Holiday Spending Indicates Shift to Debit During Discretionary Spending Periods

PSCU has released data indicating a spending growth of 10 percent among owner credit unions, more than double the forecast.

The data also shows that debit cards contributed the most to overall spend growth, potentially pointing to a shift in consumer confidence when it comes to payment preference for discretionary versus non-discretionary spend.

PSCU Owners saw spend growth of 12 percent for debit cards and 6 percent for credit cards during November and December 2018. A study conducted by PSCU in Q4 of 2018 showed that credit cards are the preferred way to pay for both credit union members and non-members. According to the study, when it comes to retail, credit cards are the most commonly used method of payment across the majority of purchase locations. Credit cards are predominantly used for large purchases over $200, buying tangible goods and for routine purchases, such as paying for groceries and going out to eat. Debit, on the other hand, is the most often used payment method among credit union members when making in-store purchases.

“Debit is predominantly the card of choice for consumers that are debt averse and/or seeking spending discipline and is usually heavily favored for every day, non-discretionary spending. Data from the 2018 holiday shopping season, however, indicated consumers favored debit during this highly discretionary spending period,” said Norm Patrick, VP of PSCU’s Advisors Plus. “Coupled with increased unsecured debt load and higher borrowing costs, some consumers could be feeling a bit nervous when it comes to borrowing to fund larger, discretionary purchases. A higher level of comfort could be achieved with using a debit card funded with liquid checking assets.”

The Consumer Confidence Index – an important indicator of card spend – dropped in November and December after years of a continual uptick. This decrease could be an indicator of general consumer spending contraction, highlighted by increased spend activity during the holiday shopping period.

PSCU’s study also revealed that consumers today are motivated by two primary needs: convenience and safety. Nearly three-fourths of people agree that they make decisions about how they will pay for something primarily based on which option is the most secure. Convenience and comfort are just as important as safety concerns for those choosing to use credit and debit cards.

“Economic indicators such as increasing consumer debt, rising borrowing costs and shaky equity markets are pointing to waning consumer confidence. The good news is that credit unions are well-positioned to fulfill consumers’ need for both convenience and safety, regardless of changing economic conditions,” added Patrick.

In addition to an increase in spending over the holiday season, which was somewhat expected, the number of cards that were spending during this timeframe was twice as many as were organically grown last year. PSCU Owner credit unions saw between 4 percent and 5 percent organic card growth, but up to 9 percent growth in total cards that were actually spending over the holiday season.

“A significant increase in the total number of cards in use opens up a world of possibilities for credit unions. There is an opportunity for credit unions to capitalize on the additional cards now in rotation to ensure members continue spending on their credit union card in 2019, and ultimately move that card to the coveted top-of-wallet position,” said Jeff Rosenbeck, VP of Analytics Strategy and Engagement for PSCU.