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Javelin’s 4th Annual Online Retail Payments Forecast, based on data collected online from more than 2,300 consumers, was published last week. Among other things, it predicts that online e-commerce sales in the US will total $309 billion in 2011, growing to $444 billion in 2016. Significantly, the research also suggests strongly that credit cards will be used to pay for these purchases more and more often as debit card usage will stay flat or grow at a very modest rate.

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Beth Robertson, Director of Payments Research at Javelin, said “After several years of declining use, credit cards are poised for resurgence. Despite the nation’s very rocky economic recovery, consumers appear to have halted their belt-tightening and bank incentives to use credit cards rather than debit are gaining appeal.”

As online sales are expected grow robustly during the next five years, the Javelin study projects that the total volume for credit card payments made online by U.S. consumers will climb 63%, while payment by debit card is projected to rise just 2% during that same period.

There is a persuasive argument that credit card usage is climbing not because it’s more convenient, and not because banks are charging consumers to use debit card fees, but rather because credit for most Americans—to put it simply—is back.

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Between the meltdown in 2008 and this holiday season, credit which generally had been strangled after the demise of Lehman Brothers has slowly but steadily been eased. The big news in 2009 was the massive reduction—usually done summarily and without notice—of credit limits on the charge cards of millions of Americans. Also, during that time a great number of people lost their credit cards altogether as issuers became more and more cautious (or terrified). But you don’t hear about those things happening anymore, or at least not on a regular basis.

At least so far this holiday season, holiday purchases, whether online or in stores, seem quite strong. Since we live in a consumer driven economy, this is regarded as very good news. On the other hand, it’s considerably easier to overspend foolishly—or even recklessly—with a newly roomy credit card, as opposed to that debit card with a hard limit called a bank balance. Moreover, unless you belong to that small minority of consumers who actually pay their credit card bills in full every month, interest charges can make seemingly bargain-priced purchases a lot more expensive.

The fear is that enthusiastic usage of credit cards on Black Fridays will make for a hell of a lot more red ink on pay-the-piper Mondays. As always, let the buyer beware.

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Image: Neil Kronberg, via Flickr.com

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