6 fascinating facts about the plastic in your wallet
It’s been a union which has lasted since as early as 9,000BC, when early man used grain and cattle as a medium for barter – there has been laughter, there have been tears, good times and bad.
But, alas, all things must come to an end and unfortunately, in much the same way a greasy politician might leave his long-suffering wife for the younger, more spritely secretary, so we are turning our backs on good old-fashioned physical money. Sorry – it’s not you, it’s us. We just love our plastic more now.
In our increasingly digitised world, it was inevitable that the use of cashless payments – like credit & debit cards and online payments – would overtake traditional money as the primary means of paying for stuff. As far as the value of payments go, cashless payments replaced cash way back in the mid-noughties, but the recent introduction of contactless payment means that cash has been slapped back into second place in terms of the number of payments made, too. In other words, Britain has now become a cash-second economy. Which in a way is pretty smart, if a little sad also.
The Payments Council – a group which oversees and measures UK transactions – has reported that while cash accounted for 48% or payments last year – a figure which is projected to tumble by 30% over the next decade, cashless methods made up the remaining 52%.
So, seeing as cash is now officially yesterday’s jam and plastic now holds the title belt, here are 6 interesting facts and snippets about the plastic in our pockets.
1. There are over 175million cards in circulation here in the UK
That’s right, there are absolutely millions upon millions upon millions of plastic cards in issue – they are everywhere, and in virtually every wallet and purse to be found anywhere in the land. Yes, that’s 175,000,000 of them, for the sake of perspective.
Of this number, debit cards make up 96million of them, while credit cards are thought to number 56million – the remaining cards are accounted for by charge cards and ATM-only cards.
2. There are enough credit cards in circulation to span the world 3 and a half times over
Ridiculous but true. Statistics from a 2014 study show that there are at least 1,635million (that’s 1.6TRILLION) cards in circulation, of which Visa had 800million, Mastercard 731million, and American Express had 104million.
Placed side-by-side, these 1,635,000,000 cards would stretch for 86,981 miles – far enough to travel the world 3.5 times over.
3. The first credit card could only be used in a New York restaurant
Back in 1950, Frank McNamara, the head of Hamilton Credit Corporation – otherwise known as the pioneering founder of credit cards – first had the idea of a card which could be used to pay for things in multiple locations, in absence of cash, after leaving his wallet at home before an important business dinner.
It’s unknown whether this epiphany is based on truth – after all, it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d had a card to hand or not if it was in his wallet at home, along with his cash – but the credit card as we know arrived soon after, in the form of the then ‘Diners Club’ card. It was a big hit from the off, and although it could only be used at 28 restaurants and 2 hotels, its must-have status among the New York elite meant that 10,000 were in circulation just 12-months after it was launched.
As a bit of interesting pop-quiz info, the first general credit cards were made from paper and had a limit of $300.
4. The average UK credit card debt is two-and-a-half times our average monthly wage…
It’s well known that a lot of us are carrying a fair chunk of debt. In case you were wondering just how much debt we’re carrying, it’s been calculated that the average UK household holds credit debt of £6,598, as of November 2015. According to this article, the average household annual income is £31,000 after tax. Bearing in mind the piles of household bills and expenses required to get by, it’s not as easy as paying it all off in a couple of months either, which is why many people consider loans to help consolidate and spread the cost of such debt. In total, the amount of credit debt card debt held by us consumers stood at £62.7billion – a huge figure, as I’m sure you’d agree.
Bearing in mind the huge size of this consumer debt pile, we can understand why the nameless insomniac main character from Fight Club, along with Tyler Durden, conspired to destroy all buildings storing credit card companies’ records as part of Project Mayhem.
5. It’s official – our plastic makes us more prone to overspending
It’s something we’ve all suspected, but now its official – using plastic to pay for things, particularly credit cards, can help stimulate reckless overspending.
Experimental research has shown that not only is it easier to spend more by card, due to the convenience of entering a PIN number or paying by contactless – using card as a means of payment detaches us from the money we are spending too.
Quite simply, psychologists have proven that we are more wary of handing over a physical sum of money than we are handing over a card for a product of service of the same value – aka we’d wince at spending £300 on a laptop if we handing over cash, but less so if we paid by credit card. This same logic also applies to bar tabs, as many have found to out peril the morning after.
6. The first rule of credit card debt: don’t talk about credit card debt
Studies in the US have shown that the subject of credit card debt is a more taboo topic than religion, politics, salary, and love life details in the U.S. Bearing in mind how similar we are to our American cousins across the pond, and our notoriously stiff upper lip, we in the UK are little better.
Let’s raise a toast to the new modern-age of plastic wizardry
The modern world is a fast-changing place – it is widely accepted that it has changed more in the last century than the 1,000 years before that. And in this brave new world, cashless payment will be at the heart of it.
Here’s to having a little cash to fritter on the things that bring us joy in life (on occasion) – here’s to plastic!
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