March 27, 2008
OK, credit card news isn't likely to be as scintillating as celebrity news, or maybe even ice sculpture news. But trust me -- there's value in keeping up with developments in the world of credit cards.
Here are a few recent stories from cardtrak.com, along with some thoughts on them:
- First off, those tired of buying actual goods and services might consider purchasing a "Zwinky" gift card from Target (NYSE: TGT ) . The card lets you buy virtual items in the Zwinky virtual online world.
- Speaking of catchy names, there's a new Visa card in town -- branded "uTANGO." It aims to offer the most compelling rewards package around, paying up to $800 annually in cash, and climbing from there. What do I mean? Well, once you're married, you can receive up to $10,000 after being with the card for a decade. After 20 years, you can get up to $100,000, and after 30 years, a million dollars!
Before you rush to sign up, though, read the fine print. I noticed, for example: "Rewards require a minimum amount of points to be earned and Participants must agree to and meet Program Rules, which may change at anytime." In other words, as you might expect, you'll likely have to spend a heck of a lot in order to earn a heck of a lot, and who knows if the card will still be around in 10, 20, or 30 years, let alone what its rules will be then. Proceed with caution.
- That separation anxiety you feel when a waitress carries your credit card out of sight on her way to the 21st-century cash register on the other side of the restaurant might soon be a thing of the past. Some restaurants are adopting a handheld device that lets a server swipe and process your card right at your table. This may ease some customers' concerns about what happens to the card when it's away.
- And yet more catchy names. Washington Mutual (NYSE: WM ) , referred to as "WaMu" by those in the know, offers a special benefit to its cardholders: free online access to their FICO score. That's handy, because while everyone can get one free copy of their credit report each year, they usually have to pay to get their credit score. Still, don't think this is all you need to know. The FICO score comes from Fair Isaac (NYSE: FIC ) and TransUnion -- but there are several more credit-monitoring agencies that lenders check when you want to borrow. So if you really need to know all about your credit profile, look into getting your reports from Experian and Equifax (NYSE: EFX ) , as well.
- Meanwhile, Discover Financial Services (NYSE: DFS ) has provided cardholders with some useful financial tools that they might want to peruse before swiping the plastic. The "Paydown Planner" and "Purchase Planner" can help you calculate how long it will take you to pay off various loans at various rates and how much a major purchase will affect your finances. These can help cardholders avoid falling deeper into a debt hole.
- One story that's hard to miss is the recent spate of interest-rate cuts. These affect not only mortgage borrowers, but also those with credit card debt. The prime rate has fallen from 8.25% last year to 5.25% recently -- potentially saving a family with $6,600 in revolving debt some $200 per year. Don't let that be enough for you, though. If you're carrying revolving debt, you're likely making steep interest payments that will cost you more than you save. Work on digging out of debt with a methodical approach to paying it off. Lots of Fools have paid off tens of thousands over time.
The world of credit cards and card issuers is a fascinating one. Learn more about how to make the most of your credit in our Credit Center, and in the following articles: