For Many Americans, Holiday Purchases Come with a Payment Plan

65% say they typically use credit cards for at least some of their holiday season spending, and many will take three months or longer to pay off their holiday debt

12:00 PM EST Nov 18, 2015 Rating
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For Many Americans, Holiday Purchases Come with a Payment Plan

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Cash may be king, at least as far as the saying goes, but credit seems to count itself among the nobility as well, at least where American holiday spending is concerned. When asked to estimate the balance between their cash/debit and credit card spending in a typical holiday season, nearly two thirds (65%) indicate that they make at least some of their purchases using credit cards.

More specifically, a third (33%) say they either exclusively make holiday season purchases using credit cards (15%) or that they make more purchases on credit than they do using cash or debit cards (17%). Thirteen percent (13%) use each in equal measure, while roughly half (49%) say they use cash/debit either predominately (20%) or exclusively (29%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,368 general population U.S. adults, along with representative oversamples of 511 Hispanic Americans (interviewed in English and Spanish) and 179 Asian Americans (interviewed in English), surveyed online between September 9 and 17, 2015.

Paying it off

For those who use credit cards with a rewards program and pay it off quickly rather than carry over a balance from month to month, credit spending can be a useful part of one’s financial toolbox. But are Americans paying it off quickly or carrying lingering debt? Among those who typically use credit cards for any of their holiday spending, over six in ten (62%) say they pay it off either right away (39%) or within a month (23%).

However, roughly three in ten (31%) hold onto their holiday debt over longer periods. Specifically, 15% say they pay it off within three months, 8% within six months, and another 8% say it takes them longer than six months to pay off the debt.

It turns out that those most likely to use credit cards for at least some of their holiday season purchases are also most likely to pay it off quickly. Among those who do any holiday season spending on credit, Matures (81%) and Baby Boomers (69%) are far more likely than Gen Xers (50%) and Millennials (52%) to say they typically pay off this debt either right away or within a month.

 

 

TABLE 1a

CREDIT VS. CASH/DEBIT SPENDING IN HOLIDAY SEASON

By Generation, Gender, Children in Household & Ethnicity

“And thinking about your spending throughout the holiday season (including travel, gifts, food, and other spending specific to this season), how much of your spending would you typically do using credit cards as opposed to using cash or debit cards (i.e., money you have and that does not incur debt)?”

Base: All Adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Children <18 in HH

Ethnicity

Millennials (18-35)

Gen X (36-50)

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Matures (70+)

Men

Women

Yes

No

White

Black

Hispanic

Asian

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

USE ANY CREDIT (NET)

65

53

66

71

80

65

65

62

67

68

47

59

83

More credit (NET)

33

18

27

42

54

34

31

24

37

38

17

25

60

     I only make purchases using credit cards

15

8

14

20

25

16

15

10

18

19

3

10

29

     I make more purchases using credit cards than using cash or debit cards

17

11

14

22

29

18

16

14

19

19

14

15

31

I make purchases using credit cards and cash/debit cards about equally

13

12

15

11

14

12

13

15

12

12

14

15

10

More cash/debit (NET)

49

60

55

42

29

47

51

57

45

46

63

52

24

     I make more purchases using cash or debit cards than using credit cards

20

22

24

18

11

20

21

23

19

21

19

21

15

     I only make purchases using cash or debit cards

29

38

31

23

17

28

30

34

27

25

44

31

9

Don’t know

6

9

3

5

3

7

4

4

7

4

7

8

6

Note:  Totals may not add to 100% because of rounding; * indicates mentions of <0.5%; -- indicates no mentions

 

TABLE 1b

CREDIT VS. CASH/DEBIT SPENDING IN HOLIDAY SEASON

By Political Party, Political Philosophy & Region

“And thinking about your spending throughout the holiday season (including travel, gifts, food, and other spending specific to this season), how much of your spending would you typically do using credit cards as opposed to using cash or debit cards (i.e., money you have and that does not incur debt)?”

Base: All Adults

 

Total

Political Party

Political Philosophy

Region

Republicans

Democrats

Independents

Conservative

Moderate

Liberal

East

Midwest

South

West

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

USE ANY CREDIT (NET)

65

74

62

68

66

66

63

67

69

62

65

More credit (NET)

33

42

31

32

34

32

32

38

36

28

30

     I only make purchases using credit cards

15

21

13

16

18

14

15

17

15

15

14

     I make more purchases using credit cards than using cash or debit cards

17

21

18

17

16

18

17

21

21

13

17

I make purchases using credit cards and cash/debit cards about equally 

13

11

13

15

11

14

12

13

15

12

12

More cash/debit (NET)

49

43

50

47

49

48

52

43

46

54

51

     I make more purchases using cash or debit cards than using credit cards

20

21

18

21

21

20

19

16

18

22

23

     I only make purchases using cash or debit cards

29

23

32

26

29

28

32

27

28

32

28

Don’t know

6

4

6

6

6

6

5

6

3

6

8

Note:  Totals may not add to 100% because of rounding; * indicates mentions of <0.5%; -- indicates no mentions

 

TABLE 2a

HOW QUICKLY AMERICANS PAY OFF HOLIDAY DEBT

By Generation, Gender, Children in Household & Ethnicity

“And when using credit cards for holiday spending, how quickly do you typically pay it off?”

Base: Use credit cards during holiday season

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Children <18 in HH

Ethnicity

Millennials (18-35)

Gen X (36-50)

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Matures (70+)

Men

Women

Yes

No

White

Black^

Hispanic

Asian

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Right away or within a month (NET)

62

52

50

69

81

62

62

48

69

65

37

61

78

     Right away

39

29

33

45

55

40

39

31

44

41

17

30

53

     Within a month

23

24

16

24

27

22

23

17

25

24

20

31

25

Within 3-6 months (NET)

23

28

32

18

9

25

21

35

16

21

36

27

13

     Within 3 months 

15

15

22

12

7

15

14

23

11

14

22

20

6

     Within 6 months

8

13

10

6

2

10

6

12

6

7

13

8

7

Longer than 6 months

8

6

12

9

5

8

9

10

8

8

15

8

8

Not sure

7

14

7

4

4

5

9

7

7

6

12

4

1

Note:  Totals may not add to 100% because of rounding; * indicates mentions of <0.5%; -- indicates no mentions

^ indicates a low base (n<100) – results should be interpreted as directional in nature 

 

TABLE 2b

HOW QUICKLY AMERICANS PAY OFF HOLIDAY DEBT

By Political Party, Political Philosophy & Region

“And when using credit cards for holiday spending, how quickly do you typically pay it off?”

Base: Use credit cards during holiday season

 

Total

Political Party

Political Philosophy

Region

Republicans

Democrats

Independents

Conservative

Moderate

Liberal

East

Midwest

South

West

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Right away or within a month (NET)

62

72

60

58

66

60

61

63

62

58

65

     Right away

39

44

36

40

40

40

36

44

38

36

40

     Within a month

23

28

24

17

26

20

25

19

25

22

25

Within 3-6 months (NET)

23

19

21

27

23

23

22

21

23

25

21

     Within 3 months

15

12

16

17

13

15

16

13

17

13

16

     Within 6 months

8

7

5

11

10

8

6

8

6

12

5

Longer than 6 months

8

6

11

7

7

9

8

8

8

11

5

Not sure

7

3

8

7

4

9

8

7

6

6

9

Note:  Totals may not add to 100% because of rounding; * indicates mentions of <0.5%; -- indicates no mentions

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between September 9 and 17, 2015 among 2,368 adults (aged 18 and over). Additionally, oversamples were collected in English and Spanish among 511 Hispanic (representing Spanish-dominant, English-dominant and Bilingual profiles) respondents and in English among 179 Asian respondents. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #73, November 18, 2015

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. 

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