Visa USA on Wednesday said shoppers spent $257 billion on its cards in the 2005 holiday season, 17.5 percent more than a year earlier.

The largest U.S. credit card association attributed the increase to growing consumer confidence, higher employment levels, and falling gas prices. The latter had surged to record levels after Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast in late August.

About $26.5 billion, or 10.3 percent, of overall spending was conducted online, Visa USA said.

The card association's data covers the period from Oct. 31, 2005, to Jan. 1, 2006.

In the final week of that period, shoppers spent $24.6 billion, up 16.1 percent from a year earlier, Visa USA said.

Visa USA previously said cardholders spent $32.2 billion in the week leading up to Christmas and Hanukkah, up 26.9 percent from a year earlier. It said it logged 179 million transactions worth more than $5.9 billion on December 23, Visa USA's biggest day for volume.

Visa competes with MasterCard, which has filed to raise as much as $2.45 billion in an initial public offering of stock later this year.