Data on who applies for and receives certain credit cards and what they do with credit cards once they’re activated reveals interesting consumer trends. Credit card holders have different characteristics that vary in scope. All the collected facts and data paint a fascinating story about U.S. consumers and their credit cards.
Credit Card Ownership By Age
To obtain a personal or business credit card in the United States, applicants need to be at least 18 years old.
It’s possible for a person under 18 to have a card with their name on it if the account owner makes them an authorized user. There is no legal age requirement for authorized users and many credit issuers will allow even young teenagers to be authorized users. These credit piggybackers are not account owners, though, and bear no legal responsibility for making payments or any of the accumulated debt.
Therefore, to determine the ownership data according to age, it all starts when the person is no longer a minor in the eyes of the law and can enter into a contractual relationship with the credit card issuer.
People born between the years 1946 and 1964 (baby boomers) own the highest average number of credit cards at 4.8, according to Experian.
That doesn’t mean that college-age people — typically aged 18 to 24 — don’t have credit cards. They’re known as Generation Z, people born between the years 1997 and 2012 (or, in some cases, 2015). The Experian report found they have an average of 1.8 cards.
In fact, 54.3% of 20-year-olds have already received their first credit card, a statistic that includes being an authorized user on someone else’s account, according to The Ascent.
Interestingly, college enrollment has a strong correlation to credit card ownership, as per The Ascent survey:
- 47.5% of respondents received their first card in college
- 24% of respondents received their first card post-college
- 18.8% of respondents received their first card post-high school with no college education
- 9.8% of respondents received their first card in high school
Thirty-eight percent of college students in the Generation Z age range have more than one account. However, a higher percentage of college students (19%) have only one card, compared with college graduates or people who didn’t finish college (14%).
People born between 1981 and 1996 are considered millennials, and The Ascent survey found they have an average of three credit cards. But many are just getting started. Roughly 25% of millennials expressed plans to open a new card when they were surveyed.
That’s slightly more than the 23% of people born between 1965 and 1980, known as Generation X, who said they planned to open a new credit card. Just 13% of baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) said they were in the market for a new credit card.
People who were born between 1996 and 2010 are considered Generation Z. Fifty percent of people in this generation who are “credit active” not only already have an existing credit card, they indicated a strong interest in using it.
The study also found that Generation Z preferred credit cards (41%) to student loans (37%). Conversely, millennials favored student loans (44%) to credit cards (34%).
Credit cards come in a wide variety of types, and the kind that people gravitate toward varies by age. The most commonly owned card types by generation are:
Cash back cards:
- 62% Gen X
- 57.8% millennials
- 52% baby boomers
- 45.9% baby boomers
- 39.9% Gen X
- 38.7% millennials
Low interest cards:
- 33.7% Gen X
- 29.6% millennials
- 24.6% baby boomers
- 18.4% Gen X
- 15.8% millennials
- 13.1% baby boomers
Balance transfer cards:
- 20.2% Gen X
- 14.8% baby boomers
- 12.3% millennials
When it comes to using credit cards instead of cash, preferences vary by age group:
- 21% of 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed prefer credit cards over cash.
- 23% of 25- to 35-year-olds surveyed prefer credit cards over cash.
- 24% of 35- to 44-year-olds surveyed prefer credit cards over cash.
- 21% of 45- to 54-year-olds surveyed prefer credit cards over cash.
- 29% of 55- to 65-year-olds surveyed prefer credit cards over cash.
- 32% of people 65 and older surveyed prefer credit cards over cash.
Unfortunately, credit card fraud is a major problem in the U.S. There are some interesting differences in the ages of the credit card owners who reported this kind of criminal activity:
- 30- to 39-year-olds filed 74,572 fraud reports.
- 40- to 49-year-olds filed 55,672 fraud reports.
- 20- to 29-year-olds filed 43,440 fraud reports.
- 50- to 59-year-olds filed 34,394 fraud reports.
- 60- to 69-year-olds filed 19,269 fraud reports.
- 19-year-olds and under filed 1,680 fraud reports.
And then there’s revolving debt. The average (mean) household revolving credit card balance according to age group is:
- $3,660 under 35 years old
- $5,991 35 to 44 years old
- $7,672 45 to 54 years old
- $6,884 55 to 64 years old
- $7,033 65to74 years old
- $8,078 over 75 years old
Credit Card Ownership by Income
There is no fixed or legal minimum amount of income a person would need that would guarantee credit card approval. Credit card issuers are free to set their own qualification standards on each of the accounts they offer.
In general, though, credit card issuers are willing to grant credit cards to applicants who can afford at least the minimum payments on the debt they rack up with the credit line. For this reason, credit reports and credit scores aren’t the only way an issuer determines qualification. Income, especially when compared to the amount the consumer is already repaying to existing debts, is a critical factor in eligibility.
The higher the income a person has, the greater likelihood that person will own at least one credit card, though there are some fits and starts in the data.
As per ValuePenguin’s research, the collection of people who own at least one credit card are as follows:
- 43% have annual incomes of $1 to $4,999
- 47% have annual incomes of $5,000 to $14,999
- 64% have annual incomes of $15,000 to $24,999
- 79% have annual incomes of $25,000 to $39,999
- 83% have annual incomes of $40,000 to $49,999
- 92% have annual incomes of $50,000 to $74,999
- 94% have annual incomes of $75,000 to $99,999
- 95% have annual incomes of $100,000 to $149,999
- 97% have annual incomes of $150,000 to $199,999
- 97% have annual incomes of $200,000 or more
Credit cards designed for people with lower incomes tend to have substantially lower credit lines than the cards granted to higher-income applicants. The difference is dramatic.
- $1,602 limit for low-income cardholders
- $3,686 limit for moderate-income cardholders
- $8,001 limit for middle-income cardholders
- $15,123 limit for high-income cardholders
Credit lines aren’t the only difference in credit card ownership between high- and low-income credit card applicants. While people with high incomes can qualify for credit cards developed for consumers of any income range, some credit cards are available only for people who are in the upper echelons of income and spending habits.
These cards are equipped with substantial credit lines, and they include:
- American Express Centurion Card
- JP Morgan Chase Palladium Card
- Dubai First Royale Mastercard
- Stratus Rewards Visa Card
- Coutts World Silk Card
Credit cards for people who have very limited incomes (and who have not established their credit histories) also exist. These cards tend to be secured credit cards.
These pathway products let people with income constraints charge products and services and begin to build a credit history. The applicant puts down a refundable cash deposit that acts as collateral against default. Owners of these cards can’t charge much, since the majority of these accounts have credit lines that are less than $500. Such low limits allow people with low incomes to afford the monthly payments, even if they charge up to the maximum.
Secured credit card ownership is not just related to income but age and intended use. Some people want to create a credit history (establishers), others want to fix past damage (rebuilders). Still, others are more interested in simply making purchases (transactors) and some want to use their secured card as a savings vehicle (savers).
- Establishers tend to be 18 to 34 and live in households with incomes of $75,000 to $99,999.
- Rebuilders are typically ages 25 to 34 or 45 to 54 and have incomes of between $40,000 and $74,999.
- Transactors are often between 18 and 24 or 55 and over, with incomes under $40,000.
- Savers are likely to be 55 and over, with incomes of $100,000 or more.
Employment income is not a requirement for credit card qualification and credit lines. In addition to an applicant’s personal employment, income from such regular sources as a spouse or partner’s income, a parent or guardian’s financial contributions, investment earnings, alimony, child support, and inheritance distributions, can be listed on a credit card application.
Not everyone wants or needs the same types of cards, and income seems to be a factor in the type of card a person tends to gravitate toward:
- $50,000 and lower annual income — cardholders value customer service, no annual fee, competitive APR, good credit lines
- $50,000 to $75,000 annual income — cardholders value fraud protection and a respected bank name
- $75,000 to $100,000 annual income — cardholders value incentives in the application process
- $100,000 and higher annual income — cardholders are likely to favor retail sponsored cards with strong rewards
Credit Card Ownership by Gender
It is illegal for any lender to base credit qualification and terms on an applicant’s sex. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) is a federal law that prohibits credit discrimination on a wide variety of factors, including gender and sexual orientation.
While some credit card applications have a check box for the applicant’s sex, applicants are under no obligation to check it off. Even if the person chooses to provide an answer, the issuer is not permitted to use it as a deciding factor in eligibility, interest rates, limits, and all other terms.
That said, several differences in credit card ownership between men and women exist:
- 97 million women have at least one credit card.
- 95 million men have at least one credit card.
Statistically, men’s credit card applications are approved at a greater rate than women. Feeling confident about qualification differs between the sexes, too. When applying for a new credit card:
- 61% of men reported feeling very confident of approval.
- 56% of women reported feeling very confident of approval.
While women may worry about their likelihood of approval, they actually own more credit card accounts when compared with their male counterparts. On average, women have 4.5 open credit cards while men have 3.6.
So, do men and women bear the same brunt of credit card debt? No, though some differences appear when looking at the age of the cardholder:
- 63% of women surveyed aged 18 to 24 carried credit card debt.
- 36% of men surveyed aged 18 to 24 carried credit card debt.
- 66% of women surveyed aged 55 to 64 carried credit card debt.
- 33% of men surveyed aged 55 to 64 carried credit card debt.
The types of credit cards men and woman pursue and use differ, too:
- 34% of women surveyed chose a card for the points.
- 29% of men surveyed chose a card for the points.
- 21% of women surveyed have a card specifically for paying bills.
- 27% of men surveyed have a card specifically for paying bills.
- 32% of women surveyed have a card for online purchases only.
- 39% of men surveyed have a card for online purchases only.
Both men and women have store cards, but the rate in which they charge with them is quite different:
- 34% of women use store cards compared with 26% of men.
Clearly, credit cards are used for all kinds of shopping excursions and needs, but men and women appear to be charging in different ways. The most frequent purchases with credit cards by gender are:
- 16.5% men
- 7.8% women
- 37% men
- 26.6% women
Retail purchase at stores, such as clothing and games:
- 18.8% women
- 11% men
- 25% women
- 22% men
Large purchases, such as appliances and jewelry:
- 7.8% women
- 7.1% men
The CreditDonkey survey also discovered differences in how often men and women use their credit cards. Only 9% of men use their cards daily while 42% of women do.
And the stress they experience regarding managing their credit cards is different. Just over 41% of men report feeling financially distressed, while 48.1% of women report the same.
A deep disparity among the sexes is confidence. Twenty-six percent of female card owners say they are “not at all” confident in being able to pay their bills in full this month, while 14% of males share the same concerns.
The transgender community is now being included in credit card ownership. In 2019, Mastercard announced its True Name initiative so consumers can use their preferred first name on their credit, debit, and prepaid cards, and in 2020, Citi became the first bank to provide that option for some of its U.S. credit cards.
Statistics for ownership and usage in this demographic haven’t yet been collected, so they aren’t available.
Credit Card Ownership by Race
The ECOA also prohibits any kind of credit discrimination based on a person’s race and ethnicity. A person’s race is never listed on consumer credit reports, including those created by Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
However, data about race and credit usage is collected by a variety of independent surveys, polls, and studies. When it is, some differences between credit card ownership and the consumer’s stated race emerge.
While most adults can and do use credit cards, the percentage of people who own at least one credit card varies by race:
- 92% of Asians have at least one credit card.
- 88.75% of Caucasians have at least one credit card.
- 81.32% of Hispanics/Latinos have at least one credit card.
- 77.53% of Blacks have at least one credit card.
The average number of credit cards people have is also different among the races, though not by much:
- Asians and White Americans average 2.1 credit cards
- Hispanic/Latino Americans average 1.8 credit cards
- Black Americans average 1.7 credit cards
And not all races treat credit card debt the same:
- 54.2% of Caucasians carry over credit card debt.
- 48.46% of Hispanics/Latinos carry over credit card debt.
- 45.6% of Asians carry over credit card debt.
- 41.46% of Blacks carry over credit card debt.
The amount of credit card debt people of different races carry varies, too:
- $7,942 Caucasian cardholders
- $7,660 Asian cardholders
- $6,849 Hispanic/Latino cardholders
- $6,172 Black cardholders
Of course, to obtain a credit card in the first place, consumers must apply, but not all applicants are approved. To know whether a person fits the card’s guidelines, credit card issuers usually check a person’s consumer credit reports and credit scores and review the financial information they listed on the application (most importantly their income and debt-to-income ratio).
Adverse credit application outcomes differ not just by the amount of the applicant’s income but also by race/ethnicity:
Income of less than $40,000:
- 58% Black
- 41% Hispanic
- 40% White
Income of $40,000 to $100,000:
- 41% Black
- 30% Hispanic
- 17% White
Income greater than $100,000:
- 44% Black
- 32% Hispanic
- 19% White
Native Americans don’t always make it into the credit information surveys, so comparisons between races aren’t totally inclusive. According to a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) report, Race and Financial Capability in America: Understanding the Native American Experience, few studies on the financial capability and financial behaviors of the Native American community exist, with the explanation that they are difficult to survey since they comprise just 2% of the U.S. population.
Credit deserts are areas where financial institutions aren’t prevalent, and that lack of access appears to have a connection to credit card ownership and usage. The FINRA report found that Native American survey respondents were less likely to own a credit card than all other racial groups; 36% of those polled had no credit cards at all.
Credit limits on credit cards, too, are statistically different for Native Americans. For example, people living in Alaska Native Indian Country neighborhoods (AIANs) average a 23.6% lower total credit limit than consumers who live in neighborhoods with no AIAN residents.
A common method to finance a small business is with a combination of savings, installment loans, and credit cards. However, Native American business owners tend to rely more on credit cards for startup and growth than do non-Native entrepreneurs.
Final Thoughts On Credit Card Ownership Statistics
Differences in credit card ownership and usage vary widely when age, income, gender, and race are considered. Conclusions can be drawn from the reported data but should be done carefully and objectively. It’s important to analyze all factors.
In the end, credit cards are tools that most consumers can use to their benefit. Fair access and financial education are essential components to credit card ownership success.