Credit Card Expert Roundup #30 - What were the biggest stories in the credit card industry in 2018?

Jason Steele
March 5, 2019
Jason Steele CardCon

Now that we are a few months into 2019, we can reflect on 2018. Jason Steele does this when addressing the group of industry experts for Issue #30 of the Credit Card Reviews Expert Roundup:

"What were the biggest stories in the credit card industry in 2018?"

Eric Rosenberg - Freelance journalist and founder of Personal Profitability

The biggest stories in the credit card industry that caught my eye in 2018 involved refreshing some popular cards and the economic story of higher interest rates. Several top card issuers added new features (and sometimes new fees) to existing cards. In many cases, the new features breathed a new life and exciting miles and points earning opportunities to cards that had become a bit stale in the exciting and crowded credit card marketplace. At the same time, consumers have to be more careful about carrying balances as interest rates have gone up, up, up this year.

For credit card refreshes, some of the biggest news came from American Express, Barclays, and Capital One. Amex added features and benefits to both the Platinum and Gold cards this year, and added higher annual fees at the same time. For me, that meant dropping one (Business Platinum) and adding another (Gold). Depending on how you use your cards and where you spend the most, you may want to make changes as well. At Capital One and Barclays, the flagship Venture and Arrival cards joined the world of transfer partners. While you can't get the same values as you do with Chase and American Express, this was a big step in the right direction for both issuers.

While interest rate changes come from outside of the credit card industry and affect virtually all banking and lending products, it is important to note how this impacts typical credit card users. If you pay off your balance in full each month (which you should), you never pay any credit card interest. But if you do carry a balance, you probably noticed your rates go up with announcements of rate increases from the Federal Reserve. CNBC reports that the average household carries $6,375 in credit card balances. With that balance, each 0.25% increase costs about $16 per year. With four increases in 2018, that cost increase can add up fast.

Jason Steele - Credit card expert and founder of the media conference CardCon

There were several big stories this year as card issuers played with their formulas for acquiring customers. The Barclaycard Arrival Premier attempted to win customers without offering a sign-up bonus, but offering bonuses every year instead. However, the Arrival Premier was withdrawn from the market.

American Express refreshed their Gold card by offering 4x points at restaurants and grocery stores, and this appears to have been more successful. Amex also continues to raise its annual fees on cards like the Gold, Platinum and Business Platinum cards while offering more benefits and statement credits in an attempt to justify these fees.

Meanwhile, Chase has restricted approvals for it’s popular Sapphire Reserve, with many finding that it’s easier to get the Sapphire Preferred and then upgrade later. Finally, Citi stopped accepting new applications for its Prestige card and is about to re-release it with more rewards but fewer benefits.

Miranda Marquit - Nationally-recognized financial expert. She is the founder of Planting Money Seeds

Americans have close to $1 trillion just in credit card debt at the end of 2018. That's a huge amount of collective debt. Even though Americans are likely to pay off huge amounts of debt in the first quarter of the year (consumers paid off more than $40 billion in the first quarter of 2018), it probably won't keep up. With so much credit card debt out there, it's clear that it's a huge credit story — especially when combined with yet another Federal Reserve rate hike. With credit card interest likely to go up, that collective trillion dollars could mean billions more paid interest, on top of what is already being paid by consumers.

It seems like no big deal, but the reality is that American household debt is so high, that we could see the effects in the economy soon. When you add credit card debt to the trillions in student loan debt and other types of debt, it becomes clear that 2019 might have its own massive economic story — one of another recession.

Dia Adams - Blogs at TravelingMom.com to share hacks that help families travel more

In my opinion, the biggest story isn't one single event, but the banks' continued tightening of the rules. From American Express adding more "once in a lifetime" language to Citi limiting the Prestige Card's 4th night free benefit to Chase X/24 rules to anecdotal evidence that Barclay's is denying cards to people with "too many", everywhere we turn it's getting more and more difficult to squeeze maximum value out of credit pull.

That said, with every cloud comes a silver lining. While casual players of credit card roulette might call it a day, the people who stick it out might see more ongoing spend offers as the banks realize they've gone too far in the effort to maximize profits.

Zac Hood - Founder of Travel Freely, a free software that automates credit card management, aimed to help rewards travelers

More tiered "sign-up" bonuses.

We saw more banks such as Chase and Capital One use this strategy. It’s a way for banks to advertise a large sign-up bonus, but stretch it out over a longer time with more required spending. This aims to incentive a person’s card loyalty beyond the normal 3 months of initial bonus spending.

Free travel is here to stay.

So many people think free travel through rewards travel is too good to be true, but financials don’t lie. American credit card debt is at record highs, and banks make some of their highest profits on credit cards. So, free travelers are still a small sub-culture compared to the larger numbers of people who carry a balance and pay rising interest rates. I believe that a lifetime of free travel through the use of strong credit will continue to be the best kept financial secret of our generation.

For example, in April of 2018, news stories were highlighting how JP Morgan Chase had lost $330 million in 2nd quarter earnings due to rewards given out from credit cards. This nugget earned clicks and made Chase look like a potential victim, but the larger news was that Chase had their most profitable quarter ever. The bank’s credit card business jumped 39 percent to $1.28 billion. Chase has made big splashes with the travel rewards credit cards in the last few years by offering some of the best sign-up bonuses. This makes me think that large sign-up bonuses and free travel are here to stay.

See all posts →