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Credit card share of holiday spending drops, while gift card purchases rise

By , CardRatings contributor
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Although shoppers are trending to spend slightly more on holiday gifts this year than in 2011, a pair of consumer surveys indicates that only about two-thirds of those presents will get charged to credit card accounts. According to research commissioned by the National Retail Federation, the typical American household plans to spend just under $750 on year-end gifts, greeting cards, and decorations. That figure marks a rebound to levels last seen before the recession.

However, a consumer survey sponsored by myFICO reveals that most consumers plan to charge less than $500 on credit cards during the holiday season. The $250 gap between myFICO's numbers and the NRF's consists of cash from savings, year-end bonuses, or additional income from temporary holiday jobs.

According to myFICO spokesman Anthony Sprauve, about 80 percent of study participants said they plan to use less than 25 percent of their available credit limit to handle holiday shopping this year. While retailers may not love that news, Sprauve told reporters that the trend bodes well for consumers who want to help their FICO scores rise. "Keeping revolving credit low can have a positive impact on an individual's credit score, since this accounts for almost 30 percent of a typical score," Sprauve said.

Gift cards and prepaid cards surge while credit cards wane

While credit cards will see less of this year's holiday spending action, gift cards have hit an all-time high. According to the National Retail Federation, four in five shoppers intend to gift at least one prepaid card or store gift card this holiday season. The NRF's survey of over 9,000 Americans shows that most consumers plan to buy more than $156 worth of gift cards before the end of the year, the largest figure tracked in the ten year history of the Federation's annual survey.

Gift cards for department stores and book stores rated highest among holiday shoppers, followed by coffee shops and big box retailers. More than 44 percent of the NRF's respondents said they prefer to allow recipients to select their own gifts.

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