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Credit Card Limits Rise at the Top, Fall at the Bottom

May 17, 2017
Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards, Promos
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The number of people with bank credit cards has passed pre-recession levels to reach a new high — 171.4 million — but only the consumers with the highest credit scores have seen a significant increase in the average amount of credit available to them.

Since 2010, credit limits for “super prime” consumers increased by an average of $4,195, to $33,371, according to a report by TransUnion, one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, or companies that gather information used to calculate credit scores. For “subprime” consumers at the other end of the spectrum, credit lines decreased by an average of $1,069.

Change in average credit line since 2010

Credit score category Range Change
Super prime 781-850 +$4,195
Prime plus 721-780 +$146
Prime 661-720 –$967
Near prime 601-660 –$651
Subprime 300-600 –$1,069

Not only does a higher credit limit give cardholders more flexibility, but it can also help lower credit utilization, or the percentage of available credit in use. Utilization is a factor in credit scores, and a rate below 30% is optimal.

“The competition for super prime consumers has become fierce, and we are seeing it manifest in higher total credit lines,” Paul Siegfried, senior vice president and credit card business leader for TransUnion, said in the report. “With a focus on affluent programs, average total credit lines have increased for super prime consumers.” 

However, he said, “lenders have taken a cautious approach to re-entering subprime card lending by keeping credit lines lower.”

Melissa Lambarena is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: mlambarena@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @LissaLambarena.