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Global payments card spending reaches $42 trillion

Debit cards drive payments card growth as contactless usage continues to rise and consumer spending recovers after the height of the pandemic. Card usage will keep growing as new spending habits developed during the pandemic will persist

New research shows that worldwide expenditure on payment cards reached over $42 trillion in 2021, representing a rise of 23%. This rapid increase came as economies around the world recovered from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had led to a marginal fall in payment card spending in 2020.

The report shows that growth in total purchase volume was seen across debit, credit, and prepaid cards, and in all regions. Excluding China – which accounted for 50% of total payments card spending across the globe – growth remained high at 22%.

Credit card spending increases as international travel resumes

The study shows that debit cards saw the largest increase in spending, rising by 25% to stand at $28 trillion. The increasing number of contactless debit cards, as well as changes in consumer behaviour that developed over the course of the pandemic, encouraged an uptick in the usage of such cards for low-value transactions.

There was strong growth in credit card expenditure, which rose by 20% reflecting the recovery of travel and entertainment after the easing of pandemic restrictions in many countries.

Robust growth worldwide with card expenditure up by over 20%

The report reveals that the most rapid growth in percentage terms was seen in the Middle East and Africa region, where card spending rose by almost a third.

This was driven by credit card expenditure, which recovered from a 9% fall in 2020 to increase by 30%.

Asia-Pacific saw the greatest absolute growth, primarily the result of an increase in debit card spending as contactless debit transactions continue to cannibalise cash usage in the region.

“The global payment card market has recovered strongly, despite the lingering effects of COVID‑19. Card usage will keep growing, as new habits that developed during the pandemic such as higher usage of contactless and e‑commerce stay in place,” comments Daniel Dawson, who led RBR’s Global Payment Cards Data and Forecasts to 2027 study.


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