New trends in the credit card landscape


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Living on credit is a staple of modern financial life. Unlike earlier, more frugal generations, many of us have no qualms about borrowing money so we can enjoy our toys today and pay for them tomorrow.

However, millennials are taking a different approach. A recent survey commissioned by Bankrate found that 63 percent of millennials do not have credit cards.

By contrast, just 30 percent of adults 30 and older do not have plastic in their wallets.

The decline in credit card use by millennials does not surprise Conrad Ciccotello, director of the wealth management program at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 made it more difficult for consumers without incomes to secure credit. As a result, college students are not racking up credit card debt the way their forebears did, Ciccotello says.

That trend is just one among many hitting the credit card landscape. Ciccotello discusses the changes in the following interview.

A recent survey commissioned by Bankrate found that 63 percent of millennials do not have credit cards. Are you surprised that Americans ages 18 to 29 are skipping credit cards? Why or why not?

(I’m) not surprised. The Credit CARD Act of 2009 really made it tougher for those without income to get credit cards. And even if they can get a card, it is often a lower limit.

Among my undergraduate students, it is apparent that credit card balances are declining over time. Some of this decline is being offset by increases in student loans. So overall debt levels are not moving much among those who are finishing college and beginning the challenge of becoming financially independent.

What are the implications for retailers, and the overall economy, if millennials continue to forsake credit card use?

Mixed. (There is) less impulse-buying, but arguably (we have) financially healthier consumers overall. Credit card debt is expensive and can be a budget wrecker and wealth destroyer over the long run.

Recent trends show millennials are also aggressively paying down debt — so less consumption short term, but a healthier long-term position.

What are some of the other trends you are seeing around credit card use? What is the significance of such trends?

The incidents regarding the breach of consumer credit card information (e.g., Target and Home Depot) have had an impact. I believe they speak to the need for improved credit awareness.

So on the margin, cut your exposure by limiting the number of cards you have and act more proactively to protect and monitor them. This raises an interesting trade-off, as dropping cards cuts your available credit and raises your utilization.These changes could reduce your credit score.

The trend away from magnetic stripe cards and toward “chip” cards is picking up steam. How will this change impact the average consumer and his or her shopping experience?

Once the transition is made, this will be a far better system to deal with the ever-escalating arms race to protect consumer financial information against theft. While I am not an expert in the technical aspects of the new system, it is a large systems upgrade.

It is thus likely there will be at least a few major hiccups along the way. This is another reason why the trends listed above — namely, less exposure — are apparent.

What are some innovations you are seeing in terms of the types of credit cards that are now being offered to the public?

I really cannot discern anything new here. There are already a dizzying array of sweeteners attached to cards. The most effective ones, in my view, tie the borrower down in some type of system — like airline miles.

In general, there is a lot of inertia in financial decision-making. So once someone has a card, they are unlikely to get rid of it.The sweeteners are largely effective ways to cement the use of the card.

What are some of the other major trends related to credit cards that you expect to see in 2015?

The U.S. continues on the march to being a cashless society. Every year, there is a growth in automated payment methods that make cash, check writing, etc., more and more obsolete.

This will continue in 2015. A smooth integration to a chip system would accelerate this trend.