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Credit cards, calories and computing: America's modern addictions

By , CardRatings contributor
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Is your mail carrier experiencing back pain as a result of hefting your monthly credit card statements into your mailbox? No? Well count yourself lucky. A recent poll commissioned by CardRatings.com reveals roughly one in seven Americans saying they're unable to go more than 24 hours without using their credit cards. And that's more than the numbers who say they need daily chocolate, beer, pizza or sex.

How long could you go without … ?

The poll, conducted by OP4G in April, asked a representative sample of 2,000 married Americans, all of whom had a driver's license and one or more kids a series of nine questions, each of which began, "How long could you go without…" Here's how those questions ended -- along with the percentage who responded "one day" to each:

  1. ...eating chocolate? -- 11.05 percent
  2. ...drinking beer? -- 5.25 percent
  3. ...eating pizza? -- 5.35 percent
  4. ...using your credit card? -- 14.9 percent
  5. ...having sex? -- 13.0 percent
  6. ...checking Facebook? -- 24.0 percent
  7. ...watching television? -- 35.1 percent
  8. ...using a computer or tablet? -- 59.25 percent
  9. ...using your cellphone? -- 57.3 percent

So we're not talking absolutes here. Clearly, anyone can do without chocolate, pizza or whatever for a very long time -- literally forever, if you find yourself in a survivalist scenario. You might suppose respondents were revealing for how long they'd be comfortable going without those things.

gender specific infographic

Stereotypes confirmed and confounded

It's hardly a shocking revelation that 13.19 percent of women wanted a daily chocolate fix, compared with only 8.91 percent of men. Or that 8.01 percent of men didn't want to go more than 24 hours without a beer, while only 2.5 percent of women felt that way. In fact, 46.7 percent of women claimed they never touched beer, well over twice the percentage of men.

But you might be surprised that very nearly half (48.65 percent) of all those surveyed said they were comfortable going without sex for a month or longer -- and that another 4.3 percent don't have sex. That's more than half! In comparison, 43.85 percent of those surveyed said they could go a month or more without using a credit card and 12.7 percent said they don't use a credit card.

In bad news for the take-out industry, most respondents had a take-it-or-leave-it view of pizzas. True, 27.8 percent liked them weekly or more often, but a whopping 68.3 percent said they were relaxed about going a month or more without sinking their teeth into a deep or thin-and-crispy crust. When it comes to things people are comfortable going without for a month or more, pizza was by far the most popular answer, followed by eating chocolate (53.45 percent) and having sex (48.65 percent). Of course, health advocates won't like the finding that 5.35 percent of, or more than one in 20, respondents (which scales up -- if that's sensible to do such a thing -- to roughly 16 million Americans) regard pizza as a daily dietary requirement.

Hooked on being hooked up

An enormous 59.25 percent of all those surveyed said they couldn't go more than a day without using a computer or tablet, while 57.3 percent were equally hooked on their cellphones. Meanwhile, 24 percent couldn't bear to be parted from their Facebook friends for more than 24 hours. These were by far the highest daily "needs" of the nine addressed.

Even watching television, for long the national pastime, is overshadowed by computer and tablet use. Only 68.65 percent of respondents, across all age ranges, said they couldn't go a week without TV. Contrast that with the 83.1 percent who couldn't envisage being separated from their computing devices that long.

Addicted to credit cards?

By comparison, the 43.45 percent who said they couldn't go a week without using their credit cards sounds small. But no: That's close to the same number who want sex at least once a week (47.05 percent), and higher than any other of our nine other activities -- excepting those that involve staring at small screens.

But should we be worried by such high levels of credit card use? Well, probably not -- at least for now. On May 14, TransUnion, one of the Big 3 credit bureaus, released its latest survey of credit card delinquencies (cardholders 90 days or more behind with their payments), and it found the levels down from the previous month -- and from the previous year. Indeed, at 1.37 percent, they're close to their all-time lows.

This suggests that people are generally using their cards responsibly. And credit cards are widely acknowledged to be the best way to make purchases -- at least if you don't carry balances. They provide unique statutory protections against fraud and often deliver other consumer benefits, such as extended warranties and purchase protection. Better yet, rewards credit cards give you points, miles or cash back.

So, of all the temptations we explored, card use could be the best for your waistline and the least likely to cause you eyestrain, while providing the most valuable benefits. As for your mail carrier's back, why not sign up for paperless statements? They're green, too.

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