The latest figures from UK payments association Apacs have revealed a shift in cardholder behavior, namely that spending on credit cards is leveling off while credit cardholders concentrate on making repayments.

The figures, which cover all retail transactions in 2005, show that the amount spent on credit cards in the UK is up by 1% to GBP124.1 billion (from GBP122.8 billion in 2004), while the number of transactions has fallen by 1% to 2.1 billion.

In addition, while cardholders rein in their spending, they are concentrating on repayments. Bank of England figures reveal the highest proportion of repayments since 1998 – 95.3%.

The report also reveals that the number of cardholders who repay their credit card in full each month grew to 59% in 2005, up from 56% in 2004; and an increasing number of cardholders are making repayments by direct debit.

Apacs said that the reduction in credit card spending and the increase in repayments could be down to nervousness about economic growth, as well as media reports about debt and irresponsible borrowing.

As well as highlighting these interesting trends, Apacs’ report goes on to reveal that debit cards continue to be the UK’s most popular plastic card in terms of ownership and use. Over the year, debit card spending in retail outlets exceeded cash spending for the first time ever. The figures show debit card spending at 37% (GBP89 billion) of the total GBP240 billion spent, against cash at 34% (GBP81 billion).

Meanwhile, in 2005, the number of personal debit cardholders increased by 3% to reach 40.8 million, and the number of debit card transactions (both spending and cash withdrawals) per cardholder reached 159 per year in 2005 – up from 77 transactions per year just 10 years ago.

Debit cards have gained ground significantly during the past 10 years as the most convenient everyday payment method as consumers have moved away from using cheques and cash. However, we still prefer credit to debit when it comes to buying higher value items or buying online, as we welcome the convenience and security credit cards bring, commented Sandra Quinn, director of communications at Apacs.

Looking forward, the report predicts that, over the next 10 years, debit cards are expected to be the fastest-growing way to pay in the UK, with much of this growth coming as people migrate away from paying by cash for lower-value payments.

Online payments also have a rosy outlook, Apacs said. The figures reveal that consumers spend five times more on their plastic cards through the internet than they did just five years ago, and, by 2015, internet purchases are projected to account for over 20% of personal credit card payments within the UK.