Visa Inc. says its U.S. credit cardholders initiated 2.17 billion transactions during the fiscal second-quarter ended March 31, up 7.4% from 2.02 billion during the same period a year ago. Sales on those transactions totaled $195 billion, up 7.7% from $181 billion. Holders of Visa debit cards in the United States initiated 4.9 billion ATM and purchase transactions during the quarter, up 15.6% from 4.24 billion. Purchases on those cards totaled $193 billion, up 6.6% from $181 billion. Visa credit cards issued in the U.S. as of the end of March totaled 368 million, up 7.9% from 341 million. Visa debit cards issued in the U.S., including Interlink and Plus cards, totaled 299 million, up 12.4% from 266 million. Joseph W. Saunders, Visa chairman and CEO, told analysts during a conference yesterday that the economic downturn has softened credit card spending, but spending remains strong in other areas, including debit. "We continue to see secular shifts to plastic, particularly in our debit products in the U.S. And international volumes, including cross-border transactions, are still posting solid double-digit growth," he said. Payment volume increased 48.4% in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, to $46 billion from $31 billion; by 41.6% in Central Europe, the Middle East and Africa, to $17 billion from $12 billion; by 32.3% in Canada, to $41 billion from $31 billion; and by 26.2% in the Asia-Pacific region, to $159 billion from $126 billion. Overall debit card payment volume growth surged 20%, to $228 billion from $190 billion. Visa's total cards in circulation worldwide grew 14%, to 1.63 billion from 1.43 billion. As a company, Visa reported net income of $422 million for its fiscal third quarter ended June 30, a 41.1% increase from $299 million for the same quarter a year earlier. Adjusting for litigation, restructuring and amortization, Visa's profit increased 40.2%, to $457 million from $326 million. Net operating revenue for the quarter was $1.61 billion, a 17% increase from $1.37 billion during the same period a year earlier.