Mark Dolliver: Credit Where Due (or Overdue)

What factor most determines how satisfied consumers are with their credit cards? The chart below summarizes the overall findings of a J.D. Power and Associates poll on the matter. But the same study found that the relative weight of various factors depends on whether people are “transactors” (who generally pay the whole bill) or “revolvers” (who generally carry a balance). For transactors, the chief factor in satisfaction is rewards, cited by 65 percent. For revolvers, what matter most are interest rates (cited by 40 percent). Eighty percent of all cardholders said they receive some sort of reward for card usage, with airline miles the most popular payback.

A separate study by Synovate indicates that an alarming number of consumers are shifting debt from one card to another to keep themselves afloat. The average U.S. household now has 2.8 credit cards (up from 2.4 cards four years ago), with a revolving balance of $6,970 (up from $5,084). More than one-quarter of cardholder households are in what Synovate calls the “ultra utilization” category, meaning they use 30 percent or more of the revolving credit available to them. In these households, the average balance is $9,890 (vs. $8,069 four years ago). A further indication that many are in over their heads: One in four ultra utilizers were charged a late fee or an over-the-limit fee during the past year.