Facts about credit cards you probably didn’t know

There’s more to that credit card than you might think, check out these fun facts.

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As of November 2019, credit card payments in the UK were valued at more than £16.5 billion and with social distancing in practice, you can expect that number to get a whole lot bigger as the demand for cashless payments increases.

Now is a good time to stop and reflect on some of the things we might take for granted. So here are some facts you probably didn’t know about the humble credit card.

Historical truths

  • A precursor to credit cards in the UK was the credit voucher. It was introduced in 1880 by a company called the Provident Clothing Group. Customers could exchange the vouchers for goods in certain shops and then pay small, affordable weekly instalments to a Provident rep.
  • In the US, the concept of credit cards came about with the launch of ‘metal money’ in 1914. This was the name given to the metal cards that money transfers provider Western Union gave selected customers, allowing them to defer payment for goods.
  • Until the 70s, women in the US needed their husbands to co-sign credit cards. Unmarried women could be denied a card altogether. That changed in 1974 with the introduction of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act which outlawed credit discrimination.
  • Barclaycard was the first credit card to be issued by a British bank. Released in 1966, the card offered limits of £100 or £200. Unlike their American sisters, British women did not need a man to act as guarantor.
  • In 1971, the Joint Credit Card Company (a venture between several UK banks) launched the Access credit card – aka your flexible friend. Classic Access ads included voice overs from Richard “Victor Meldrew” Wilson and Ade Edmondson.

Facts and stats

  • There are around 45 credit card issuers in the UK alone.
  • As of October 2019, there were 35.19 million active credit card accounts in the UK . Us Brits spend an average of £52.50 per transaction on our credit cards.
  • Data from Statista shows that as of 2017, a staggering 83% of Canadians had at least one credit card – the highest percentage of any country surveyed. Israel was second with 75% of the population owning one. Third was Japan (68%), followed by the US (66%) and the UK (65%). In contrast, just 2% of those living in the Philippines had a credit card.

Did you know?

  • The long number on your credit card actually means something. The first digit shows the type of card it is (3 for American Express, Diners Club or Carte Blanche, 4 for Visa, 5 for Mastercard, and 6 for US-based Discover cards). The following five digits show the specific issuer and type of card you’re using. The next six digits show the card belongs to you, but don’t worry, they don’t reveal any secrets. They’re just numbers allocated by your issuer. The last number on your card is called the ‘check digit’, and it tells the payment system that your card is valid.
  • The American Express Centurion card (known as the Black Card) is the most exclusive credit card in the world. Cards are only issued by invitation and unless you spend around £200,000 a year, you’re unlikely to get one. The card is so exclusive that the perks aren’t even advertised – but you can bet they’ll be fancy.
  • The heaviest credit card in the world is the JP Morgan Chase Reserve card. Weighing in at a whopping 27 grams (the average card is just 5g), it’s made from palladium, one of the world’s most precious metals (it’s more expensive than gold).

So, the next time you flex the plastic, take a second to appreciate just how much is packed into that little rectangle. And remember to spend wisely.

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