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Roundup: AmEx, rewards and debt

By Janna Herron · Bankrate.com
Monday, May 21, 2012
Posted: 3 pm ET

It's a good time to round up a few small, but interesting items that hit the credit cards industry last week.

First up: American Express. The credit card issuer launched a pilot program May 14 of a mobile app that recommends and ranks retailer discounts based on a cardholder's past spending and location.

Cardholders simply accept the offer, which is loaded onto the card. The discount shows up on the cardholder's statement credit within three to five days. The app comes with a dashboard that keeps track of offers a cardholder has loaded and their expiration dates and tallies how much the cardholder has saved.

The offers are from nationwide retailers such as Baskin Robbins and Dunkin' Donuts along with local merchants in New York and Los Angeles.

The app reflects a larger trend toward mobile banking, mobile payments and digital couponing. American Express offers other mobile deals through partnership with social networking sites Foursquare, Twitter and the just-gone-public Facebook.

Next up: a rewards combo? On Tuesday, market research firm Synergistics Research released a survey that showed many Americans would love their debit and credit cards to earn rewards in the same programs. Sadly, only one in seven (14 percent) of those surveyed say their banks offer that opportunity.

Of those 14 percent, more than two-thirds participate in the program. Synergistics suggests there's a real opportunity for banks to offer a rewards program for debit and credit cards since three-quarters of people surveyed carry both types of cards.

"By combining credit card and debit card reward programs together, providers can promote account retention, as well as potentially attract new customers," says Bill McCracken, CEO of Synergistics.

Banks have largely scrapped their debit reward programs because new regulations capped how much money they can make from debit-card transactions. As a result, it's more profitable for banks to encourage credit card use over debit cards. Bankrate's survey last year found that the number of debit reward programs being offered dropped 30 percent from 2010.

(Synergistics study surveyed 1,022 U.S. adults online.)

Last on the docket: a monthly glance at credit card debt. CreditKarma.com on Wednesday released its April snapshot of consumer debt. It found that the average credit card debt dropped 13 percent to $5,650 from a year ago and is down almost 4 percent from March.

The states with highest average credit card debt are Alaska and Hawaii at $7,096 and $7,090, respectively. Mississippi and Louisiana posted the lowest average debt on credit cards at $4,232 and $4,504, the report showed.

How's your credit card debt doing? I hope it's zero.

Follow me on Twitter: @JannaHerron.

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