Credit Cards Around the World

by: Felix Salmon

Ronald Mann's credit-card infographic in Foreign Policy has been getting a lot of attention in the econoblogosphere today. It's a great little piece, but a little unclear on some things, especially sources. So I sent off an email to Professor Mann:

In one chart you say that Chinese card spending per capita is something over $2,000, while in another you say that there are 33 people per card in China. Does that mean that the average Chinese credit-card holder is spending something on the order of $70,000 per year on credit cards -- or more, if the average credit card holder has more than one card? Also, has per-capita credit-card spending in China now exceeded the equivalent number for Japan?

And got a very swift reply:

Your intuition that I am combining data sources is correct. The information on number of cards is from Cards International (which I regard as pretty reliable). The information no spending is from EuroMonitor (which I regard as considerably less reliable). For what it's worth, the information on spending governs all cards (credit and debit), while the information on cards is just credit cards. That surely explains a good deal of the discrepancy.
As this suggests I don't even have any BAD data on per capita credit card spending in China, but I doubt it approaches the per capita credit card spending in Japan.

All this bodes well for the upcoming Visa IPO, I think, since Visa makes money whether you're using credit cards (as in the U.S.) or debit cards (which are more popular in much of the rest of the world).

For me, the biggest surprise was to see Britain trailing by some margin not only the U.S. but also Australia and Canada in terms of credit-card spending per capita. Wasn't Britain meant to have the largest credit-card debt per capita in the world, or something? Maybe Britons don't spend very much but are just really bad on the repayments front.