Credit cards have been around since 1950 when the founders of the Diners Club came up with the idea. The original card required the users to pay the balance in full every month. It was only later that companies began to allow customers to carry the balance on their cards. In the last 72 years, credit cards have become a normal method of paying.

Unfortunately, it has also become increasingly normal for people not to pay the balance off in full every month. With nearly nine out of ten Canadian households owning at least one credit card, what is the state of credit card use in Canada?

Credit Card Statistics for Canadians

  • The average Canadian owns two credit cards.
  • 39% of Canadians say they will not use their credit cards at certain establishments because of the risk of credit card fraud.
  • 56 % of goods and services are paid by credit cards in Canada.
  • 72% of Canadians have a credit card with a rewards scheme.
  • Approximately 90% of Canadians 18 and over had a credit card in 2022. 
  • Approximately 29 million Canadians shopped online in 2022.
  •  $3,909 is the average amount owed on credit cards in Canada.
  • There were 482,000 credit card deferral requests completed by the end of January 2021.
  • 94.8 million credit cards were in circulation in 2022.
  • Credit card fraud costs $800 million in Canada.
  • 7 billion contactless payments were made in Canada in 2019.
  • Canadians spent $11.7 trillion on credit cards in 2022.
  •  The consumer debt in Canada was $2.4 trillion in the second quarter of 2023.

A brief history of credit cards

Store cards had existed before, but the Diners Club card became the first store card available for widespread use in 1950. One of the founders, Frank McNamara, together with his partner Ralph Schneider, was inspired to launch the Diners Club card after leaving his wallet at home when dining out.

People who had Diners Card would be able to charge their meal to the card and the bill would be sent to Diners Club. The Club would send payment to the restaurant’s bank and take a small commission for the transaction. Cardholders had to clear their balance in full each month.

American Express developed its first charge card in 1958. Cardholders had to pay an annual fee for the card and they were still required to pay their bill in full every month.

Later in the same year, Bank of America issued a paper card with a pre-approved limit of $300 to 60,000 customers in Fresno. The first attempt didn’t go that well with delinquency rates of over 20%. However, they continued and the new credit card grew in popularity, especially among the growing middle class. In 1976, the company changed the name of the card to Visa.

In 1966, a group of Californian banks formed a partnership and released the card which evolved into MasterCard by 1979.

Credit cards are the top choices for larger transactions

Using credit cards to pay, especially for more expensive goods, has become increasingly common in Canada. According to Finder, there were 94.8 million credit cards in circulation in 2022 and the average Canadian owns two credit cards.

Credit cards are especially popular for transactions above $15. They make up 39% of all retail transactions and 56% of the total value of services and goods purchased. Cash is only used for 15% of the total value. Making up 46% of the total value, debit cards are the most popular payment method.

In 2009, just over half of the transactions for goods and services costing more than $50 were paid with a credit card. In 2017, a credit card was used for almost a third of those transactions.

Credit card transactions totalled more than $11.7 trillion in 2022. The most common retail categories paid by credit cards are clothing with 64% of transactions paid with a credit card, durable goods at 58%, gasoline at 51%, groceries/drugs at 39%, and health care at 6%.

How much is owed on credit cards?

Around 15% of Canadians have a spending limit of under $2,000 on their credit card, while 41% have a spending limit of over $10,000. The rest have spending limits that fall somewhere in between.

On average, Canadians owe $3,909 on debit cards, up from $2,627. A survey by the Bank of Canada found that 70% of Canadians pay their balance in full every month. However, other sources estimate the number to be only between 47 and 58 per cent.

Credit card debt forms only 5.3% of Canadian household debt. However, credit card payments represent almost 15% of scheduled monthly payments on average.

How does credit card use in Canada compare to other countries?

Canada has the highest number of people who have credit cards in the world. In a 2017 survey on credit card ownership among people aged 15 or over, Canada ranked first out of the 142 countries included in the survey with 82.58%. The credit card ownership rate was approximately 90% among Canadians aged 18 and over in 2022. 

Israel, where 75.02% of people own at least one or more credit cards was second, with Norway at 70.5% third place. Turkmenistan was last with 0%.

The number of new credit cards has gone down slightly

The peak of new credit cards issued in Canada was in 2013. That year, lenders issued 81 million new credit cards. In 2018, there were 79.6 million credit cards issued.

Paying with contactless has become increasingly popular

Making contactless payments with your card or mobile is so easy, which is why it has become such a popular payment method. In 2019, there were 4.7 billion contactless payments in Canada. The value of these payments was $156 billion.

Around 56% of Canadians use their physical cards when shopping, while 37% of credit card payments are made using mobile phones. Younger people and those with higher income are more likely to make payments using contactless either with their card or phone. The main reason people not using their smartphones to pay give is concerns over the security of payments.

Online shopping is becoming more popular and has led to higher use of credit cards

In 2022, 29 million Canadians bought something online and most of these purchases were paid for with credit cards. Canadians prefer to use credit cards when shopping online for security reasons and 52% of online purchases were paid with credit cards. PayPal is the second most popular with 19% and debit cards account for 18% of the sales.

Purchases made online and paid with credit cards in 2019 were worth $54 billion and accounted for over 170 million transactions.

Most of the online transactions were to purchase clothing and footwear

52% of Canadians who bought something online in 2019, bought clothes or footwear. The second most popular category for online purchases was travel at 37%. Buying electronic items accounted for 31% of online sales.

A small percentage of credit card transactions are to pay regular bills

While most of the credit card transactions are used to pay for goods and services, Canadians are using credit cards to cover their household bills. 13% of credit card transactions are used to take care of bills. People use them to pay for bills such as utilities, insurance, memberships, and subscriptions.

Consumer debt has reached record numbers

In the fall of 2020, the Canadian consumer debt reached over $2 trillion. The debt rose by 3.8% compared to the same period in 2019. At this point in 2020, credit card use in Canada was back to pre-pandemic levels and at the same time, there was high demand for mortgages and car loans.

Since then the consumer debt has continued to rise in Canada amid higher cost of living. In the second quarter of 2023, the consumer debt had reached $2.4 trillion. 

More people are paying annual fees on their credit cards

There has been a significant increase in the number of Canadians who have credit cards with annual fees. In 2017, 37% of Canadians had to pay an annual fee on their card compared to just 21% in 2013.

It is easy to find credit cards with low interest rates

There is a lot of competition for customers with banks, credit unions, retailers, and caisses populaires all offering credit card products. One way to attract customers is by offering low interest rates. There are over 30 credit cards in Canada where the interest rate is below 13%.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, banks took measures to support their customers

By the end of January 2021, eight banks in Canada completed 482,000 credit card deferral requests. During the pandemic, banks reduced interest rates on their cards and allowed lower minimum payments on credit cards, mortgages, and car loans during the pandemic.

Credit cards that offer a rewards programme have become increasingly popular

More Canadians are taking advantage of rewards programs that come with some credit cards. Some cards come with a points system where you can use the points towards different services such as flights. Other cards might offer cashback rewards or an option to donate to a charity with the points earned.

82% of Canadians say having a rewards program is one of the main criteria they use when choosing a new credit card. Currently, up to 72% of Canadians own at least one credit card that offers a rewards program.

However, not all Canadians are aware of the rewards programs. According to credit card statistics, around 8% of Canadians do not know about the rewards programs their cards offer or how they work.

Most Canadians know about credit card fraud

According to a 2019 survey by CPA Canada, 86% of Canadians know what credit card fraud is. 39% of Canadians said they would not use their credit card with certain establishments because they were worried about credit card fraud.

Credit card fraud costs hundreds of millions

The total financial loss from credit card fraud is over $800 million according to a report from the Canadian Bankers Association. Credit card fraud has increased significantly in the past decade and the number of accounts reporting credit card fraud was up by 71%.

Canadian banks have measures in place to protect their customers from fraud

Banks in Canada collaborate with security and government agencies to ensure their customers get the safest service. They are also constantly upgrading their security systems to prevent fraud. Many banks have zero liability fraud policies to protect their customers in case of fraud-related problems.

Summary

Since credit cards were first introduced to consumers in 1950, they have become an increasingly popular payment method. The early credit card issuers required that the balance was paid in full every month, but now it is commonplace to carry your balance forward.

The average credit card debt in Canada is $3,909. However, credit card debt accounts for only just over 5% of household debt.

Canada is the number one country in the world for credit cards and the average Canadian has two credit cards. More than half of the total purchases are now made using credit cards. Canadian consumer debt, including credit card debt as well as various types of other credit, rose above $2.4 trillion in the second quarter of 2023.

As the number of purchases made with credit cards has risen, so has credit card fraud. The cost of credit card fraud in Canada is around $800 million. Banks work hard to ensure their customers are protected from credit card fraud.

Frequently Asked Questions

The average Canadian owns 2 credit cards.

29 million Canadians shopped online in 2022 with a credit card.

$2,627 is the average amount owed on credit cards in Canada.

39% of Canadians say they will not use their credit cards at certain establishments because of the risk of credit card fraud.

$2 trillion is the amount of consumer debt in Canada in the fall of 2020.

Sources