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AARP Bulletin Survey on Budgeting and Credit Card Use

The AARP Bulletin commissioned a nationwide survey in February 2012 to learn whether individuals are following a monthly budget and how they are using their credit cards and managing any credit card debt.  

Key findings from the survey include the following:

  • Seven in ten respondents (70%) report that they have a monthly budget that they try to follow.  Three in ten (30%) say that they do not follow a monthly budget.  
  • Among those who say that they do not have a monthly budget that they try to follow, the most common reason for not following one is that “it’s not worth my time” (23%).
  • When respondents were asked how many credit cards they have, one-fifth (20%) report having only one credit card, and a third of respondents (33%) say that they have two to three credit cards.  A fifth (20%) report that they own four or more credit cards.  About a quarter (26%) say that they have no credit cards. 
    • Respondents ages 50 and over (27%) are more likely than those ages 18 to 49 (16%) to report that they have four or more credit cards.  
    • Respondents ages 18 to 49 (34%) are twice as likely as those ages 50 and over (16%) to say that they have no credit cards. 
  • About half of those who report having two to three credit cards actually use two to three cards each month (49%).  Interestingly, the majority of those who report having four or more credit cards (68%) say that they use only two to three cards each month.  
  • When thinking about the credit card that they use most often, results show that almost three in five respondents (58%) pay the full balance each month.  About a third (32%) say that they pay less than the full amount but more than the required minimum balance.  Less than one in ten (8%) report that they pay only the minimum amount.  
    • Respondents ages 50 and over (65%) are more likely than those ages 18 to 49 (52%) to say that they pay the full amount each month.
  • Among respondents who pay only the minimum balance each month, the majority of respondents (60%) think that they will be able to pay off their current balance by making monthly minimum payments
  • Respondents who have at least one credit card use their credit card(s) to make purchases or payments for a number of items.  About two-thirds of respondents (67%) use their card to buy clothing.  About three in five use their credit card to buy gas (64%), go out to eat (64%), or travel (62%).  
    • Respondents ages 50 and over are more likely than those ages 18 to 49 to use their credit card for travel (68% vs. 55%), clothing (72% vs. 62%), home maintenance (39% vs. 28%), or car maintenance (54% vs. 40%).  


The survey was conducted for AARP by ORC International using its online omnibus survey service.  Interviews were conducted from February 23 through February 26, 2012, among a nationally representative sample of adults ages 18 and older.  For additional information contact Lona Choi-Allum at 202-434-6333.

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