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Cash back cards are king

With continued waves of the pandemic making travel difficult, cash back rewards cards have surged in popularity with Canadians indicating they are twice as likely to use a cash back credit card over other rewards cards like store credit and travel.

Click below to jump to a different section of Ratehub.ca's 2021 Digital Money Trends Report:

2021 DMTR Credit Card survey findings

How much do Canadians really know about their credit?

When we surveyed Canadians in August of 2021 to find out how informed they were about credit, the vast majority described themselves as “knowledgeable”. A closer look, however, revealed a substantial divide between what respondents believed and what they knew.

Carrying a balance on your credit card can have a substantial negative impact on your credit score. Unfortunately, when asked, 42% of Canadians incorrectly believed that carrying a balance had no adverse affect on credit. 

 

Similarly, we found a significant knowledge gap when it came to credit utilization, with 56% of Canadians not knowing that using over 50% of their available credit can hurt their score.

Few Canadians are actively checking their credit score and even fewer negotiated the terms of their credit cards

Having a close relationship with your credit is integral to financial health. Experts agree that closely monitoring your credit score and keeping up-to-date on new changes are important parts of making sure the credit you use is working for you.

Our August 2021 survey, however, found that many Canadians aren’t very engaged with their credit cards at all. When it comes to checking their credit report, only 1 in 3 (32%) claimed to have done so in the past year. In addition, only 15% said they had researched new credit cards while a tiny 4% of those surveyed told us they had negotiated terms (annual fees, payment deferrals, etc.) with their provider.

Canadians are rewards-motivated, but not active

While there are plenty of different credit cards available to accommodate different users’ needs and consumer habits, our survey findings revealed that rewards cards are most popular among the majority of Canadians, with 61% of those who researched new credit cards in the last year saying they did so primarily to find new rewards and perks. 

Among current card users, nearly eight-in-ten (78%) said they most frequently use a card that offers them some kind of reward. Diving deeper, we found that cash back rewards are the most popular, with 54% of rewards card users preferring it over store credit (25%) and travel (23%). 

Despite their clear interest, however, many Canadians aren’t active users of rewards programs in general, with 54% claiming to have checked their rewards balance in the past year, and only 31% saying they actually used the rewards they had earned.

Interest in cash back rewards cards surged while travel cards plummeted

In addition to our survey, we also took a look at what visitors to our site were searching for in 2021. 

In comparing what types of credit cards were most popular among our users from 2019 through 2021, trends caused by the COVID-19 pandemic were obvious. While travel cards made up more than half of our users’ preferences (56.5%) in 2019, the following year saw interest drop to 30.3%. By 2021, users looking for information on travel credit cards only made up 27.2%.

Conversely, as more Canadians spent their money closer to home, interest in cash back rewards cards increased over the past three years, going from 12.1% in 2019 to 17.9% in 2020, then finally making up 24.2% of our user traffic in 2021. Interest in secured credit cards told a similar story, jumping from 8.4% in 2019 to 22.9% in 2021, possibly pointing to many users weathering financial instability and uncertain employment as a result of the pandemic.

Canadians chose to hold on to existing credit cards instead of switching during the pandemic

We also analyzed the top credit card-related Google keyword searches from October 2019 through September 2021, discovering what options Canadians were looking for when they went online.

Late-summer queries for student credit cards led the pack, hitting a spike of 19,160 in August 2020, then peaking in August 2021 at 22,780. Other credit card types experienced a much lower search volume, indicating a waning interest in exploring new options as many Canadians chose to hold on to their existing cards rather than switch.

 

When it came to rewards-specific card searches, interest in travel credit cards experienced a high point of 26,830 in January of 2020 before a drop-off shortly thereafter as COVID-19 lockdowns began to grip the globe. Just four months later, in April 2020, travel card searches had plummeted to 6,740. A recovery did occur the following year, however, with July 2021 seeing queries for travel cards rising again to 16,180 as restrictions began to lift and vaccinations became available.

Click below to jump to a different section of Ratehub.ca's 2021 Digital Money Trends Report:

For more information on Ratehub.ca's 2021 Digital Money Trends Report and survey methodology, click here.