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It’s very convenient to swipe your credit card and make purchases. That may account for why outstanding credit card debt has been going up since the pandemic, hitting a high of $986 billion in the fourth quarter of 2022, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports.
This debt is facilitated by the many credit card issuers that participate in the U.S. credit card market, along with the Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express payment networks that help process credit card transactions.
- There were 485 million general purpose cards in circulation in 2020 (Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection)
- The Visa network had the most cards in circulation in 2021, at 753 million (Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection)
- The average general purpose credit card balance was $5,000 in 2020 (Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection)
- Chase had the largest credit card share in terms of outstanding balances in 2021, at $154 billion (Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection)
- The average cardholder had 3.8 cards in 2020 (Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection)
Largest credit card companies by cards in circulation
In its most recent study on the consumer credit card market, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reports there were 485 million open general purpose card accounts at the end of 2020, not including the 214 million open private-label cards issued for use at specific stores.
At the end of 2021, Visa market share was the largest, at about 48 percent, based on the number of credit cards in circulation (753 million), followed by Mastercard market share, at roughly 36 percent. Discover and American Express market share together accounted for about 16 percent of the credit card market (at about 8 percent and 7.5 percent respectively).
This represented minimal change from 2020 market share numbers, when Visa had the largest market share (at 49.5 percent) followed by Mastercard (34.5 percent), with Discover and American Express tailing these two dominant players (at 8.4 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively).
|Credit card networks||Cards in circ. 2021 (mil)||Cards in circ. 2020 (mil)|
|Source: Company financials and Fed’s report on credit card profitability|
Largest credit card issuers by outstanding balance
Consumers use their credit cards as a convenient means of paying for purchases and a handy source of emergency financing. More than half tend to pay off their outstanding balances within the interest-free grace period issuers grant them, according to a Fed report on credit card profitability.
The average credit card balance at the end of 2020 was $5,000, the CFPB reports. This had declined from $5,800 in the previous year, likely as a result of pandemic-constrained consumers cutting down on spending. Consumers may have also used government stimulus payments to pay off debt, and suspension of some other debt payments meant consumers could use the funds toward card payments, the consumer protection agency surmises.
Credit card outstanding balances are those that consumers carry on their cards (or revolve) from month to month. At the end of the first quarter of 2023, U.S. consumers carried about $986 billion in outstanding balances on their revolving credit accounts, according to the New York Federal Reserve. These outstanding balances were steady from the fourth quarter of 2022, but up from $823 billion at the end of 2020.
The top 10 card issuers hold about 82 percent of credit card balances outstanding in 2021, according to the Federal Reserve’s Profitability of Credit Card Operations of Depository
Institutions report (little changed from their total 81 percent market share by outstanding balances in 2020).
Chase had the highest market share on this basis (17.9 percent), followed by Amex (13.3 percent) and Citi (12.4 percent). Chase saw its market share rise from 2020’s 16.6 percent, while almost all other major issuers also saw a gain in market share in 2021 over 2020 levels.
According to the Nilson Report, the card issuers with the largest outstanding credit card balances in 2021 were:
|Issuer||Market Share ’21||Market Share ‘20|
|Source: Nilson Report|
|1.Chase ($154 billion)||17.9%||(16.6%)|
|2.American Express ($115 billion)||13.3%||(10.9)|
|3.Citi ( $107 billion)||12.4%(||11.8%)|
|4.Capital One ($98 billion)||11.4%||(10.2%)|
|5.Bank of America ($92.5 billion)||10.8%||(10.2%)|
|6.U.S. Bank ($39 billion)||4.5%||(4.3%)|
|7.Wells Fargo ($33 billion)||3.8%||(3.5%)|
|8.Barclays ($22 billion)||2.6%||(2.5%)|
|9.Synchrony ($21 billion)||2.4%||(2.2%)|
|10.Navy FCU ($20 billion)||2.3%||(2.3%)|
|Total $701.5 billion|
Top credit card issuers by purchase volume
Another way to gauge market share is by purchase volume, meaning the dollar amount of annual purchases made using a card. According to the CFPB, for 2019 and early 2020, purchase volumes on general purpose cards typically were more than $500 billion per quarter.
In the second quarter of 2020, purchase volume saw a precipitous 21 percent drop off as the advent of the pandemic meant consumers were forced to stay home and spending on services was curtailed. By the end of 2020 however, credit card purchase volumes were back to their earlier levels.
According to Nilson Report data provided to Bankrate, total purchase volume on general purpose credit cards was at $4.56 trillion for 2021. This is expected to grow to $6.3 trillion in 2026. Purchase volume totaled $4.009 trillion for the first three quarters of 2022, Nilson reports, a gain of 22.8 percent from the comparable period of 2021.
Visa was the market leader among the networks for purchase volume, at $2.09 trillion for the first three quarters of 2022, up 21.4 percent from 2021. Mastercard came in next, at $967 billion (up 25 percent), followed by American Express at $793 billion (up 24.5 percent) and Discover at $154 billion (up 18.5 percent).
In terms of market share, Visa saw its market share dip to 52.22 percent for the period (from 52.8 percent), while Mastercard’s share nudged up to 24.13 percent (from 23.69 percent). American Express also saw a slight gain in market share to 19.78 percent (from 19.5 percent), while Discover saw a drop off to 3.87 percent (from 4.01 percent).
Card issuers by purchase volume
|Issuer||‘21 Purchase Volume (billions)||‘20 Purchase Volume (billions)|
|Source: Nilson Report|
|Bank of America||$414||$339.4|
A card issuer is the lender that is making a loan to you when you use your credit card. It is the company that approves your credit card application and sets the terms of your account, such as your credit line and when you have you make your monthly payment. It also decides what benefits, such as points or miles rewards, the card will offer and provides support if you run into issues. The credit card issuer is also responsible for paying merchants for purchase transactions.
Credit card networks are the ones that help process your credit card transactions. When you make a payment to a merchant, they are the ones that route the transactions and confirm that you have credit available to pay for the purchase. Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express are networks. Discover and American Express are card issuers as well as networks.Some merchants only accept cards processed by certain networks. If you have a Mastercard, for instance, you won’t be able to use it with a merchant that only accepts American Express cards. In return for the services they provide, networks get paid through credit card transaction processing fees. These fees average 2 to 3 percent of the purchase price, with the majority of this going to the card issuer as a swipe fee. They also include a payment to the merchant’s bank and to any payment processor involved in the transaction.