Credit card issuers live in interesting times. New reforms threaten their profits, while our slowly recovering economy pushes more people to put away their plastic. But while this might sound like bad news for banks and their investors, the situation's not as dire as it seems.

Admittedly, you wouldn't get that impression from credit agency TransUnion's recent report, which suggested that as many as 8 million consumers, or 11% of cardholders, may have completely stopped using credit cards.

It's probably true that a tough economy is leading many people to cut back on their spending and leave their credit cards at home. But once the economy recovers, consumers will likely forget these lean times and reopen their wallets. Even though the price of gas remains steep, sales of fuel-guzzling trucks and SUVs have been rising after years of recent declines.

In contrast to TransUnion's gloomy outlook, American Express (NYSE: AXP) reported last week that spending on its cards was up 15% year over year during the most recent quarter. Capital One Financial (NYSE: COF) recently reported an uptick in its credit card business, with charge-offs and delinquencies down.

Profitable tweaks
Investors can also take heart in the ingenuity of banks and the credit card industry. When one door to profits closes, financial institutions manage to open a window or two. Some, such as Citigroup (NYSE: C), Discover Financial (NYSE: DFS), and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM), have been changing their "rewards" cards programs, making rewards harder to earn. They've likely meant to cut back on payments to reward-seeking cardholders. But given recent findings that rewards cards boost spending on cards, I wouldn't be surprised to see banks push those rewards again. Credit cards can be powerful ways for banks to make money on growing debt balances and the interchange fees charged to vendors.

Reduced credit-card use may be leading more people to use debit cards, but banks are now considering charging customers for using those debit cards, too. Reforms threaten to limit how much merchants are charged when customers use debit cards, but Visa (NYSE: V) and MasterCard (NYSE: MA) have been fighting a potential cap.

Don't get too happy -- or too worried -- about falling credit card use. It's tied to the economy's swinging pendulum, and even reforms aren't likely to deliver too big a blow to card issuers.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of American Express. American Express and Discover Financial Services are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. The Fool owns shares of JPMorgan Chase. Try any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.