Living with credit, New products

Credit card morphs, sprouts cash-back feature

Susan Ladika

I’ve never applied for a cash-back credit card, but I suddenly have one — at least for the next few weeks.

My Bank of America airline rewards card has unexpectedly morphed into a cash back credit card through the end of June. During that time, I’ll receive 3 percent cash back on purchases made at gas stations, grocery stores, drug stores and restaurants.

It’s an interesting tactic to try to entice more spending on a card I usually only use a couple times a month, when I hit those rare locations where American Express cards aren’t accepted.

Seems like an intriguing way to drum up business at a time when credit card usage across society is in decline.

A survey released in April from the Federal Reserve found that revolving debt — the vast majority of which is credit card debt — continued its decline.

As of February, U.S. consumers had $794 billion in revolving debt, down from $957.5 billion at its peak in 2008. That’s a whopping 17 percent decline.

And it’s not like the U.S. population has also declined. In July 2008, there were more than 304 million people living in the United States; today there are more than 311 million of us.

Credit card companies didn’t win many friends during the depths of the recession when many cut credit card limits or yanked credit cards out of consumers’ hands.

And the new credit card offers that once flowed freely into consumers’ mailboxes were reduced down to a trickle, or dried up completely, though the tap is being turned back on.

At the same time, a survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston released last month found that between 2008 and 2009, more consumers turned up their noses at credit cards. The practice of paying with cash jumped by 27 percent, while paying with credit cards plummeted by 22 percent.

I’m one of those who still makes use of credit cards, particularly because it’s easier for accounting purposes, but the balances are paid off each month.

And I admit, I’m a sucker for a deal. So I imagine I’ll be pulling out my Bank of America card a whole lot more in the coming weeks.

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