Consumer spending rings up credit card profits

A window sticker advertising Visa and MasterCard credit cards in San Francisco

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Bob Moon: It's official -- Americans are dusting off the plastic. Today, MasterCard reported fourth quarter profits jumped 41 percent. Just yesterday, Visa announced a 16 percent rise in profits. And consumer spending in general rose about 4.5 percent in the last three months of last year.

Are we getting back to our hard-spending ways? Here's Marketplace's Stacey Vanek Smith.


Stacey Vanek Smith: During the recession, consumers saved more, spent less and paid down their debt -- but that's changing. In the last few months, spending is up, credit card transactions are up and savings rates are down.

Greg McBride: After two years of tightening the belt, many consumers are ready to erupt.

Greg McBride is a financial analyst for Bankrate.com.

McBride: We like our fancy cars, we like our $4 coffees, and even though we might have gotten away from that a little bit during the recession, consumers are quickly coming back to that.

But there are real differences, says economist Ken Goldstein with the Conference Board. He says consumers are being less impulsive and more deliberate about their shopping.

Ken Goldstein: More planning in terms of when they're going to spend on big ticket items like furniture, like appliances. This is a much different market than what we were looking at in 2005, 2006.

David Robertson publishes the Nilson report, which tracks credit card spending. He says after a big drop-off during the recession, consumers are gradually being lured back to plastic with offers of extra miles, cash back and other incentives.

David Robertson: People starting to feel a little better about moving their spending back to credit cards. We're starting to see consumers now influenced by the ability to earn rewards.

Robertson says though consumers are using credit cards more, they're also paying them off faster. Americans had $975 billion worth of credit card debt in 2008. That's already dropped by about $100 billion, and Robertson expects it will continue to fall through the end of next year.

In New York, I'm Stacey Vanek Smith for Marketplace.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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