Digital Money Trends Report: What We Learned About Credit Cards

by Jordan Lavin January 13, 2016 / No Comments

We recently released our inaugural Digital Money Trends Report, which takes a look at how Canadians are managing their money. It’s an ambitious project that covers mortgages, saving and investing, and credit cards.

We surveyed more than 1,500 people about their spending and saving habits, dug up information about what people are searching for most online, and combined it with our own data to show what decisions consumers make when they have all the information in one place.

Here are a few of the highlights of what we learned about credit cards:

Canadians rely on credit cards

On average, each Canadian holds 2.4 credit cards, and one in 10 has five or more cards. But Canadians don’t just have credit cards, they use credit cards, too. Our survey found that people use their credit cards more often than debit. And almost one-third of people charge three-quarters or more of their monthly purchases to a credit card. Whether this is good or bad depends on the person. For example, our software engineer Benson had eight credit cards at last count, each with a specific purpose and carefully managed to make the most of credit card rewards.

We’re optimistic about our credit card debt

The two numbers you should be most concerned about with credit card debt is what proportion of your credit limit is debt (this is a big factor in your creditworthiness and could affect whether you qualify for other loans and mortgages), and how long will it take you to pay off the debt you have. What we found out is only one-third actually have credit card debt. Of those who do carry a balance, only 14% have used more than half of their credit limit. When we asked people with credit card debt how long they think it’ll take them to pay if off, 70% said more than three months, and 37% said more than a year. Paying off debt is easier said than done, however, and just because you can pay off your credit cards doesn’t always mean you will.

Fees and interest rates are more important than rewards programs

When we asked Canadians what they think are the most important features when choosing a credit card, low annual fees was the big winner, followed by low interest, and then travel rewards and cash back. But we obsessively compare credit cards, and we know that if you choose wisely, you can find cards that will pay you more in points than they’ll charge you in fees – net rewards in the hundreds of dollars a year range are not uncommon. That’s why we’re confused about why low-interest rate cards are so popular, especially since the majority told us they don’t carry a balance. As long as you pay off your balance every month, we definitely recommend rewards credit cards. It’s practically free money.

Retail store credit cards are extra popular

Almost one-quarter of consumers told us they have a credit card from a retail store or institution. Women were far more likely than men to carry one of these cards. And the marketing effort behind them is massive. We saw it in the search numbers. Canadians searched the Walmart MasterCard on Google more than they looked for some bank credit cards. When it comes to acquiring credit cards, however, the bank branch is still king. Eighty percent have a credit card from their primary financial institution, and the place people go most to apply for a credit card is their bank. Younger demographics prefer to find credit cards online, however, and we’re expecting the bank branch to fall to second place in the years to come.