On the one hand, using credits to buy stuff is totally fun. On the other hand, there’s nothing fun about credit card debt. Fortunately, there’s actually a whole more to the story of credit cards than just frivolous spending and crushing debt. Somewhere in between, there are opportunities to build your credit profile, to reap spending rewards for maintaining a zero credit card balance, and of course, there is the incredible convenience of carrying a line of credit in your pocket.
Not only that, but there are tons of fun, weird quirky things about credit cards that you may or may not know. From odd trivia drawn from the 70+ year history of credit cards to interesting tidbits about the way people use their credit cards today; from strange facts about the various materials used to produce credit cards to a few notable facts about some of the more prominent credit card issuers out there, credit cards have a colorful history.
The point is that while frivolous credit card spending sounds fun, we generally advise against it pretty much everywhere we talk about credit card debt and management. So to prove that we aren’t against fun itself, read on for a look at some of these odd and unlikely but entirely true things about the credit cards in your wallet.
12 Credit Card Fun Facts
Look, we admit that there are plenty of things about credit cards that aren’t fun…paying them, for starters. Just kidding. You should always pay your credit card balance on time, in full or, at the very least, above the minimum payment amount. The entire credit card business is built on interest rates and penalties. You don’t want to be part of their plans for profitability.
So bear in mind that there’s nothing more fun than true credit card accountability. (Oh man. I’ve never sounded like such a dorky dad in my whole life.)
I’m sure I could’ve found a cooler way to say that, but it’s true. Your best bet for enjoying life as a credit card holder is to keep a zero balance, spend responsibly, and remain always in good standing with your credit card provider. This is the pathway to the kind of credit that you can really have some fun with.
In the meantime, you’ll just have to get your kicks from our little list of fun, weird and interesting facts about credit cards…
1. Mothers of Invention
Let’s start with a little history. So where did the credit card come from?
It should come perhaps as little surprise that the very first credit cards were born in the United States. But a few key pioneers figure into the story of the credit card’s invention and early evolution. The first guy to come up with the idea was an employee of the Flatbush National Bank of New York named Jack Briggs. Back in 1946, Briggs came up with the idea of a “Charge-It” card. The Charge-It card had decidedly limited applications both because it was only available to customers of the Flatbush Bank and because its balance had to be paid in full every month. But it was a groundbreaking idea.
Then, in 1950, a businessman named Frank McNamara suffered an embarrassing incident during a business meal in New York. He had changed suits before dinner and, having left his wallet in his other jacket, was unable to pay the bill. It occurred to McNamara that traveling businessmen could benefit from an alternative way to pay for meals and, by extension, other goods and services. He invented the Diners Club card that year.
The first Diners Club card was actually issued in cardboard, was held by just 200 users, and was accepted at just 27 restaurants, all located in New York. But by the end of that first year, McNamara’s Hamilton Credit Corporation had issued more than 20,000 Diners Club cards. The age of credit had begun.
2. Farmers Only
So Diners Club may have been the first credit card company, but it turns out that the history of credit spending goes back even further than that in America. According to Wisebread, while credit cards weren’t really a thing on a national level until the late ’40s and early ’50s, the practice of extending credit and symbolizing that credit using an ID card both have their roots in America’s 19th century agriculture sector.
Wisebread notes that “Long before credit cards were accepted everywhere as payment, farmers would rely on credit extended by local general stores. In the 19th and early 20th century, farmers would need to use credit at their local store for at least part of the year because their income was seasonal. In areas with a large number of farmers, stores started issuing credit cards (initially made of cardboard) to help identify which customers were associated with which accounts.”
We may have been roughly a century away from establishing the first credit card company at this juncture. However, U.S. farmers were pioneering this capitalist innovation well before the credit card had achieved any kind of mainstream popularity.
3. Americans Love Their Plastic
Of course, it would be an understatement today to suggest that credit cards have reached mainstream popularity. It’s more accurate to say they have become an economic necessity for most households, the key to building a good credit history and earning greater borrowing power.
Indeed, the numbers suggest that credit cards are nothing less than a way of life the world over, but the industry itself is deeply concentrated in the U.S.
According to Card Rates, America is home to four of the six largest credit card issuers in the world. Card Rates notes that “Mastercard, American Express, and Diner Club/Discover ranked third, fifth, and sixth with 2.45 billion, 115 million cards, and 65 million cards, respectively. The top-ranked issuer is headquartered in China, and the fourth-ranked is in Japan.”
Such is to say that America did not simply invent the credit card, but also built much of its economy around this concept.
4. We’re Setting Records
The credit industry in the U.S. continues to grow. Indeed, with each passing year, the number of credit cards held by Americans continues to swell, as does the credit card debt associated with those cards.
Indeed, the number of credit card accounts currently open and in circulation stands at a staggering 500 million. For some perspective on that number, the 2020 census noted that there were just over 258 million adults in the U.S.
Card Rates reports that “The total number of US card accounts in mid-2022 was approximately 500 million, up from 465 million in mid-2021, 454 million in mid-2020, and 439 million in mid-2019, TransUnion reported. The credit bureau attributed the spike, in part, to ‘significant jumps’ in cards issued to Gen Z and borrowers with impaired credit.”
Many younger borrowers, excited by how convenient credit cards are, drawn in by how easy they are to access, and captivated by how much credit card companies spend to attract their attention through marketing (and even mailing unsolicited credit cards to less than ideal borrowers), enter into credit card offers without fully knowing the risks.
Again…putting on my dorky dad voice…make sure you understand the credit bureau reporting guidelines and how they can impact your credit rating, never pay only the minimum payment on your monthly bill, avoid interest payments by keeping a zero balance wherever possible, and check your credit report regularly. Avoid being one of these “impaired credit” stats. Credit bureaus can take more than seven years to remove the negative marks in your credit scores.
Ok. Lecture over. Back to fun.
5. Protect Your Neck
It’s always fun to know somebody has your back. Bankrate points out that credit card companies are legally obligated to have your back. According to Bankrate, “the Fair Credit Billing Act allows cardholders to seek a refund from their credit card issuers for an unsatisfactory purchase. The charge must be at least $50, and the purchase must be made within 100 miles of your home. You also must have made an effort to resolve the matter with the seller first.”
In other words, if you’re planning to make online or over the phone purchases from vendors that are not known to you, it helps to at least know that you are backed by fraud protection when using a credit card.
Of course, you should still be a savvy consumer at all times, which means doing your due diligence into any purchases and vendors, knowing the telltale signs of online scams, and keeping private information confidential. While your credit card company may have your back, falling victim to fraudulent transactions can snowball into full scale identity theft if left undetected.
6. The Numbers Mean Something
Bet you didn’t realize some of the numbers in your credit card are not entirely random. According to Wisebread, the first digit of your credit card number is actually an indication of the industry from which your credit card issuer originates
Wisebread says that “You may have noticed that all of your cards from the same provider start with the same number. That isn’t an accident. The first digit of a credit card indicates what industry issued the card: 1 and 2 indicate an airline card; 3 is for the travel and entertainment industry; 4 and 5 are for banking institutions; 6 is for merchandising and banking; 7 is for gas cards; 8 is for telecommunications; and 9 is for assignments by national standards bodies. American Express account numbers start with a 3, Visa accounts with a 4, Mastercard accounts with a 5, and Discover accounts with a 6.”
Ok…so I’m not sure that qualifies as fun or interesting, but now you know–that credit card identification number has at least one specific purpose.
7. You’re Not Wrong Walter…
According to Fortune, the average American carries roughly 3.84 credit cards in their wallet, amounting to an average credit limit of just over $30,000 per person. Experts suggest that the ideal number of credit cards varies by individual and financial outlook. More important than how many cards you have is your ability to manage your credit card balances. If you can do this effectively with a larger number of credit cards and an array of revolving credit card balances, this can help you build stronger credit.
That said, few financial experts would recommend taking the path chosen by Walter Cavanagh. Dubbed Mr. Plastic Fantastic, the Santa Clara, California is the world record holder for possessing the most credit cards. With more than 1,497 cards, Walter has a wallet thicker than a Guinness Book which is fitting because he himself is included in a volume of the World Records series for his extraordinary collection of cards.
And while this is hardly the traditional path toward building strong credit, Walter reportedly bears the ultra-rare distinction of also having absolutely perfect credit.
But again, financial experts warn that there is a balance and you can usually achieve that balance well before signing up for your 1000th credit card. According to Money.com, “Credit cards are good for building credit and can help you apply for things like mortgages and loans (millennials: it’s time to hop on the bandwagon). Too much “new credit” can hurt your credit score, though, so you should avoid applying for several credit cards in a short time.” You should focus on improving your credit score with the right cards to use for your needs.
Or, you could be like Walter, who years ago began collecting credit cards as a hobby in order to win a bet with a friend. With a credit line of more than $1.7 million and an impeccable credit rating, it seems like Walter is the big winner here.
8. Olfactory Hues
Credit card issuers will try a lot of different things to attract consumers. From frequent flier miles and cash back offers to cash advances and discounts or promotions with certain retailers, credit card companies must compete in a saturated market for the attention of customers with tons of options.
So how to stand out from the crowd? Well, one strategy is to smell better than the competition. That was the idea behind a card issued by the Japan Credit Bureau in 2005. The card emitted a citrus scent that was designed to appeal to female card holders. And in 2015, Al Hilal bank in the United Arab Emirates issued a card–also for female consumers–emitting a light perfume scent.
Naturally, this is a great option if you are also looking for a way to improve the aroma of your purse or wallet. But the real point is that many credit card companies offer opportunities for personalization. For many consumers, a credit card offers an opportunity for self-expression. Some companies will issue cards featuring personalized photographs, or featuring the logo of your favorite team, or even depicting a beloved cartoon character like Charlie Brown or Mickey Mouse.
And it’s also worth noting that the better your credit is and the more exclusive the credit card offers available to you are, the more options you will likely have for personalization.
9. Express Yourself
Speaking of exclusive credit card offers…
If you ever find yourself out to a meal with somebody, and they pull out an American Express Centurion Card, let them pay the bill. They can afford it. By most accounts, this American Express card is the most exclusive and prestigious card in the world. Commonly referred to as The Black Card, the American Express Centurion Card is widely seen as a status symbol, one indicating that its holder enjoys a very elite level of wealth. Indeed, in order to hold this card, you must have been personally invited to do so by American Express.
And it just looks like a status symbol, the kind that makes a formidable sound when placed on a table. A far cry from the cardboard Diners Club card held by businessmen of yore, the Black Card “is minted out of anodized titanium, laser-engraved, and accented with stainless steel. The card reports to credit bureaus and does not maintain a pre-set credit limit.”
There’s pretty solid historical evidence that there really is no ceiling to your purchasing power once you are in possession of the Black Card. The most expensive purchase ever recorded on an American Express Centurion Card–indeed on any credit card of any kind–was registered in 2015.
That’s when Chinese businessman, billionaire and art collector Liu Yiqian set the world record by purchasing a painting. At a Christie’s auction in New York, Yiqian flashed his titanium to the tune of $170 million+ to take home Amedeo Modigliani’s famous Nu couché. Clearly, the assumption is that holders of this card have the means to honor credit lending without limitations.
However, the exact amount of wealth required to qualify for this card is actually only known to its holders. Such is to say that you must have a net worth reaching a certain minimum threshold in order to enjoy access to the exclusive club of Black Card holders but that threshold is not publicly known. In addition to a minimum net worth and a sterling credit rating, the user must actually meet a minimum spending requirement to receive the invitation to be a cardholder.
That means that you must be willing to use the Black Card a whole lot, or at least for some very expensive purchases, over the course of a year. Reports on this number vary, but some media outlets have speculated that the Black Card carries a minimum annual spending requirement of somewhere between $100,000 and $250,000. In other words, it’s not just a status symbol. The Black Card is a use it or lose it privilege.
10. Go For the Gold
Titanium is cool and all, but anybody who’s anybody should really have a credit card made out of solid gold. Or at least, that’s the theory behind the payment card introduced by Britain’s Royal Mint in 2019. The 18 karat Raris Mastercard doesn’t just give you access to obscene amounts of money.
It also costs an obscene amount of money. That’s right. Users actually have to pay just to own this credit card–an estimated £18,750 (or $23,460 at the time of writing). Naturally, this is but a drop in the bucket for those with the means to qualify for a solid gold credit card.
Indeed, the Royal Mint termed the card a product for consumers “who value high quality luxury items that make a statement.” For those who both qualify for and choose to purchase the golden credit card, the idea is that even the cards in your wallet should be statement pieces.
11. Everything Is Negotiable
Did you know that you don’t have to simply accept the terms of an advertised credit card offer on face value alone? As we’ve noted, the credit card space is packed with competitors all vying for your signature. So before you go online and just lock in the first nice offer you see, you might want to call your prospective card issuer first. You may actually be able to secure terms that align directly with your wish list.
Due notes that “You can ask for a lower APR, change your due date so it works better with your cash flow, and even requests that a late payment be removed from your issuer’s report to the credit bureaus…You don’t always get what you ask for, but it usually doesn’t hurt to ask.”
Credit card companies may be willing to tailor offers according to your needs and financial outlook in order to earn your business. And if you’re already a long time customer, you can use this same approach to negotiate for better terms. Call your customer service reps to discuss lowering your credit card interest rate or to see if there are rewards programs you could be eligible for.
But do bear in mind that you’ll have a whole lot more negotiating power from a strong financial standing. You are more likely to be considered for special offers and additional flexibility if you have a good payment history, good credit, and a balanced credit card usage rate. Provided you do have a strong borrowing profile, it’s worth reaching out to your issuer with questions about your annual fee, interest rates, reward offers, and more.
As with most things in life, it never hurts to ask!
12. Keep Your Options Open
Did you know that it’s generally not a good idea to ever close your credit cards? It’s true. While you always want to pay down your balances and keep your credit accounts as light on debt as possible at all times, financial experts say you really shouldn’t close these accounts down unless they carry particularly onerous annual fees.
The reason is twofold. First, your credit history is an important component of your credit scores. The older credit cards on your report play a significant role in demonstrating that history. Shutting down your oldest credit accounts can create the false impression of a shorter credit history, which can lower your score and diminish your borrowing power.
Even more importantly, every open account forms a portion of your credit line or spending limit. Every dollar that you carry on your balance qualifies as credit card usage. The higher your credit line is relative to your usage, the better. This means that any accounts with zero balances are highly valuable in calculating your credit scores even if you plan never to use them again.
We’re not saying you need to carry as many cards as Walter Cavanagh, but once you open an account, the best thing you can do is use your credit cards in limited but appropriate settings, pay your balances off right away, and then keep your accounts open for…well, basically forever.
Ok. Now that we’ve had some fun, it’s important to once again restate the risks that come with irresponsible credit card usage. If you’re new to the whole credit thing, we strongly advise you to jump from here to our look at 10 common mistakes that college students make with credit cards and how you can avoid them.