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J.D. Power: Credit card customer satisfaction increasing, but warning signs abound

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Young woman shopping online takes out her credit card from her w
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After declining for two straight years, credit card customer satisfaction is rising once again, according to the J.D. Power 2022 U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Study.

Overall satisfaction improved five points to 810 on J.D. Power’s 1,000-point scale. The study’s authors noted that the improvements were especially significant in areas such as credit card terms, benefits, services and communication. Related increases were observed in consumers’ perceived level of trust in credit card issuers, as well as issuers’ Net Promoter Scores.

The news isn’t all positive, however

The report classifies most credit card holders (57 percent) as financially unhealthy, up four percentage points from 2021. Almost a quarter of consumers (22 percent) say they are worse off financially than a year ago. The highest inflation readings in 40 years and near-record credit card balances and credit card interest rates are surely major contributors to this malaise.

“There are some very real concerns looming on the horizon,” said John Cabell, director of banking and payments intelligence at J.D. Power. “Chief among these is the declining share of spend going to primary credit cards. Despite recent spikes in travel and spending, cardholders generally have been taking a more cautious stance with credit card spend in the past five years. They are increasingly turning to other channels such as debit cards, BNPL [buy now, pay later] and even cash. It is going to become critically important for card issuers to improve product value and boost proactive support for a growing segment of financially stressed customers as we move into this next phase of the economic cycle.”

Loyalty seems to be eroding

Just 42 percent of cardholders’ monthly spending is landing on their primary credit card, down from 47 percent in each of the past two years and 50 percent in 2019.

Another area of opportunity is that fewer than one in three (31 percent) credit card holders feel they are completely maximizing their rewards opportunities. This suggests that some cardholders would be better off switching to a different card. Issuers could perhaps also do a better job of informing cardholders about their benefits and matching them with the right products.

The credit card industry has long been a competitive one, as card issuers jockey with one another for top-of-wallet status based upon various factors such as rewards, interest rates, customer service and more. Increasingly, competition is also coming from relatively new entrants to the payments space, BNPL providers such as Affirm, Afterpay and Klarna.

BNPL’s impact

J.D. Power found that almost half (44 percent) of credit card holders would consider other financing options when making a large purchase. BNPL topped the list at 28 percent, thanks to what researchers described as reasonable fees and competitive interest rates. Some of these providers have even begun offering rewards. Other alternatives mentioned in the study include personal loans and other types of flexible financing/installment loans.

The winners

American Express claimed the top satisfaction score among national credit card issuers for the third year in a row and the 12th time in the 16-year history of the study. Its score of 848 marks a 10-point improvement over last year.

Discover, which has five first-place finishes including a tie with Amex in 2014, placed second for an 11th occasion. Its score improved from 837 last year to 841 at present.

American Express and Discover — typically in that order — have occupied the top two spots in this ranking since its inception in 2007.

Bank of America’s 13-point improvement was the most of any national issuer over the past year. This helped it climb from fifth to third in the ranking with a total of 818 points.

Goldman Sachs won the midsize issuer category for a second consecutive year.

The bottom line

The more I use credit cards, the more I find myself caring about good customer service. In fact, a card issuer really bailed me out recently by crediting my account to the tune of $500 after a hotel stay went awry. That positive experience makes me much more likely to use this card for future travel purchases.

I’ve had some bad experiences and some good experiences on the rare occasions when I’ve needed to file a dispute. All of these have elicited emotional responses that left me feeling better or worse about my relationships with card issuers.

Customer service can be measured in many different ways, ranging from the rewards you receive to how long you need to wait on hold if you’re calling about a problem to so many other things. I’ve started using certain cards more than others, particularly when benefits such as travel insurance or purchase protection come into play.

Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at ted.rossman@bankrate.com and I’d be happy to help.