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Consumers forsaking credit cards: U.S. poll

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The percentage of U.S. shoppers who used credit cards for purchases over the Black Friday weekend was the smallest on record this year, according to a survey that underscores the caution of consumers and bodes poorly for retail's biggest season.

Only 16.3 percent of consumers polled said they used credit cards, down from 30.9 percent last year, according to data released Tuesday by marketing consultancy America's Research Group and global bank UBS.

The fact that more people appear to be avoiding credit led Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, to give a cautious sales forecast for the year-end holidays, by far the most important time for retailers.

Beemer expects holiday sales to range between down one percent and up one percent from last year. This prediction is based on findings that consumers spend only $41 per transaction on average when using cash, cheques or debit cards, compared with $87 when using credit.

Many higher-income consumers are starting to spend again, Beemer said, but this will not offset the caution pervading the wider population.

“There's no doubt that luxury is going to do better this year than last year,” Beemer said in an interview. “But on the other hand ... if the number of consumers using credit cards is half of what it was a year ago, the luxury customer cannot make up for that 50 percent decline in credit.”

The poll of 1,000 individuals, conducted from Friday through Sunday, claims a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.

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