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ABA Report: Credit Card Market Recovery Continued in Fourth Quarter of 2021

WASHINGTON —

In a sign of continuing U.S. consumer strength, monthly credit card purchase volumes rose across risk tiers (prime, subprime, and super-prime) in last year’s fourth quarter, the third consecutive increase, according to the American Bankers Association’s latest quarterly Credit Card Market Monitor released today.

The May 2022 Monitor, which reflects credit card data from October to December 2021, reveals that monthly purchase volumes* rose 4–6% across risk tiers compared to the previous quarter. Purchase volumes were 23–27% above year-earlier levels, and although high inflation was partly responsible for the spending increase, inflation-adjusted monthly purchase volumes also rose across risk tiers on both a quarterly and annual basis. Meanwhile, the effective finance charge yield (which measures interest payments relative to total outstanding credit in the market) fell another nine basis points to 12.01%, a new four-year low. 

“The strong labor market allowed consumers to continue driving the economy forward,” said ABA Chief Economist and Head of Research Sayee Srinivasan. “While the U.S. economy is dealing with higher inflation and consequently rising interest rates, as evidenced by credit card debt as a share of disposable income, U.S. households’ balance sheets remain robust to help absorb shocks from these headwinds.”

Other metrics featured in the Credit Card Market Monitor suggest that consumer credit conditions continued to normalize in the last three months of 2021. For example: 

  • After new account creation** slowed sharply across risk tiers during the second half of 2020 and first half of 2021, new openings rose for the second consecutive quarter, driven by subprime accounts.
  • Average credit lines for new accounts also rose across risk tiers for the first time in two years, led by prime and super-prime accounts. Among all accounts, the average credit line for prime and super-prime accounts also rose although subprime credit lines fell a modest 0.6%.
  • Credit card debt outstanding as a share of disposable income* increased to 4.61% but remains well below its pre-pandemic level of 5.42%.
  • The share of cardholders who are Transactors (those who pay their monthly balance in full) held steady at 36.3%, near an all-time high. Meanwhile, the share of Revolvers (those who carry over a monthly balance) rose 0.6 percentage point to 40.1% – still 4.6 percentage points below its Q1 2020 level – while the share of Dormant accounts fell by 0.6 percentage point to 23.8%.

“While new account generation and initial credit lines fell during the first year of the pandemic, in response to improved economic conditions, credit card issuers are now extending more credit to consumers,” said Srinivasan. 

The full report with detailed charts and statistics is available here.

*Seasonally Adjusted

**New accounts are defined as those opened in the previous 24 months.

About the Credit Card Market Monitor

The American Bankers Association Credit Card Market Monitor is a quarterly report that provides key statistics on industry trends and relevant economic factors affecting the industry.  The credit card data used in the report is taken from a nationally representative sample provided by Verisk Financial | Argus.  Credit card data are presented as national averages for all accounts based on actual credit card account information.  No individual account holder’s information or specific financial institution’s data can be identified from the data set.  Other data used in the report are taken from various public and private sources, including the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Federal Reserve.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions and definitions of the data presented in the ABA Credit Card Industry Monitor can be found in an Appendix attached to the monitor.

Results of this and all previous reports can be found at www.aba.com.

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About the American Bankers Association

The American Bankers Association is the voice of the nation’s $23.7 trillion banking industry, which is composed of small, regional and large banks that together employ more than 2 million people, safeguard $19.6 trillion in deposits and extend $11.8 trillion in loans.

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