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Credit Card Spending Jump for Back-to-School

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The number of purchases consumers made with their credit and debit cards rose in August, and the amount of money spent on them did as well, thanks in large part to the back-to-school shopping season.

The total amount of money spent on credit cards rose 5.4 percent in August from the same month in 2011, according to the latest SpendTrend report from the analysis firm First Data Corporation. Meanwhile, purchases on debit cards rose as well, with those involving PIN code entries climbing 9.3 percent, and those that used signatures increasing 7.9 percent. The dollar value of check and prepaid debit card purchases both slipped, 3.2 and 4.2 percent, respectively.

In all, the total amount spent in August was up 7.2 percent on an annual basis, the largest such increase in any month since March, the report said. Further, the number of transactions throughout the course of the month grew 6.5 percent, and that likewise was an increase not seen in five months. The average per-purchase value, meanwhile, climbed 0.6 percent year-over-year.

Rickard Bandebo, a vice president and economist at First Data, noted that many consumers spent more last month as a means of taking advantage of back-to-school and other seasonal sales, the report said. However, the sizable increase was also likely due to Labor Day falling early in September this year, meaning that more shoppers were forced to make earlier purchases to prepare their children for school. In the past, large increases in purchase dollar value have typically been the result of rising gas prices or grocery bills, but while fuel costs rose throughout August, consumers seemed far more interested in capitalizing on back-to-school shopping deals.

It is therefore perhaps not a surprise that general merchandise stores including value retailers saw the dollar volume of purchases in August rise 11 percent overall, the second-largest increase seen in the last year, the report said. Further, health and personal care stores saw the dollar value of purchases they handled jump 8 percent.

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Experts have noted that sizable increases in credit card spending during any one month has sometimes led to slight upticks in instances of delinquency and, some time later, defaults. This is because while many consumers may feel more comfortable with their personal finances and are willing to spend once again, some may still be on somewhat unstable ground.

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