Cards show their selling points

Credit cards are a convenient way to pay for items and many consumers regard them as safer than cash, but there are major regional discrepancies in card ownership and management of the debt

credit_cardMajor changes are on the way for the plastic we keep in our purses and wallets, for not only are credit card companies taking tentative steps to ensuring the material the cards are made of is more environmentally friendly, but there are moves to make the cards easier and quicker to use.

Barclaycard earlier this month revealed the brand name of its three-in-one payment card – OnePulse – that is due to launch in September (marketingweek.co.uk July 9).

The card will be the only one in the UK to combine Transport for London’s Oyster card with a credit card facility. Meanwhile, Mastercard is looking to introduce a similar product in the UK, initially in partnership with fast-food chain McDonald’s (MW April 7). These “wave and pay” or “contactless” cards aim to make life easier for consumers, but with the UK’s collective debt burden standing at an estimated £1trillion, some say that’s not necessarily a good thing.

So how do UK consumers use and perceive credit cards, and what are the differences in attitudes across the regions and consumers groups?

Halifax Credit Cards commissioned GfK NOP, which surveyed 935 UK consumers over 18. When asked which items they would least like to lose, consumers say their credit cards (16%), above mobile phone (8%) and driving licence (7%).

However, younger cardholders are less protective of their plastic: fewer than one in ten (7%) of 18- to 24-year-olds say they would least like to lose their cards. By contrast, over a quarter (26%) of over-65s say cards are the thing they would least like to lose.

Regionally, those in Yorkshire and Humberside and Wales seem to treasure their credit cards more than the rest of the UK, with almost a third (29%) and a quarter (23%) respectively saying they would least like to lose their cards.

According to research from the Halifax, cash is no longer king. When asked how long they could last with their credit card alone, over 54% of respondents say a week or more. Almost one in three (29%) say they would feel comfortable going a month or more. And it is the convenience of paying with a credit card that is most appealing. When asked “why do you use your credit card?” by Halifax, the top answer was convenience (49%), followed by the fact consumers don’t like to carry cash (17%) and that cards offer added protection (16%).

Not carrying cash is much more important for those aged over 65: almost three in ten (29%) over-65s say they use a credit card because they do not like to carry cash.

The Halifax research also found that the added protection often provided when purchasing with a credit card – for example, Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act deals specifically with protecting the consumer against suppliers of goods and services – is an important factor. One in eight (13%) say “added protection” is their primary reason for using a credit card.

Interestingly, when buying large items, credit cards are by far consumers’ favoured method of payment. Seven in ten (71%) say a credit card is one of the methods of payment they tend to use when making a large or expensive purchase.

Just as there appears to be a north-south divide in terms of affluence, there is one when it comes to credit card ownership: according to Acxiom, people living in the South-east are the most likely consumers to always pay their credit card off in full, with 55% doing so, according to the research. Those least likely to always meet the full bill live in the North-east, the North-west and Scotland – all at 49%.

Londoners lead the table in terms of the quantity of cards held per household. The figures show that 13% of London households own four or more credit cards, 4% higher than the national average. Scottish households are the least likely to own a high number of cards, with only 6% owning more than four.

The North-east has the highest number of households without credit cards, with 35% not owning any at all. This is 7% higher than the national average, and compares with 23% in both London and the South-east.

The Acxiom research also pinpoints a marked difference in the type of cards owned by UK households. While the ownership of standard card types such as Visa, Mastercard and store-cards is evenly spread across regions, Londoners are more likely to own American Express or Diners cards and frequent-flyer cards. American Express cards are owned by 4% of Londoners (up 50% on the national average), compared with only 1% in Wales.

According to Acxiom, the London and South-east show an interesting trend. Although people in these areas admit to having a high number and diverse range of credit cards, suggesting occupations and lifestyles requiring high spending levels, they are also among those most likely to eradicate these debts as soon as possible, by paying each monthly balance off in full.

Acxiom says that this suggests that although recent developments such as the sharp rise in interest rates, peoples’ work and lifestyle habits mean that although credit card spending is high, the salaries of people in these areas are sufficient to allow them to settle their debts more quickly than those in less affluent areas.

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