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Saturday, February 05, 2005
Top Ten Credit Card Trends
This past Monday the Wall Street Journal ran a special section profiling the top 10 trends in 10 industries.

One of the articles is about the top 10 trends in credit cards (requires subscription). You'd think something as mundane and well-established as credit cards couldn't possibly have any new trends. But, in fact, a lot is changing and evolving. Here are the top 10 trends in credit cards:
1. Loyalty Awards More Attractive - Loyalty programs that let credit card users accumulate points for using their cards, are growing in popularity. Today's loyalty programs allow consumers to get rewards quickly, without waiting years. And forget about frequent flier miles -- many programs let you use your points to pay for all sorts of things, including telephone bills and oil changes -- even cash back.

2. Debit Cards Growing - Debit cards, where the money is electronically withdrawn from your back account, represent the fastest growing segment of electronic transactions. One of three in-store purchases today is with a debit card. Look for online transactions to be the next frontier for debit cards.

3. No Charge Too Small - Remember when retailers used to have a size minimum for a credit card purchase? Some still do, because of the transaction fees charged. But Americans are using credit cards for much smaller purchases today, including fast food meals and $.99 songs from iTunes.

4. A More Level Playing Field - Expect even more credit card pitches in your mailbox, because banks can now issue credit cards through Discover and American Express, in addition to Visa or MasterCard. (My shredder just burped!)

5. Foreign Currency Conversions Lead to Litigation - Credit cards have been the target of class action lawsuits in the past on a variety of issues. The latest hot litigation topic: suits against credit card issuers for failing to disclose fees on foreign currency transactions.

6. Credit Card Gift Cards - Many banks offer gift cards branded with the Visa or MasterCard logo, that can be used like a credit card up to a designated amount. But watch out, there have been lots of consumer complaints about excessive dormancy fees and expiration dates.

7. Hey, Big Spender - The credit card companies not only want the small sales, they want the big spenders too. American Express offers an invitation-only Centurion card for customers who charge more than US$150,000 per year! Coutts bank in the U.K., that counts Queen Elizabeth as a customer, offers a high end card in purple that is delivered in a mahogany box.

8. Fingerprints and Irises - Credit cards are going high tech, to make transactions faster and to prevent fraud. Some issuers are using fingerprint scans, requiring the customer to place a finger on a fingerprint reader. Others are using RFID tags -- the card or even a key fob is simply waved in front of a reader, completing the transaction in seconds.

9. Merchants Fight Back - Merchants have a love-hate relationship with credit cards. They feel they have no choice but to accept high fees from Visa, MasterCard, etc. They've begun to fight back with lawsuits and boycotting certain cards.

10. No Bank? No Problem - About 10 million U.S. households have no bank account. That's why prepaid credit cards are on the rise. About 25% of those 10 million households will buy prepaid credit cards.
Hat tip to Steve Rucinski of Small Business CEO, who saved the Trends section of the Journal for me -- I had missed Monday's paper due to travel. With the Journal I like to read the hard copy version and then if I spot a trend worth noting here, I go online and link to the electronic version.
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