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How loyal are credit card holders?

By , CardRatings contributor
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Credit card advertisements are almost unavoidable. Just about every commercial break on television features Alec Baldwin, Jimmy Fallon or some other celebrity pitching a credit card, and then there are the offers that pop up on websites or arrive in your mailbox. Are these advertisers wasting their breath -- not to mention their money and your time -- or are Americans really that quick to jump to another card?

A new survey of 2,000 adults conducted for CardRatings.com by Op4G found that while Americans are reluctant to say goodbye to their old credit cards, they can frequently be tempted to try new ones. As a result, Americans have the tendency to simply accumulate more and more cards as time goes on.

People hold onto cards a surprisingly long time

Americans can be loyal to their credit cards in the sense that they are slow to cancel them:

  • 63.1 percent of survey respondents have held one of their current credit cards for five years or more
  • 37.5 percent have had a card for at least 10 years

These numbers are even more impressive when you focus on the responses of older customers. After all, some of the younger respondents may not have been old enough to have a credit card for five or 10 years. However, among the oldest age group in the survey -- 50-to-64-year-olds -- 76.5 percent have had one of their current credit cards for at least five years, and 60.9 percent have had one for at least 10 years.

Old cards often go unused

Loyalty, though, only goes so far. Old credit cards may not be gone, but they are often forgotten. Roughly half of survey respondents no longer use their oldest card, and this tendency increases as customers grow older. Among the 50-to-64 age group, 54.5 percent of respondents report that they no longer use their oldest credit card.

People are slow to cancel, but quick to add new cards

One reason why older credit cards get pushed aside is that Americans are fairly quick to add new ones.

  • 35.2 percent of survey respondents have added a new card within the past year
  • 55.6 percent have added one within the past two years

Being quicker to add credit cards than to cancel them naturally means that people tend to accumulate more and more cards as they grow older. Only 9.3 percent of respondents in the 18-to-29 age group have four or more cards. This more than doubles to 21.3 percent for people in the 30-to-39 age group, and by the time people are in the 50-to-64 age group, 31.8 percent have four or more credit cards.

Cash is the king of incentives

What is prompting people to sign up for new cards? Survey respondents most frequently say it was a cash-back rewards offer that did the trick.

More than a quarter (28.3 percent) of survey respondents say they signed up for their most recent card in response to a cash-back rewards offer. A lower interest rate was the next most popular incentive, cited by 21.6 percent of respondents as the reason they signed up for their most recent new credit card.

Women like attention, men like money

Women tend to be more loyal to their credit cards, but only to a degree: 45.0 percent of women surveyed have owned one of their current credit cards for at least 10 years, compared with just 29.7 percent of men. Also, men are more likely than women to have added a card within the past two years, by 59.3 percent to 52.0 percent. However, both men and women are split pretty evenly on whether or not they actually still use their oldest credit card.

Men and women respond similarly to most inducements to sign up for a new card, with two key differences. Women are more likely to favor non-financial benefits such as concierge services, with 22.0 percent of women having signed up for a new card for this reason, compared to just 17.7 percent of men. Men, on the other hand are more likely to respond to sign-up bonuses: 15.3 percent of men reported signing up for a new card for this reason, compared to just 10.3 percent of women.

Whatever incentives get your attention, try to be selective about responding to offers. Adding too many lines of credit can hurt your credit rating, and carrying all those cards around in your wallet simply increases your potential for going into debt. As much as Americans tend to accumulate credit cards over time, it's hanging onto your money that will really improve your lifestyle.

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