Fiscal Responsibility by Way of Credit Cards?
(Smart Money) — In a new round of pitches in the mail, online and the phone, lenders are offering to help consumers manage their money – that is, if they’ll just sign up for a credit card. Coming from companies that make much of their money when customers spend with abandon, it’s an incongruous pitch. And yet, a card launched this week by TD Bank is just one of three new offerings that promise to help users pay down debt; Chase’s Blueprint promises to help cardholders manage their daily spending and budget for big purchases. Another pair of cards says it will help parents teach teens to use plastic responsibly. “Their new marketing tactic is that they’re your ally,” says Bill Hardekopf, chief executive at LowCards.com, which tracks credit card offers. Some are aggressively pushing these products, too: Chase’s Slate card with Blueprint counts for 7% of all credit-card mail offers during the fourth quarter of 2010, up from less than 0.5% during the third quarter 2009 when it first launched, according to Synovate Mail Monitor, which tracks credit card mail. And American Express says it’s inserting pitches for its teen prepaid card in monthly billing statements received by parents who are existing card members. The offers are clearly aimed at soothing consumers’ lingering anxieties about using their credit cards. Because while customers are starting to charge again, they’re not back to pre-recession levels – for example, purchase volume at Visa, the largest credit card network, totaled $599 billion for the 12 months ending June 30, still down 4% compared to the same period in 2007. As they slowly return to buying on credit, these card offers are banks’ efforts to increase consumers’ trust so that they keep using their cards, says Hardekopf.