Revised rewards programs
Credit card issuers such as American Express, MasterCard and Visa introduced new card programs that offer exclusive services to affluent cardholders. The programs generally allow cardholders access to concierge services and events, such as hard-to-get restaurant reservations, tickets to Broadway shows or by-invitation-only parties at the Super Bowl. This new class of card is not points based; it simply gives the cardholder access to these events, and they pay for them -- with their AmEx or Visa or MasterCard, of course.
A new entry into the rewards-card business is ESPN, with its ESPN Total Access Visa. Cardholders earn points on purchases and can redeem them for memorabilia such as a Nolan Ryan-signed baseball or events like a behind-the-scenes tour of the SportsCenter set and ESPN campus or a week at a golf instruction camp. It also has a concierge service to assist cardholders with tickets to sports events or to meet a professional athlete. They can also get access to events such as the ESPY Awards. Given the cult-like nature of ESPN's audience, you wonder what took ESPN so long to introduce a loyalty program.
Finally, Chase introduced its "Freedom" card, a no-annual-fee card that allows cardholders to switch back and forth between points and cash-back, with higher points awarded for purchases at everyday stores such as groceries, gas stations, and quick-serve restaurants.
While a February Federal Reserve Board survey found that Americans had the lowest rate of savings since the Depression, credit card companies have developed programs that promote savings while spending. Huh? Here's how these cards work: A percentage of what the cardholder spends is swept into a
savings account. There are about 50 being offered now, including the American Express One Card, Bank of America's "Keep the Change" program, Citi's Upromise Platinum Select MasterCard (for college savings) and the Fidelity Investment Rewards Visa (which can be linked to various investment accounts such as an IRA). In theory, these seem like a good way to save, but critics point out that going into debt in order to save won't solve either problem: Americans' gluttonous debt or our savings starvation.
Free credit report
Consumers celebrated the first year in which they were entitled to free annual credit reports. Thanks to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, consumers could request their credit report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion by logging on to
www.annualcreditreport.com, calling the toll-free (877) 322-8228 or mailing a completed form to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
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