When it comes to what’s in America’s wallets, it’s all about balance. Especially in 2020, a year that has caused at least some degree of financial change for almost every household in the country. From an economic upheaval related to the coronavirus pandemic, to basic financial planning for savings, spending, and bill payments, the overall question about money — and how to use it — is currently top of mind. And while there has been a great deal of discussion about the future of finances, from floating a cashless society to pursuing new forms of currency, credit is still one of the most popular and widely used methods of payment in the U.S. 

Cutting Ties With Debt, Not Cards

By the end of this year’s third quarter, the majority of Americans (85% combined) report holding at least one major credit card, with more than one-tenth (12%) of the population actively maintaining at least five open card accounts. Out of the 2,906 people surveyed, only 15% of respondents report not carrying any major credit cards at all. 

Moreover, while Americans may be actively paying down their card debt — a recent development possibly tied to federal stimulus payments — individual card carriers’ spending activity and preferred usage have remained consistently stable and continues to increase slightly, growing by a total of three percentage points since this time last year.

So, despite current economic uncertainty, folks haven’t stopped carrying their favorite cards. And second only to debit cards — which can be used as ‘credit’ for purchases made without a PIN and are often serviced by a major credit company — credit cards serve as the way many Americans (34%) prefer to pay for the goods and services that have become crucial since COVID-19, like grocery deliveries. This only expands further when coupled with debit card usage: almost three-quarters (72%) of grocery delivery users rely on some form of plastic payment option.  More importantly, credit cards are heavily valued by those who intend to use these services in the future. One could potentially say that, among adopters of contactless and convenient services, access to credit is king. 

Keeping all this in mind, coupled with Holiday 2020 being right around the corner — a time when many Americans use credit to pay for pricey items and manage higher spending volumes — CivicScience decided to check out just how America’s top cards currently score among U.S. adults. 

Better Rates Score Points 

For the 85% of Americans who hold at least one major credit card, there are plenty of options to choose from and each category offers varying incentives, rewards, and rates, making the action of choosing a specific card somewhat difficult. However, when asked about priorities for selecting a credit card, more than half of adult card users (53%) view interest rates as the most important feature. Incentives and rewards are next, followed by fees and penalties. Only 5% of current card holders say they prioritize credit limits when selecting a card. 

Rewarding the Big Winners

The data indicate that household names are both used most often and viewed most favorably among card consumers, with Visa and Mastercard rating most highly among 2020’s top companies. Of nearly 2,400 U.S. adults surveyed, 43% report a favorable view of Visa; Mastercard ranks second with 30% of respondents relaying positive perspectives. 

Consumers Favor Flexible Incentives 

When picking a specific class of card, applicants are now offered more perks than ever and can choose from an array of incentives, like travel points and balance transfers, which have major appeal to Millennials, parents, and students. In terms of primary preferences, CivicScience found that card users prioritize dynamic spending power and flexibility the most, preferring cash-back cards as their top-rated choice overall. When diving into a recent review of major brands’ specific cards, CivicScience finds that respondents rank Discover and Citibank cash-back products as the most highly favored among 2020’s top-rated cards

Coming to Terms With Future Interest 

Finally, 2020 has ushered in new options for those looking beyond traditional credit card offers with the introduction of dynamic next-gen cards focused on income and job experience, which place higher priority on weighting life metrics instead of credit scores. Companies like Visa are launching new variations to fit diverse lifestyles, including the X1 Card that assesses applicants based on income. It may still be too early to tell if consumers will embrace the novelty, but recent data on hypothetical trend adoption show 11% of U.S. adults would be very likely to try it over traditional credit relationships.

While the pandemic may have shifted the ways in which Americans use credit cards — and card user profiles continue to broaden — consumers aren’t binning their plastic any time soon. In fact, the data indicate increasing openness to the idea of using different types of credit card companies, as well as new ways to use credit in their lives. CivicScience will continue to monitor this topic as the holiday season approaches. Swipe by for other key insights in our latest studies