Credit cards find new revenue sources

Credit Card Terminal

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: It didn't take long for memories of the financial crisis to start fading away. Today we got a look at the latest figures on consumer spending, and we are saving less and spending more. More than we earn. And that means we're whipping out the plastic again. The Credit Card Reform Act went into full effect last week. The banking industry has complained that the changes imposed by the new law will cost card issuers a lot of money.

But, as Marketplace's Stacey Vanek-Smith reports, they've already found myriad ways to make up for it.


STACEY VANEK-SMITH: I got an offer in the mail from my bank last week. It said when I use my debit card at the grocery store, I get 2 percent cash back if I push credit instead of entering my PIN.

SMITH: Can I use my debit card as a credit card? How do I do that?...

The money comes out of my checking account either way. So why is Wells Fargo was so interested in having me sign? I asked Bill Hardekopf -- CEO of Lowcards.com.

BILL HARDEKOPF: If you enter your PIN number, the issuer makes less of an interchange fee.

Interchange fees are what a store pays the card issuer every time you use your card. If you enter your PIN, the card company collects a flat fee, about a dime. But if you sign when you use your debit card, the card company collects a lot more -- about 2 percent of the purchase price.

JEFF LENARD: Welcome to the war on cash.

Jeff Lenard is with the National Association of Convenience Stores. He says merchants have noticed all the card companies doing more to drive up interchange fees since the credit card crackdown. Interchange fees bring in more than $48 billion a year.

LENARD: It's clear that the credit card companies have to find new revenue sources. One of those is going to be interchange.

Another one is going to be overdraft protection. New rules say card companies can't let you go over your credit limit then slap you with a big fee, unless you sign up for overdraft protection. So card companies are trying to convince you to sign up.

Josh Frank is with the Center for Responsible Lending.

JOSH FRANK: One of the top issuers has actively started calling people. They tell people things like: Oh, the federal government is going to take away your right to charge what you want, and you need to opt into this.

New regulations will cost card issuers more than $20 billion a year. They've also taken huge losses from rising defaults.

Nessa Feddis is with the American Bankers Association.

NESSA FEDDIS: They're going to have to figure out how to ensure that revenue is higher given that the new rules restrict the ability to get income in one area.

So we can expect to see more new kinds of cards and new kinds of promotions in coming months.

I'm Stacey Vanek-Smith for Marketplace.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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