Credit cards have been growing increasingly popular all over the world. Cards reduce the hassle of carrying around heavy wallets filled with cash or dealing with annoying change. They can also earn some nice awards like miles and cashback.

In most like Singapore and Korea where infrastructure to take and process non-cash transactions are prevalent, credit cards have penetrated very well over the years. Here at ValuePenguin, we wanted to find out if consumers in different countries have similar behavior patterns in terms of their credit card usage. Do they have similar number of credit cards, and do they spend similar amounts?

collected some data on major developed economies in Asia (Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia and Hong Kong + US and UK for comparison), and discuss some of the findings below.

Most Countries Have 1 to 2 Credit Cards Per Capita

Generally, most countries had a credit card density of 1 to 2 cards per capita. Singapore was right in the middle of our sample countries, with its citizens typically holding about 1.7 cards. The lowest was Australia, at only 0.7 cards per capita. This was somewhat surprising given the country’s reputation for having a high household debt to GDP ratio of 120%.

The highest in our sample was Hong Kong, at 2.5 cards per person, which was still lower than 3 card per person in the US. There may be a few possible reasons for the variation. On one hand, it could be that there are more rewards credit card offers in Hong Kong than in countries like Australia. Therefore, Hong Kong’ers may have stronger incentives to utilize credit cards aggressively than Australians.

On the other hand, the difference in interest rates could also explain the difference. Interest rates in HK are essentially at zero, so consumers have more incentives to spend money, while higher interest rates in Australia (a 10-year Australian government bond carries 4.25% yield) provides more incentives to save.

Credit Card Usage Behavior in Developed Countries in Asia: Singapore the 2nd Lowest In Unpaid Credit Card Debt

People in Taiwan and Singapore Have the Least Amount of Credit Card Debt

Though number of credit cards per person did not vary immensely between countries, the amount of unpaid credit card debt per person did. Taiwan and Singapore took the top spots for being the most conservative in credit card usage, with outstanding credit card debt per capita standing at just $130 per person and $733 per person respectively.

In stark contrast, people in Korea and Hong Kong generally carried $1,200 per person and $1,980 per person of unpaid credit card debt, more than 2–3x the amount Singaporeans typically hold.

Credit Card Usage Behavior in Developed Countries in Asia: Singapore the 2nd Lowest In Unpaid Credit Card Debt

Any Relations to High Exchange Fee?

Last week, we discovered that interchange fees in Singapore are generally higher than they are in other countries like the US and Australia. Now we have at least one explanation why this might be the case. Banks generally earn revenue on credit cards from interexchange fees, which depends on the total volume of transaction each cardholder creates in a given period. One could hypothesize that banks and payment companies have to make up for low volume per person with a higher fee.

That Taiwan and Singapore have the lowest per capital credit card loan was not very surprising: household debt to GDP ratio is also the lowest for these countries among our sample states. However, Singaporeans may be losing out by not using their credit cards even more.

As we wrote in “How Credit Card Rewards Compare: Singapore vs USA,” high interchange fee in Singapore is used to offer high rewards rate to cardholders. Even for non-card users, prices at stores are generally inflated because they already embed the card processing fees. Therefore, Singaporeans should try to pay for things with their rewards credit cards as much as possible to make up for the higher card transaction fee.

In this sense, Singaporeans may have a thing or two to learn from their counterparts in Korea and Hong Kong. However, we don’t recommend going overboard with credit card usage, and you should make sure to spend within your means and to pay your card bills in full at the end of the month.

Credit Card Debt Per Person vs. Household Debt to GDP Ratio: Positively Correlated

Credit Card Usage Behavior in Developed Countries in Asia: Singapore the 2nd Lowest In Unpaid Credit Card Debt
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ValuePenguin is personal finance company based in New York. DJ is responsible for building ValuePenguin's presence in Asia, from researching personal finance topics in the region to building relationships with financial and media institutions. He previously worked as an investment analyst at leading hedge funds in New York including Cadian Capital and Tiger Asia. His expertise is in the global technology, consumer and financial industries. He graduated from Yale University with a degree in Economics, and speaks Korean, English and Mandarin Chinese.
SVP @ ValuePenguin
ValuePenguin.com is a personal finance website that conducts in-depth research and analysis on a variety of topics from credit cards, loans, insurance, budgeting to investing.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Flawed analysis and wrong conclusion. Also, Taiwan? Are you joking? Are you not aware of Taiwan’s credit card debt crisis just over ten years ago. Your article suggests East Asia is in a position to add credit card debt as debt levels are low when the opposite is true. Why have you compared “household” debt to GDP? Are you purposely trying to convey an inaccurate message? You are comparing apples and oranges! A more accurate comparsion is household debt to household disposable income. Using this data you will find a totally opposite picture with Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea as having some of the higgest and fastest growing household debt in the world.

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