Holiday Shoppers Keep Their Plastic in Their Pockets

Holiday Shoppers Are Cutting Back on Credit Card Use
Holiday Shoppers Are Cutting Back on Credit Card Use

When the Great Recession hit, many debt-laden Americans decided to put their free-spending ways on hold, resulting in more household saving, reduced debt and less reliance on credit cards. In recent weeks, however, as retail sales perked up in advance of December's holidays, some experts began wondering if consumers were once again using plastic to splurge.

That doesn't seem to be the case. Though sales are upbeat this year, credit cards are playing a smaller role in purchases, according to survey results released Monday by Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. The poll showed that more than half of U.S. adults -- 56% -- aren't using their credit cards at all to make holiday purchases this year. Another 26% said they're using credit cards to buy some gifts, while only 18% said they're either charging most or all of their presents.

The poll results show that income and age play a role in determining whether credit cards are used for gift purchases, Marist said. Among gift-givers who earn less than $50,000 annually, 66% said they don't plan to use credit cards for any holiday gifts, while just less than half -- 47% -- of those who earn $50,000 or more say the same.

Younger Americans are more likely to leave their plastic in their wallets, the Marist poll found, with 70% of shoppers aged 18 to 29 saying they aren't using credit cards when buying their holiday gifts. The result compares with 57% of shoppers aged 30 to 44; 56% of those 45 to 59; and 48% of those 60 and older.

Significant Shifts Since 2007

The result seems to contradict another finding in the survey: More people are making purchases online -- and credit cards are the easiest way to shop on the Internet. Marist pollsters found that 42% of shoppers are buying some of their gifts online, while 11% are purchasing all or most of them electronically. The remainder aren't using the Web at all for their holiday shopping.

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When Marist last asked that question three years ago, 37% of respondents bought some of their presents online, with 4% using the Web to buy all or most of them. A majority -- 58% -- didn't use the Internet at all in 2007. As with credit-card use, income plays a roll in Internet purchases, with those earning less than $50,000 half as likely to use to buy gifts online than those who earn $50,000 a year or more.

The survey further showed that a slight majority of Americans -- 51% -- expect to spend about the same amount as they did last year on gifts, while 40% are shelling out less and just 9% are spending more. Not surprisingly, the poll found those who earn more than $50,000 a year are more likely to spend the same as last year than those who earn less than that amount -- 58% versus 44%.

Among other findings, Marist said that Americans aged 18 to 29 (23%) are more likely to spend more this year than 30- to 44-year-olds (7%); 45- to 59-year-olds (4%), and those aged 60 and older (6%). Further, Marist said, women (43%) are more likely than men (37%) to spend less.