If it seems like your mailbox is overflowing with new credit card offers, it may not be your imagination. Direct mail industry sources report credit card companies, after hunkering down for more than a year, are actively looking for new customers.
One source, Synovate's Mail Monitor, puts the total number of credit card solicitations world-wide at 2.73 billion -- a 96 percent increase over 2009. That same year, some credit card companies closed out millions of credit card accounts to reduce their risk of default.
"Synovate Mail Monitor also recorded the third consecutive quarterly increase in credit card mailings since we hit a significant low in the third quarter of 2009," said Anuj Shahani, Director of Competitive Tracking Services for Synovate's Financial Services group. "Despite the uncertainty introduced by the CARD Act, Fin Reg, and other such legislative changes, we are seeing the credit card issuers get back to market, trying to entice consumers once again."
Double the offers
During the second quarter of 2010, U.S. households received 640.3 million credit card offers -- an 83 percent increase -- versus 349.1 million offers mailed during the same time a year ago. Chase was the leading issuer, quadrupling their mailings versus the same period in the prior year.
Citibank, the second largest mailer for the second quarter of 2010, demonstrated a major comeback by showing significant growth quarter over quarter -- almost triple their mailings from the first quarter, according to the report.
With the economy showing signs of improvement, the lenders want your business again. They're even going after the subprime market again, through industry analysts say subprime customers will likely pay higher fees for carrying a credit card again.
They'll also pay higher interest rates. In its weekly report on current credit card rates, CreditCards.com says the average prime credit card rate is 14.72 percent. The average rate for a "bad credit" card is 24.95 percent, with some subprime cards charging double that rate.
At least one member of Congress wants to pass a law that would cap credit card interest rates. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) has introduced legislation that would cap interest rates on credit cards and all other loans at 15 percent.
Hinchey says the Interest Rate Reduction Act would rein in the skyrocketing rates that banks and financial institutions are charging customers with little or no warning and without any justification.
Using cards to make ends meet
"Many hardworking Americans are using credit cards to make ends meet in this recovering economy, but credit card companies are finding new ways to squeeze the middle class despite significant reforms in the last Congress," said Hinchey. "Credit card companies are charging interest rates as high as 50 percent, trapping millions of Americans in a spiral of debt, forcing bankruptcies, and ruining peoples financial futures. We need to put an end to this legalized loan sharking. A fair and healthy lending system is critical to the success of hardworking Americans and the recovery of the economy. This bill helps limit credit card and general lending abuse by placing a reasonable cap on the rates that can be charged to Americans."
Hinchey says the limits in his bill are the same rules that currently apply to credit unions, which have been forbidden from charging usurious interest rates on credit cards and other loans to their members for nearly 30 years. The interest rate cap that has protected consumers at credit unions from being charged usurious interest rates has not harmed the safety and soundness of these institutions, he says, and has not negatively affected the access to credit of credit union members. Furthermore, he points out, credit unions have been able to stay afloat throughout the credit crunch and have not received one dime of taxpayer assistance.
Hinchey says credit card debt in the U.S. still totals nearly $800 billion, despite significant reforms passed by Congress. The average American household that has credit card debt carries a balance of nearly $15,000.