Living with credit

Metal cards and new tariffs: Will status symbols cost more?

John Egan

President Donald Trump has made good on a promise that caught the nation’s capital by surprise, and it could affect some of the credit cards in your wallet.

On March 8, Trump signed an executive order slapping a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum. Trump exempted Canada and Mexico from the taxes, at least temporarily, but every other country falls under the president’s directive.

The tariffs are designed to protect the steel and aluminum industries in the U.S. from foreign competition. However, critics warn the tariffs could spark a global trade war and drive up the cost of everything from beer and cars to candy and appliances.

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All this talk about tariffs made me wonder what might happen to perhaps the most coveted type of credit card these days – the metal card. Will it cost more to produce these newly minted status symbols?

What’s in the cards?

I wish I had a clear answer for you. I reached out to several credit card issuers and credit card manufacturers to find out how the steel and aluminum tariffs might impact them, but to no avail.

The International Card Manufacturers Association proved to be quite helpful in supplying data, but Al Vrancart, the association’s founder emeritus and industry adviser, says it’s difficult to determine how the tariffs might affect metal credit cards.

My educated guess is that the tariffs could lead to a tiny increase in the cost of making metal credit cards. Yet I suspect the card issuers wouldn’t pass along the extra expense to consumers.

According to Vrancart, it costs 50 cents to $1 to manufacture a chip-equipped plastic card. A metal card costs several times more than that to produce, he says.

Vrancart says most metal credit cards are made from composite materials that include steel, titanium and gold, as well as plastic. He assures me the metals and other materials are “readily available,” with their prices being set based on global supply and demand.

Metal count

An estimated 30 million to 40 million metal credit cards are in Americans’ wallets, Vrancart says. That’s just a sliver of the overall market for credit, debit, ATM and prepaid cards, though. Last year, nearly 9.3 billion cards were produced in North America, according to Vrancart’s association.

I’ve actually got two metal credit cards in my wallet: the American Express Platinum card and the Chase United MileagePlus Club card. Every once in a while, someone’s impressed by the heft of my metal cards, but it’s not that big of a deal, since they work no differently than their plastic counterparts.

In reaching out to several credit card issuers, I did find out that not all metal cards are the same. For instance, my American Express Platinum card is made of stainless steel, while my MileagePlus Club card is made of a proprietary mix of metals.

Chase-ing the gold

Chase appears to be the king of metal credit cards, with seven of them in its lineup, compared with two metal cards from Citibank and one metal card from American Express.

Of course, at the top of the metal-card mountain is Chase’s Sapphire Reserve card, which debuted in 2016. The Sapphire Reserve became so popular, in fact, that the manufacturer ran out of material to make the card.

Much of the allure of the card undoubtedly was the initial sign-up bonus of 100,000 points (which now is half that amount), but it didn’t hurt that the Sapphire Reserve has a feels-like-a-million-bucks aura to it.

The Sapphire Reserve “is a high-end, high-fee, high-reward card made of a metallic alloy that gives it a satisfying heft and an impressive thunk when you toss it onto the table to pick up the check,” the Chicago Tribune noted in 2016.

I just hope the steel and aluminum tariffs don’t steal that satisfying heft and impressive thunk from us. But I doubt anyone will be protesting at the White House if those tariffs were to cause that heft and clout to become costlier.

See related: Do metal credit cards cause problems with airport security?, How to destroy metal cards without killing your shredder

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