number of factors — including gender. Still, women are rejected from credit card applications at a higher rate than men (or receive less favorable terms or interest rates), which might account for the lesser percentage of ownership.
Confidence also appears to play a role in those who apply: 61% of men reported feeling “very confident of approval,” while only 56% of women reported feeling the same.⁶
Card Ownership by Credit Score
Superprime (credit scores 759+) and prime (credit scores between 680 and 759) borrowers make up most open credit card accounts, with over 82% of all open accounts.
Total credit card accounts fell in 2020, primarily led by the reduction in accounts by those with subprime credit (scores less than 680). Subprime accounts fell to a 5-year low, with a reduction of 1.9 million credit accounts, while superprime accounts increased to an all-time high.
This just goes to show that those with excellent credit are opening accounts at historic rates, but those with less-than-ideal credit appear to be closing accounts even faster.⁷
Card Ownership by Income
Income levels have a large impact on card ownership. Among households with an annual income of more than $100,000, 97% have a credit card. Those making between $40,000 and $100,000 annually still have a high percentage of credit card ownership at 91%. Once the household income drops below $40,000, however, credit card ownership drops steeply to 65%.¹
Within the $0 to $40,000 annual income bracket, credit card ownership can be further broken down into the following:¹
- $25,000 and $39,999: 79% own a credit card
- $15,000 and $24,999: 64% own a credit card
- $5,000 and $14,999: 47% own a credit card
- $1 and $4,999: 43% own a credit card
Depending on the number of members in the household, well over half of credit card owners might fall within the Department of Health and Human Services’ poverty guidelines. For example, for a family of 4 in 2021, the poverty level is $26,500.
Card Ownership by Race/Ethnicity
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) is a federal law that prohibits credit discrimination, including race. Still, credit card ownership isn’t equal across racial and ethnic lines.
More than 90% of Asian and 87% of white adults had a credit card in 2020. Meanwhile, only 75% of Hispanic and 72% of Black adults owned a credit card.
Credit card use also varied by race and ethnicity. For example, while Asian adults had the largest percentage of ownership, less than 3 in 10 of those carried a balance on their card at least once during 2020. Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to carry balances on their credit cards than other racial or ethnic groups at 53% and 49%, respectively.¹
Card Ownership by Level of Education
Level of education can also impact levels of card ownership. For example, among those with a bachelor’s degree and above, 95% own a credit card. Among those that have completed some college or hold an associate’s degree, 81% own a credit card. Finally, among those with a high school education or less, 73% own a credit card.¹
This statistic is also likely related to income levels as well since according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the higher a person’s level of education, the higher their median weekly earnings and lower their unemployment rates.
Overall, credit cards are tools that consumers can use to their benefit. Differences in credit card ownership vary by age, income, gender, race, and even location. If you’re considering opening a new credit card, it’s important to be well-informed about these differences.
Fair access across protected groups as well as knowledge about what factors (such as a good credit score) can put you at an advantage are key facts when it comes to credit card ownership.
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