Americans have mixed feelings about credit cards. On the one hand, they seem to put card issuers in the same category as bullies: 82 percent say card issuers are not entitled to change the terms of accounts at any time for any reason. In fact, card firms certainly do have those rights and exercise them regularly.
And a whopping 92 percent of Americans believe the industry should be more closely regulated. In fact, that wish will come true, as the Federal Reserve Board, Office of Thrift Supervision and National Credit Union Administration recently adopted new rules designed to safeguard consumers from credit card abuses. Those rules won't go into effect, though, until July 2010.
But if their credit lines were to dry up today, 40 percent of Americans claim they wouldn't care a whit.
Bankrate commissioned GfK Roper to learn about the attitudes Americans have about credit cards. The results indicate complex emotions are involved, dominated by a strange mixture of attraction and aversion, with emphasis on the latter.
Please don't take my credit cardsSome people would be upset if their sources for revolving credit dried up. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed expressed some emotion at the prospect of losing their credit, ranging from mild annoyance (34 percent) to stoic acceptance of the ensuing pain (20 percent) to outright devastation (5 percent).
Considering that the desiccation of credit is a big issue in this country at the moment -- combined with rising costs for staples, stagnant wages, lost jobs, plus the shriveling of our collective net worth -- one would imagine that the prospect of losing credit options would engender a little more anxiety. But that sentiment wasn't apparent in this poll.
"I thought it was interesting that such a high percentage wouldn't really care if their credit dried up. In this economy it surprises me somewhat," says Scott Peterson, managing director of Market Platform Dynamics, a management consulting firm.
"The fact that so few people said they would be devastated because they depend on it so much does not sync up with the realities in the marketplace," he says. "People do, I think, depend a lot more on credit cards."
Gerri Detweiler, credit adviser for Credit.com, agrees.
"Realistically, when it comes to trying to juggle the bills, it would be pretty tough not to have any credit to fall back on," she says.
Credit card issuers can do what they wantThe nation's disenchantment with credit cards could be related to the slightly masochistic relationship some people have with credit issuers.
Certain industry practices have left credit cardholders feeling bruised and mistrustful. The general sentiment is that credit card companies should not be entitled to change the terms of your account at any time for any reason.