It’s more likely that the last time you bought a pack of gum or a can or soda, you used a credit card.
People like their credit cards so much they’re using them even for the tiniest purchases, according to a new survey released Monday from the credit cards site CreditCards.com. Among people with credit cards, 17% said they use them to buy items in brick-and-mortar stores that cost less than $5, up from 11% last year. CreditCards.com surveyed about 1,000 U.S. adults in March 2017.
After a lull in the wake of the Great Recession, credit cards are once again being used with increased frequency. The Federal Reserve reported last week that collective credit card debt in the U.S. had reached $1 trillion. Credit-card debt and auto loan debt balances for people ages 60 and older have also risen since 2008, that Fed data showed, whereas credit-card debt for those 59 and younger has fallen. The Fed, when describing that phenomenon, said lending standards have tightened since the recession, and those who are older may also be more creditworthy.
But when consumers can pay their balances each month, turning to credit cards for small purchases isn’t a bad thing, said Matt Schulz, a senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com. Putting more charges on a credit card may indicate consumers feel more optimistic about their financial picture for the future, he said. “People who are chasing rewards realize that those little purchases can add up to a lot of rewards over the course of a year,” he added.
Indeed, several high-profile credit cards offer cash back and perks for spending. For example, Amazon AMZN, -0.38% introduced a credit card this year for Prime members that gives 5% cash back on Amazon purchases (Prime itself costs $99 per year.) Some retailers, however, prohibit credit-card purchases below a certain amount to avoid paying transaction fees to the credit-card issuers for such purchases.
That said, cash and debit cards still are the go-to options for making small purchases, despite the speed with which credit cards are gaining on them. Of those surveyed, 24% said they use debit cards for small purchases, and 55% said they use cash. It appears younger consumers are behind at least some of the growth in credit card use: Some 70% of baby boomers and their older cohorts, the Silent Generation, still choose cash for small purchases versus 43% of those under 53.