Strictly embargoed until Wednesday 22nd July 2009
CONSUMERS CLING ON TO 38 MILLION UNUSED CREDIT CARDS
The question remains, to close or not to close...
• 16.3 million consumers have an average of 2.3 credit cards they no longer use
• Of those with unused credit cards, almost one in ten consumers (8%) have as
many as four and 7% have between five and six
• In total, these consumers have 38 million credit cards that they don’t use, with a
total credit limit of £200 billion
• Last year 7.8 million balance tranfers were carried out – with just 46% of people
closing card accounts they no longer use this will just add to a growing problem
• Almost 10 million consumers try to recession-proof themselves by not using
their credit cards, a further 1.8 million cut them up altogether to avoid temptation
• With 3.32 million credit card applications rejected in the last year and 1.2
million people turned down for increased credit limits, consumers seem loathe to
close these accounts and let the lifelines go
As unemployment hits 2.38 million and credit card rejections reach 3.32 million in the past
12 months, it seems 16.3 million consumers are clinging onto at least two additional credit
card accounts that they no longer use, in what seems to be a desperate bid to keep a
financial safety net. New research from uSwitch.com reveals that these consumers are
sitting on a total of 38 million unused credit cards with a total credit limit of £200 billion.
1.8 million consumers feel they have done the safest thing by cutting up their credit cards
in order to protect themselves from overspending while 10 million claim they have just
stopped using them.
Keeping these accounts open may seem like the most sensible thing to do in the current
climate as it provides an average pot of £11,969 that can be tapped into at any time. With
3,178 people being made redundant every day, a property reposessed every 10 minutes
and 331 declared insolvent or bankrupt every day this is hardly surprising. However, this
practice could have negative connotations, particulary on credit scores as providers also
examine the amount of credit available alongside the ability to repay debt on time.
As a nation we are notoriously bad at keeping an eye on our credit reports. Although the
recession has created more consumer interest in these reports, our research shows that
54% of consumers have never looked at their credit report. Alarmingly, of those who did
check their credit record in the last 12 months, 13% found mistakes such as payments
listed incorrectly as ‘missed’ and inaccurate credit limits.
Along with the negative impact on your credit score, fraud is also a consideration. Every
recession is typically greeted with a surge in fraud and this is no exception. Last year alone,
fraudsters enjoyed a spending spree of £54.1 million on lost and stolen credit cards. They
also cashed in to the tune of £10.2 million by using cards intercepted in the post. This is
the type of activity cosumers may not even be aware of if one of the 38 million dormant
credit card accounts are used. These dormant accounts are easy pickings for fraudster as, in
many cases, they could well be registered to an old address and it could take several
months, if not years, to identify the abuse.
Louise Bond, personal finance expert at uSwitch.com, comments: “Overall it seems
people are bombarded with conflicting opinions as to whether or not they should close credit
card accounts that they no longer use. In times of such financial turbulence, it’s hardly
surprising that people don’t want to let go of what they consider to be a financial lifeline.
There are several issues to consider as credit checks are influenced by the amount of credit
available to spend. So in effect, this lifeline could become a financial bottle neck to the next
“Hoarding as many as six un-used credit card accounts is excessive. It is a problem for both
the credit card industry and individuals. In recent years, we have seen providers close down
these accounts or, in some cases, introduce a fee for consumers that don’t use their credit
cards. This may seem harsh but these dormant accounts do cost providers money to
maintain. Whilst we’re not telling consumers to rush out and close down every account they
do not use, if you do have as many as six a little spring clean wouldn’t go amiss.”
Bond’s credit card tips:
• Check your credit record before making any applications for credit at
• The electoral register is key, to check you must contact your local electoral registration office at
• If your credit report looks inaccurate you can correct any mistakes. To do this you can add a
Notice of Correction which is a 200 word statement which you can add to your file to explain any
entries in your credit report.
• If you are rejected for your next credit card, do not keep applying for more cards before
you have checked your credit record. Failed applications for credit will have a negative impact
on your credit score.
• You must also close down any credit card accounts you are not using. The available balance on
these accounts will be taken into consideration when you are applying for a new card.
• Missed credit card payments also impact your credit score, the best way to avoid this is to set up
a monthly direct debit for the minimum payment.
• Sometimes, the best deals on the market are only available to new cardholders. By cancelling
existing credit cards, after a time you should become re-eligible to be a ‘new cardholder'.
• Don't confuse cutting up a credit card with cancelling it. Cutting it up simply stops you using it.
Instead call up the card company and tell them you want to cancel. If possible request
confirmation of cancellation in writing, as sometimes they don't action it.
• Yet, even once you've cancelled a card, it doesn't mean the account is closed. The card company
will leave it dormant but open for a while in case any payments you've made still need to come
through. It's worth making a call a few months later to double check it's done and dusted.
An ISDN line is available for radio interviews. For further information please contact:
Tracy North, uSwitch.com 020 7802 2925 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Lizzi Malley, Lansons Communications, 020 7566 9717/ email@example.com
Notes to Editors
Research carried out by Research Now amongst a panel of 1011 credit card holders. Research carried out from
12 – 14 June 2009
1. Extrapolated figures based on current UK credit card holders 30,200,000 sourced from APACs report
(UK Plastic Cards 2009).
• 54% of credit card holders have cards they don’t use but haven’t cancelled. 54% of 30,200,000
• Our research shows that on average, these consumers have 2.3 cards that they don’t actually
• 2.36 x 16,308,000 = 38,486,880.
2. APACS figures:
• APACs 2008 – average credit limit is £5,204. £5,129 x 2.3 = £11,769.
• APACs, UK Plastic cards 2009, in 2008 7.8 million balance transfers were carried out.
3. Total number of cards that aren’t being used = 38,486,880:
• 38,486,880 x £5,204 = £200,285,723,520.
4. Extrapolated figures based on current UK credit card holders 30,200,000 sourced from APACs report
(UK Plastic Cards 2009).
• 33% of credit card holders have stopped using their cards but keep them for emergencies. 33%
of 30,200,000 = 9,966,000.
• 6% have cut them up to stop themselves from using them. 6% of 30,200,000 = 1,812,000.
5. Extrapolated figures based on current UK credit card holders 30,200,000 sourced from APACs report
(UK Plastic Cards 2009).
• 11% of credit card holders have had an application for a new card rejected.
• 11% of 30,200,000 = 3,322,000
• 4% of credit card holders were turned down for additional credit. 4% of 30,200,000 =
6. Credit Action debt facts and figures – June 2009.
7. Research referred to in the notes below was conducted online by YouGov Plc in 2008 (sample size
2,097 adults). All figures are based on uSwitch.com analysis. The figures have been weighted and are
representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
The YouGov research showed;
• 36% of those surveyed have not checked their credit record in the past 12 months and 42% have
never checked their record = 78%.
• 78% of GB adults (38 million source ONS) = 29,640,000.
• 42% of GB adults = 15,960,000.
• 36% of GB adults = 13,680,000.
• 15,960,000 is 54% of 29,640,000. 54% of people have never checked their credit record.
• Of those that checked their credit record within the last 12 months, 13% of these found errors.
8. APACs fraud figures.
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