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Credit is a big part of modern life. Need a personal loan? You might not find one without a decent credit score. Faced with an unexpected expense? Time to get the credit card out! But what does your credit card use say about you?

We surveyed over 2,000 people to learn how everyday people use and think about credit. The findings suggest that how people rely on credit is highly personal, far from a one-size-fits-all tool¹.

The findings revealed that everyday people understand the risks and benefits of using credit cards and use them responsibly, for the most part. Yet, many people don’t have any credit cards in their wallets. See what we learned and how you can improve your own relationship with credit cards.

The ideal number of credit cards

What’s the ideal number of credit cards? It’s a delicate balance – too few means you’ll have a thin credit file; too many, and you risk overspending and getting into debt. So what’s the happy medium?

26% of people surveyed say they have three or four credit cards

A few years ago, the average American had 3.84 credit cards². Now, our data suggests that the number has decreased to 2.31. Here’s how many credit cards survey respondents reported:

  • 0: 31%
  • 1: 11%
  • 2: 16%
  • 3: 13%
  • 4: 13%
  • 5: 7%
  • 6: 4%
  • 7: 3%
  • 8 or more: 3%

Note: percentages add up to 101% due to rounding.

Does this mean people are moving away from credit card usage? Our survey findings suggest it’s possible, with 31% reporting they have no credit cards at all. But that doesn’t necessarily indicate that everyone is canceling their credit cards. Our survey suggests that everyday consumers understand the importance of credit cards in building a good credit score.

51% of survey takers reported that they have one or more credit cards as a way to boost their credit. With more than 50% of survey respondents using credit monitoring services, they may have opened more credit cards to build out their credit profiles and increase their scores.

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How often everyday people use their credit cards

Simply having a credit card won’t do much for your credit score – you have to use the card to make a difference. People tend to use their credit cards fairly frequently:

  • 40% of our survey respondents use their credit cards more than once per week.
  • 24% use theirs once a day or more.

We also found that people use their credit cards more frequently once household income hits $100K: Between 70% and 80% of people making $100K to $200K or more use their cards several times weekly.

Although it doesn’t seem intuitive that people making six figures would rely on their credit cards so much, higher-income people are probably fairly confident that they can pay off their monthly balance without going into debt. Also, credit cards often come with rewards; 85% of people said they have one or more rewards credit cards in their wallet, which higher-income folks may use to maximize their earnings.

What other methods of payment do people use?

Credit cards are popular, but they’re not the only payment method. Our survey suggests that folks use various payment methods, including debit cards, credit cards, cash, and peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps like Venmo® or Cash App®.

Cash use increases once people hit $100k in household income.

Surprisingly, in our survey results, cash use increases once people hit $100K in household income. That group of respondents also reported using secured credit cards – a type of card usually associated with lower-income customers. So why do higher earners use these payment methods? One possibility is they could be trying to avoid unnecessary debt. If you physically pay cash for something, you’re less likely to spend outside your budget than with a traditional, unsecured credit card.

That $100K threshold is also when the number of credit cards increases. Simply put, this explains why that income bracket might use credit cards more – they have more to use.

Survey respondents in this bracket also have more financial products overall. Households making $100K to $149K have an average of 7.51 financial products, which is 4.22 more than their counterparts making under $15K.

It’s not surprising that people in the higher earning bracket have more financial products than those in the lower earning bracket. Higher earners are more likely to diversify their portfolios to include products like investment accounts and cryptocurrency. They’re also more likely to have a mortgage than their lower-earning peers.

The use of payment services like Chime’s Pay Anyone or other P2P apps also increases at each end of the income spectrum we used on our survey – those making less than $15K or more than $200K. These services offer a convenient way to pay friends, family, or gig workers – whether you’re sending a few bucks to a colleague to pay for a coffee or paying to have your home repainted.

The most common types of purchases made on credit

Most of our survey respondents (54%) use their credit cards to pay for regular expenses like groceries, utility bills, subscriptions, and gas. Many people also use them to pay for unexpected expenses (like home repairs or car breakdowns) or experiences (like dinner out, concerts, and vacations) – 56%, to be precise.

30% of Americans said they use their credit cards to pay for luxury items and nice clothing to maintain a specific lifestyle.

The most surprising takeaway: 30% of respondents said they use their credit cards to pay for luxury items and nice clothing to maintain a specific lifestyle – in other words, keeping up with the Joneses.

The respondents who chose this answer were mainly in the $75K to $200K bracket. What does that mean? It’s possible that higher-income earners feel like they have a reputation to uphold, which could include expensive items like designer clothes or luxury vehicles.

The biggest concerns about using credit cards

Credit cards are useful financial tools, but using them irresponsibly can lead to credit card debt. Our data suggests that people have several concerns about using credit cards:

43% of Americans are worried about credit card interest rates and fees.

  • Around 43% of respondents – both credit card holders and non-credit card holders – are concerned about high interest rates and credit card fees.
  • Approximately 37% of people worry that using credit cards will get them into debt.
  • 35% of survey respondents fear using credit cards will cause them to overspend.
  • 34% of credit card users are concerned about their card being stolen or lost, or identity theft. Only 28% of non-credit card owners share that concern.
  • Around 25% worry about being able to make monthly credit card payments.

These concerns aren’t unfounded. By the end of 2023, credit card debt rose to $1.13 trillion³ and credit card interest rates were at an all-time high of 22.8%⁴. Having a credit card can open you up to more financial risk. If you use a credit card responsibly you can enjoy benefits like improving your credit scores over time and qualify for loans in the future.

Is the average credit score range increasing?

The average American has a FICO® Score of 7175,6. Our survey respondents were asked to self-report their credit scores, and we found:

  • 20% self-reported a credit score of 800 or higher.
  • 28% said their score was between 740 and 799.
  • 16% reported a score between 670 and 793.
  • 10% said their score fell between 620 and 669.
  • 8% self-reported a score of 580 to 619.
  • Only 5% said their credit score was below 580.

A majority of respondents – 34% – said they check their credit score once a month, 25% check it weekly, and 27% check it more than once a week. These findings suggest that people are proactively working on their credit scores and monitoring them closely.

Make credit part of your toolkit

Used responsibly, credit cards can be a helpful addition to your financial portfolio. You can use them to build credit and rely on them when you receive an unexpected bill. If you’re new to the world of credit cards and want to learn more, check out these guides from Chime.

Now that you’ve seen how everyday people use their credit cards, you can make a plan to use yours responsibly. Whether you’re just starting out in the world or have a long credit history, there’s always more to learn about using credit cards.

Want to see more data? Check out our survey on how Gen Z views and builds wealth.

Chime® is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services are provided by The Bancorp Bank, N.A. or Stride Bank, N.A., Members FDIC. The Chime Visa® Debit Card and the Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card are issued by The Bancorp Bank, N.A. or Stride Bank pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa debit and credit cards are accepted. Please see the back of your Card for its issuing bank.

While Chime doesn’t issue personal checkbooks to write checks, Chime Checkbook gives you the freedom to send checks to anyone, anytime, from anywhere. See your issuing bank’s Deposit Account Agreement for full Chime Checkbook details.

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‡ SpotMe® for Credit Builder is an optional, no interest/no fee overdraft line of credit tied to the Secured Deposit Account. SpotMe on Debit is an optional, no fee service attached to your Chime Checking Account (individually or collectively, “SpotMe”). Eligibility for SpotMe requires $200 or more in qualifying direct deposits to your Chime Checking Account each month.

Opinions, advice, services, or other information or content expressed or contributed here by customers, users, or others, are those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect those of The Bancorp Bank, N.A. and Stride Bank, N.A. (“Banks”). Banks are not responsible for the accuracy of any content provided by author(s) or contributor(s).

¹ Data from a blind survey conducted by Chime between March 26 to April 2, 2024, with a panel of 2,000 Americans 18+ and balanced by age, income, and region.

² Information from Experian’s “What Is the Average Number of Credit Cards per US Consumer?” as of April 24, 2023: https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/average-number-of-credit-cards-a-person-has/

³ Information from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s “Household Debt and Credit Report” as of April 30, 2024: https://www.newyorkfed.org/microeconomics/hhdc

⁴ Information from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “Credit Card Interest Rate Margins at All-Time High” as of April 30, 2024: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/credit-card-interest-rate-margins-at-all-time-high/

⁵ Information from FICO’s “Average U.S. FICO Score at 717 as More Consumers Face Financial Headwinds” as of April 24, 2024: https://www.fico.com/blogs/average-us-fico-score-717-more-consumers-face-financial-headwinds

⁶ FICO® Scores are developed by Fair Isaac Corporation. The FICO Score provided by ConsumerInfo.com, Inc., also referred to as Experian Consumer Services ("ECS"), in Experian CreditWorks℠, Credit Tracker℠ and/or your free Experian membership (as applicable) is based on FICO Score 8, unless otherwise noted. Many but not all lenders use FICO Score 8.

In addition to the FICO Score 8, ECS may offer and provide other base or industry-specific FICO Scores (such as FICO Auto Scores and FICO Bankcard Scores). The other FICO Scores made available are calculated from versions of the base and industry-specific FICO Score models. There are many different credit scoring models that can give a different assessment of your credit rating and relative risk (risk of default) for the same credit report. Your lender or insurer may use a different FICO Score than FICO Score 8 or such other base or industry-specific FICO Score, or another type of credit score altogether. Just remember that your credit rating is often the same even if the number is not.

For some consumers, however, the credit rating of FICO Score 8 (or other FICO Score) could vary from the score used by your lender. The statement that "90% of top lenders use FICO Scores" is based on a third-party study of all versions of FICO Scores sold to lenders, including but not limited to scores based on FICO Score 8. Base FICO Scores (including the FICO Score 8) range from 300 to 850. Industry-specific FICO Scores range from 250-900. Higher scores represent a greater likelihood that you'll pay back your debts so you are viewed as being a lower credit risk to lenders. A lower FICO Score indicates to lenders that you may be a higher credit risk.

There are three different major credit reporting agencies — the Experian credit bureau, TransUnion® and Equifax® — that maintain a record of your credit history known as your credit report. Your FICO Score is based on the information in your credit report at the time it is requested. Your credit report information can vary from agency to agency because some lenders report your credit history to only one or two of the agencies. So your FICO Score can vary if the information they have on file for you is different. Since the information in your report can change over time, your FICO Score may also change.

Credit score calculated based on FICO® Score 8 model. Your lender or insurer may use a different FICO® Score than FICO® Score 8, or another type of credit score altogether. Learn More

To apply for Credit Builder, you must have received a single qualifying direct deposit of $200 or more to your Chime® Checking Account. The qualifying direct deposit must be from your employer, payroll provider, gig economy payer, or benefits payer by Automated Clearing House (ACH) deposit OR Original Credit Transaction (OCT). Bank ACH transfers, Pay Anyone transfers, verification or trial deposits from financial institutions, peer to peer transfers from services such as PayPal, Cash App, or Venmo, mobile check deposits, cash loads or deposits, one-time direct deposits, such as tax refunds and other similar transactions, and any deposit to which Chime deems to not be a qualifying direct deposit are not qualifying direct deposits.

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