Portrait of a young woman doing shopping online and holding credit card in her mouth while sitting in the living room at home

Financial fitness is perhaps the most practical New Year’s resolution to make — and a new study by GigaPoints, a platform that provides personal credit card recommendations based on a user’s spending, revealed that credit card usage is evolving into a game of strategy, and for good reason.

GigaPoints’s 2021 Credit Card Trends report said results from a new Ipsos poll illustrated how credit card usage is changing for Americans, with a strong emphasis on new generations of credit seekers, the pursuit of cashback, and a strategic eye for card choice. The Ipsos poll was conducted in late December with a sample of more than 1,000 U.S. adults.

“The new year means new cards,” according to GigaPoints, as one in five respondents said they plan on opening a new account in 2021. And of the respondents opening new credit cards, GigaPoints said Gen Zers, at 40 percent and Millennials, at 33 percent, top the list — with males outnumbering females two to one.

“Americans are signaling a year of change when it comes to choosing credit cards,” said Erik Budde, chief executive officer and founder of GigaPoints. “With the COVID-19 vaccine beginning to be administered nationwide and a sense of normalcy eventually coming back, we will see the opportunity for growth within the credit card market, especially among Gen Z, Millennials and men.”

As far as credit card rewards, it’s all about cash back. Its report said seven in 10 credit card users say that credit card rewards are very important to them, and 73 percent of Americans prefer cash back over other types of rewards. And unsurprisingly, among credit card holders, 60 percent say that earning credit card points and rewards makes them want to use their cards more often — and this is particularly true for Millennials, at 67 percent and Gen Xers, at 66 percent.

But paradox of choice is a problem, as cardholders have difficulty sifting through the endless and complex rewards offerings and point structures. “Though 57 percent of Americans believe they get the maximum possible rewards from their current credit card(s), three in 10 find it difficult to understand which rewards programs would be best for them,” GigaPoints said.

Image courtesy of GigaPoints. 

And the firm added that cardholders are currently incentivized: Its data found more than half (or 53 percent) of cardholders say they would consider getting a new card or switching credit cards, if they could earn more rewards. “At 41 percent, ‘earning better rewards’ is the top reason cited for wanting to get a new card in the year ahead, among those who plan to do so,” according to GigaPoints.

Budde emphasized that cardholders view rewards as “a powerful incentive for spending, but many aren’t sure how to identify which cards are best for their spending habits. GigaPoints was created to take the guesswork out of choosing a credit card by quickly and securely offering users data-driven recommendations that will earn them the most rewards or cashback based on their spending.”

And spending for cardholders during the pandemic signaled a more strategic outlook on what they get back for their dollar. The report said that nearly 19 percent of credit card users say they changed which credit card they use the most due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that number increases to 36 percent among Millennial credit card holders.

GigaPoints explained that personal finance is “top of mind” for many Americans, and “especially with the enduring challenges of COVID-19, many are looking to save money wherever they can — and in the case of credit cards, maximize existing spending to the best extent possible,” the brand said.

But when forecasting the future, it’s possible that these preferences may shift once again, according to the data. “Another 19 percent of all Americans say once COVID-19 is no longer a major concern, they anticipate changing which credit card they primarily use to earn points, rewards or cash back, with Gen Z (35 percent) and Millennial (37 percent) credit card users once again leading the pack,” GigaPoints said.

And what exactly do cardholders want their points to earn? Travel. “Nearly 40 percent of credit card users are currently saving their credit card travel rewards for future use, which rises to 47 percent among affluent consumers.”

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