The junk mail is back.
Mintel Comperemedia, a provider of direct marketing information, reports that in the fourth quarter -- for the first time in three years -- the volume of credit card direct mail increased from the previous quarter.
With a 47 percent increase in direct mail compared from the third quarter, credit card issuers showed increased confidence in the economy and a willingness to extend more consumer credit.
However, last year's direct mail volume still pales in comparison with recent years. Mintel reports the total number of credit card offers sent in 2009 falls 66 percent behind the number sent in 2008. Pre-recession (2004-2007), card mailings topped seven billion annually; last year, they didn't even reach two billion.
"Credit card direct mail volume leveled out mid-last year and finally, in the last quarter of 2009, we saw the long-awaited increase in card offers for consumers," said Mintel Comperemedia Senior Vice president Andrew Davidson. "More direct marketing is an excellent sign for the economy, because it shows issuers gaining confidence and taking a more positive outlook towards gaining new cardholders and reducing delinquencies."
February is significant for credit card companies, as another wave of CARD Act regulations take hold on the 22nd. In anticipation of tighter restrictions on credit practices, many companies are trying to rebalance their portfolios.
"In this post-recessionary environment, card issuers need to offset potential lost revenue from CARD Act regulations. We see more cards being promoted with annual fees and high purchase APRs," Davidson said.
According to Mintel, more than a third of credit card offers sent in 2009 (36 percent) featured an annual fee, compared with just one in five (20 percent) in 2008. Purchase rates are also on the rise, despite the steadily low prime rate.
On variable rate card offers sent during the final three months of 2009, the mean go-to APR for purchases was 13.95 percent, versus the average of 11.80 percent observed a year earlier.
Many top credit card issuers increased direct mail volume during the fourth quarter of last year, but the biggest bumps compared with the same period of 2008 came from Chase (up 87 percent) and U.S. Bank (up 64 percent).
Heavy volume or not, some consumers don't like it.
Greg of Agoura, CA, was succinct when he wrote to ConsumerAffairs.com about Chase Bank: "Direct solicitation to a 12-year old for a credit card."
From Papillion, NE, Ben tells of what he calls a "humiliating experience" with American Express. He says he noticed on the bottom of the mail solicitation with the fake credit card that he can stop receiving offers by calling a toll free number to opt out. "So I call the number and the pre-recorded person asks: your name, your address, your birth date, and then your social security number if you want to be free from solicitations for the next three years. I'm so fed up with getting this solicitation every month so I gave them the information. But after I hung up I felt like that's unbelievable that I have to give out that kind of information just to be left alone from these vultures."
If you'd like to see fewer of these offers showing up in your mailbox, here are some tips on getting your name removed from mailing lists.