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Put away the hankies, credit card companies are doing just fine

by Peter Andrew

Don't shed a tear for credit card companies. No matter what the headlines say about their parent entities, they're mostly doing just fine and eager to earn your business.

If you're one of those highly empathetic people who tend to cry at sad movies (and, if you are, you really need to stock up on handkerchiefs before you see War Horse) then you may have been shedding tears for some of your favorite credit card companies. If so, you can dry your eyes. The parent companies of Chase and Citi may have published less than impressive fourth-quarter results recently, but it's not their card divisions that are causing the problems. They're doing just fine.

Credit card companies flourishing

Take the Chase credit card division as an example. According to a Jan. 13 press release from JP Morgan Chase, it issued new credit cards to 8.5 million people in 2011. Meanwhile, its charge-offs (when uncollectible debt is written off the books, and passed on to collection agencies and the like) were just 3.27 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, down from 5.73 percent in 2010, and its delinquency rate (when customers are 30 days or more behind with payments) was 2.32 percent compared with 3.23 percent the previous year.

Those may be pretty good figures, but they don't mean that executives at Chase and elsewhere have room for complacency. By some measures, business is down. However, look on the bright side: it's card issuers' responses to the troubling aspects of their results that are creating some good news for consumers like you.

Credit card interest rates down, offers up

In particular, card issuers would love their customers to get back into the habit of carrying forward balances. That may explain at least in part why credit card interest rates have begun edging down. At the time of writing, IndexCreditCards.com's rate monitor puts the average for all sorts of cards at 16.65 percent, which is still high, but a little lower than it has been recently.

At the same time, many card issuers are mailing out many more credit card offers than they have in recent years. Chase says its non-interest expenses shot up by 8 percent ($158 million) from the previous year in the division that manages cards, and attributed much of that to increased marketing costs.

Rewards credit cards boost cash back bonuses

It's not just in terms of the number of solicitations mailed that card issuers are making big efforts. The quality of each credit card offer is also tending to improve.

In particular, the number of enhancements to rewards credit cards' programs in recent months has been remarkable, as the most casual trawl through the IndexCreditCards.com news blog would reveal. At the same time, sign-up bonuses, which provide a one-off cash gift for new cardholders, are also in evidence.

If you have good credit, you're in the enviable position of being in the target market for credit card companies that are very keen to have your business. So now's the time to dry your eyes, and seek out the best deals you possibly can.

Published 01/18/12 (Modified 05/14/14)


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