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Credit Card Spending Facts & Statistics in the U.S. [2022 Data Study]

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Alex Miller
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Alex Miller

Founder & CEO

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Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now Editor-in-Chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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A credit card transaction is such an easy way to spend money. Just swipe, buy, and deal with the credit card bill in a month or so. But do you ever think about how much more money you spend when using credit vs. debit, or do credit cards encourage extra spending? Read on to find out everything you need to know about cash vs. credit card spending.

5 Quick Credit Card Spending Statistics

  1. The average value of a cash transaction is $22, compared to the average value of a credit card transaction at $57.¹
  2. Consumers used credit cards and debit cards for a majority of their payments, accounting for 57% of total payments in 2021.²
  3. It is estimated that in 2022, contactless mobile payments will be accessed by almost a third of U.S. smartphone users, up from 25.3% in 2018.³
  4. In 2021, digital wallets accounted for nearly half (49%) of global e-commerce transaction value.
  5. As of 2022, the average American family holds about $5,221 in credit card debt.
Credit card spending facts and statistics in the U.S.
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

How Much More Do Americans Spend With Credit vs. Cash?

Credit cards have always been a popular form of payment. The idea of buying something now and paying later can be very appealing and might encourage consumers to spend more money. According to a report by The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the average value of a cash transaction is $22, and that number more than doubles when talking about credit card transactions. The average credit card transaction is $57.¹

A study by the Sloan School of Management at MIT says people tend to spend more when using credit cards than cash. Not only are they more likely to buy something at a higher price, they also are likely to give larger tips and make more impulse buys.

Why Do Americans Spend More When Using Credit Cards?

We all know spending with credit is easier than spending with cash, but why exactly do Americans spend more when using credit cards vs. cash? There are a few theories behind this notion.

The Sloan School of Management at MIT looked into how the brain reacts to a credit card purchase. They created a study using fMRI technology to look at brain activity at the moment of purchase, when consumers make the “buy” decision either using cash or credit cards. They looked at the reward region of the brain and found that credit cards sensitize reward notions in the brain. The outcome is that simply swiping a card provides immediate pleasure in the form of the products bought, and where prices are only realized in a bill received weeks later.

Another theory by Psychology Today is the idea of “coupling.” Coupling could be an explanation of spending habits on credit cards. When you use a credit card, there’s a break between making a purchase and paying for the purchase, so there is a lack of coupling. Psychology Today says, “It’s this lack of coupling that can make using the ‘download’ button on iTunes, shelling out tokens at casinos, or paying with credit cards seem painless. All of these methods of payment feel just one step away from not paying for something at all. In a sense, the combination of credit (which itself is an abstract concept) and payment that comes at a much later point in time may act as a numbing balm for the pain that is normally associated with spending money.”

Has Credit Card Usage Increased? 

According to the “2022 Findings From the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice,” the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to affect the way U.S. consumers use and hold cash. In October 2021, the average number of cash payments increased from 6 to 7 payments and accounted for 20% of all payments, up from 19% in 2020 and down from 26% in 2019. The share of payments made in cash dropped from 2019 to 2020 and then increased slightly in 2021, implying that cash use hit its lowest point in the first pandemic year. This could be due to the shift in shoppers doing most of their shopping online or using credit cards and mobile wallets as a way to have less contact with others.

The study also found that consumers continued to use credit cards and debit cards for a majority of their payments, accounting for 57% of total payments in 2021 compared to 55% in 2020 and 54% in 2019. This increased share of card use was because the number of cash payments declined from 10 in 2019 to 7 in 2021 and not because card use increased. The study concludes that the aggregate number of card payments (debit and credit) declined from 23 payments in 2019 to 21 payments in 2021.

According to PYMNTS.com’s January 2021 “Online Security And The Debit-Credit Divide” survey, 44% of consumers who use debit cards shifted to other payment methods while the remainder has not adopted payment alternatives. The largest share of these shifters, 18%, now favors credit cards while 16% use PayPal and another 16% tap digital wallets. Credit cards remain the most popular way to pay online, cited by more than 4 in 10 consumers surveyed.

As technology grows, so does the convenience of paying with credit cards on digital wallet apps like Apple Pay and Google Pay.

Have Digital Wallets Impacted How We Spend?

As if the convenience of paying with a credit card couldn’t get any easier, it has with the introduction of digital/mobile wallets. In 2021, digital wallets accounted for nearly half (49%) of global e-commerce transaction value, far outpacing credit cards, which were in second place at 21%, according to FIS.

Americans and people all over the world are now tapping their phones for purchases, getting rid of the need for cash, or carrying their credit or debit card in their wallets. Statista estimates that in 2022, contactless mobile payments will be accessed by almost a third of U.S. smartphone users, up from 25.3% in 2018.

According to Consumer Reports, new forms of payment may do even more to dull the mental connection between spending and having less money. In research done by Priya Raghubir, Professor of Marketing at New York University, she asked people to rate on a 100-point scale how similar credit cards are to cash, with 100 representing cash. The average response: 72. When she asked about Apple Pay (digital wallet), the average was 56. The research clearly shows the feeling of spending cash is not the same as the feeling of spending with a digital wallet, similar to paying with a credit card, enticing people to spend more with the tap of their phone.

Credit Card Debt in America 

Credit cards are an easy scapegoat when overspending occurs and might actually be the right source to blame. As of June 2022, the average American holds about $5,221 in credit card debt.

According to Nature.com’s “Neural Mechanisms of Credit Card Spending” report, studies show that shoppers with credit cards are willing to spend more on items, check out with bigger baskets, focus on and remember more product benefits rather than costs, and make more indulgent and unplanned purchase choices. The ease of swiping the card with no immediate repercussions is leading to more credit card debt among Americans.

Final Thoughts

Whether you want to believe it or not, credit cards have made it easier and quicker for Americans and people all over the world to spend money. As credit card usage increases and digital wallets become more widely available, we could see the amount of money spent during a credit card transaction vs. cash increase even more than now.

It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your credit card bills, don’t spend money you can’t pay off, and pay off your balance monthly to avoid hefty interest charges. We also have more tips on dealing with credit spending and debt.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I pay down credit card debt?

The method we prefer here at Upgraded Points is something called the “avalanche” method. This requires you to focus on paying off the card with the highest interest rate first:

  1. Put cards in order from highest interest rate to lowest.
  2. Make the monthly minimum payment for each account.
  3. Put any extra money toward the account with the highest interest rate.

Is it bad to max out your credit cards?

Hitting your credit limit can hurt your credit score, increase your minimum monthly payment, and increase interest charges. If possible, you should always try to avoid maxing out your credit cards.

Are credit cards good for spending?

Yes, spending with credit cards allows you to build credit, earn rewards, and track your spending. Keep in mind that when spending with credit cards, do not spend more than you can afford to pay off at the end of every month.

What is a mobile wallet?

A mobile wallet allows you to use your phone to store credit card, debit card, coupons, or reward cards information. Apps such as Apple Pay and Google Pay are examples of mobile wallets. The mobile wallet allows you to pay at certain stores with the swipe of your phone.

Alex Miller's image

About Alex Miller

Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business, The New York Times, and more.

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