Amex Is Not the Preferred Credit Card for Millionaires -- Can You Believe It?

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  • More wealthy Americans carry a Bank of America card than any other card, including American Express.
  • 27% of high-net-worth individuals report using a secured credit card.
  • Wealth does not necessarily mean a person is good with their money.

When it comes to finances, people are a mixed bag.

In January, The Ascent commissioned a poll. The goal was to take a deep dive into how wealthy Americans -- those with a net worth of $1 million or more -- deal with credit cards. Are they just like the rest of us, or do they have a secret technique allowing them to add to their wealth while charging their purchases?

The poll results were surprising. Leading American Express as the most popular credit card issuer among wealthy Americans is Bank of America.

What about prestige?

Undoubtedly, American Express has long been associated with wealth and prestige, with the granddaddy of Amex cards being The Centurion® Card from American Express, sometimes referred to as the "Amex Black Card."

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Mixed feelings?

When asked which credit card issuer they find most trustworthy, wealthy poll participants chose American Express over Bank of America, Barclays, Capital One, and all others.

So, if wealthy cardholders trust American Express more than Bank of America (by a small margin), why would 50% hold a Bank of America card when only 38% carry an American Express card?

Do rewards play a role?

According to our poll, wealthy Americans are less concerned about the interest rate a card carries and more interested in how generous a card's rewards program is.

Among high-wealth Americans, here's a breakdown of the types of rewards they seek most often:

Rewards Type Percentage of High-Net-Worth Individuals Carrying This Type of Card
Cash back card 59%
Travel rewards card 49%
Balance transfer card 38%
Gas and groceries 34%
0% APR card 31%
Sign-up bonus card 30%
Secured card 27%
Student card 21%
Store or brand-specific rewards 19%
Data source: The Ascent research

Several curious findings

Unsurprisingly, wealthy cardholders opt for cash back and travel rewards cards. But 27% of respondents also say they've used a secured credit card.

Secured credit cards

A secured card functions a lot like a traditional credit card. The main difference is that with a secured card, the cardholder must pay a cash deposit upfront to guarantee their credit limit.

Let's say a person applies for a secured credit card for $3,000. Before the card is theirs, they must give the credit card issuer a deposit of $3,000. It may be a one-time deposit or may be paid over time. Either way, they can only use the card once the issuer has the money.

Here's how each party may benefit from the arrangement:

  • The credit card issuer charges the cardholder interest on their purchases (even though they're essentially using their own money). In addition, card issuers frequently charge hefty fees, which are added to the money owed by the cardholder.
  • A person who takes out a secured credit card typically does so because they have no credit history or poor credit. The goal is to make all payments to the credit card issuer on time. In return, the credit card company reports their on-time payments to the credit reporting bureaus, and the cardholder's credit score slowly improves.

While it's tempting to believe that high-net-worth individuals can't have a low credit score, it's not true. Creditors are not only interested in how much a person has in their bank account. They also want to know how well that person repays their debts. And wealthy or not, some people are not very good at managing money or financial obligations.

It's worth noting that Bank of America offers a secured credit card, while American Express does not. It may not fully explain why more wealthy people have a Bank of America card than American Express, but it could very well be part of the reason.

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