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This information can be a handy tool to help families budget for the coming year and determine where they can cut back in spending.

Credit card issuers must state their privacy policies regarding personal information of customers.

It's not only your retail purchases, but your online purchases. Some people pay for their utilities with credit cards." Federal financial privacy laws (Regulation P) prohibit credit card issuers from sharing your personal and payment information with third parties not affiliated with the issuer (except under court order or when fraud is involved).

Some health care flexible spending accounts allow users to make purchases only at pharmacies or merchants with medical-related services.

Small business owners also use the codes to prevent employee abuse of company credit cards.

Your credit card issuer may be taking note -- and making decisions about your creditworthiness based on your purchasing behavior.

The reason: Buying used clothing or retread tires may be an indication of financial distress and a preamble to missed credit card payments or defaults.

Editor's note: See updated version of this article: What you buy, where you shop can affect your credit Think of it as an electronic bug in your wallet.

Every time you make a purchase on a credit card or debit card, a record of that transaction is logged into a database of information collected by your credit card issuer.

Representatives from the four top credit card issuers -- Bank of America, Citi, Chase and Wells Fargo -- declined to discuss details of how they use purchasing data internally. A spokeswoman from a banking industry trade group acknowledged that the practice is common.

"The issuing bank has the date of transaction, name of the merchant and the amount of the transaction that allows them to process that transaction," says Nessa Feddis, senior counsel and vice president of the American Bankers Association.

According to the lawsuit, Compu Credit used an undisclosed behavioral scoring model to track customer purchases.

The company lowered credit limits on cardholders who shopped at certain establishments or used certain services, including pawnshops, massage parlors, tire retread shops, marriage counselors and bars and nightclubs.

She says specific information about items purchased (that you bought a gallon of milk, for example) is not included in the data transferred from the merchant.