The UK's payments association Apacs says debit and credit card transactions hit a record high in December, with an average of 220 transactions taking place per second.
Sandra Quinn, director of corporate communications of Apacs, says two factors defined spending on plastic cards in December - for the first time customers spent more on cards rather than by cash, and secondly, many customers used cards to make Tsunami donations.
Plastic card transactions reached 584.6 million in December 2004, 12.6% up on last year's 519 million.
Debit card purchases led the growth with a 15.8% rise in transactions to 380 million, and they accounted for 65% of all plastic card transactions (up two percentage points from 63% in December 2003).
Credit card transactions grew by 7.1% to 205 million, compared to 191 million in December 2003. Apacs says credit card transaction volumes were boosted by online spending - an estimated 21 million customers will have shopped via the Web in the run up to Christmas and 10% of all credit card purchases are now made on the Internet.
Overall, plastic cards accounted for 61.5% of all retail sales (£16.5 billion), and December's high street purchases on plastic were the highest ever recorded, up 11% on last year's figures.
There was a 49% rise in the value of charitable donations in December using debit and credit cards, compared to the average of the previous twelve months. Overall 1.6 million contributions were made to social, political and religious organisations (a total of £76.4 million), reflecting additional giving to the Disasters Emergency Committee Tsunami Earthquake Appeal.