Money Around the World: Credit Card Use in Europe



Welcome to part 2 of the newly named “Money Around the World” series where we take a look at how citizens of different countries use and view different aspects of personal finance.

Two weeks ago we took a look at how countries in Asia use credit cards. From Japan to Russia we learned about the varying opinions and use of credit cards in Asia.

This week we’re going to travel west to Europe to see how six of the continent’s countries use credit cards.

Like most places, Europe uses credit cards much more conservatively than America. According to, “only 27% of all plastic in issue in Europe is credit cards, and 73% is debit cards.” The idea of carrying over credit card debt from one month to the next seems like a foreign idea to most of the countries in Europe.

Regardless, I managed to find some intriguing facts about six of Europe’s most powerful countries and how they view and handle credit cards.

To compare, we’ll one again start off with facts about American credit card use. (Sorry to my international audience!)

America 24194

Population: 304 million

  • There were 173 million credit cardholders in 2006, expected to rise to 181 million in 2010 (
  • There are a total of 1.5 billion credit cards in the U.S. (
  • At the end of 2008, Americans’ credit card debt reached $972.73 billion (Nilson Report, April 2009)
  • The lowest credit card delinquency rate was 0.66% in North Dakota, while the highest was 1.98% in Nevada (Newton Daily News)
  • The average American credit card debt was $5,612 in the third quarter of 2009 (Newton Daily News)

Verdict: Addicted to credit and debt. A dangerous combination.


Population: 82 million

  • Lowest level of credit card use across the continent (
  • Replaced 100,000 credit cards in November 2009 after fears of identity theft (
  • “German banks, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, have each set aside one billion euros (1.46 billion dollars) for credit defaults” (
  • “Credit cards are so-called “charge cards,” according to Peter Ehmke, managing director of Mastercard Germany. In Germany 90 percent of credit cards are charge cards, he added.” Which means a majority are paid back in full at the end of the month. (

Verdict: Conscious of its credit problems and taking strides to fix their short-comings.


Population: 51 million

  • Highest credit card debt of 14 European nations researched (The Straits Times)
  • Average person carries 1,349 euros ($2,639) of credit card debt (Datamonitor)
  • The average annual credit card interest rate was 17.6 per cent (Defaqto)

Verdict: One of the few European countries who doesn’t know how to handle their growing credit problems.


Population: 60 million

  • A credit card in Italy costs between €35 and €110 per year ($51 – $160) (

Verdict: With little information available, it appears credit cards and debt aren’t a huge problem or concern in the day-to-day life of the Italians.


Population: 62 million

  • 5.9 million credit card and 60 million debit cards in November 2008 (
  • Very difficult to get credit in France (
  • Credit bureaus report only negative information about consumers. This makes it less useful to lenders and more difficult for bad guys and fraud. (
  • The average French debit and/or credit card holder pays between 11 and 14 percent interest (

Verdict: The government doesn’t allow credit to get out of hand and the citizens follow the lead with mature credit card use.


Population: 7.6 million

  • 4.2 million credit cards, 7.3 million debit cards (
  • Credit card market has increased 34% in five years (
  • One of 12 countries in the world with lowest amount of credit card fraud and identity theft (
  • The most common credit card is the Eurocard. A Eurocard costs approximately CHF 50 per month. (.98 cents) (
  • 9% of citizens live below the poverty line (

Verdict: One of the world’s wealthiest country is experiencing a credit boom and may experience problems with the speed of that increase in the near future.


Population: 74 million

  • 44 million credit cards in Nov. 2008, up from 34 million in 2007 (
  • $2 billion worth of credit card debt in 2009 (
  • Credit card debt increased 523% from 2002 to 2007 (
  • One of the top ten global card markets in terms of profitability, with profits of $1.8 billion before tax in 2007 (

Verdict: Credit card debt is spiraling out of control as the government desperately tries to constrict the power of the credit card companies.


Make sure to check back next week as we’ll head southwest and take a look at credit card use in South America.

If there are any international money topics you’d like to learn about for the Money Around the World series, leave a comment below with your suggestion.


Photo by Celso Flores

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