Already, we’ve seen a swing in credit cards spending and offers over the past several months.
Balance transfer cards have made a comeback after disappearing during the pandemic, an influx of everyday rewards categories brought increased value to essential purchases like groceries and gas, and novel card options like crypto rewards cards entered the market.
But experts are predicting continued changes to Americans’ credit card use this year — including how and where we spend, more flexible payment options, and increasing ways to access credit.
There’s a lot in store for the year ahead, still. Here’s what experts are predicting for credit cardholders through the rest of 2022 and beyond, and how you can prepare.
Travel Rewards and Benefits
But as restrictions lift and more people begin traveling again, look for issuers to launch higher rewards and special offers for travelers, like the coveted 100,000-point welcome bonus, says Benét Wilson, a senior editor at The Points Guy (which is owned by Red Ventures, like NextAdvisor). Huge bonuses like that can help you save on everything from booking your next trip to flight upgrades or free nights at a luxury resort.
“We’ve been in this pandemic going on three years, and a lot of people haven’t traveled. They’re ready to go,” Wilson says.
However, she also predicts that cardholders will want to maintain the rewards they enjoyed on everyday spending during the pandemic, too. For those cardholders, the best of both worlds may be travel cards that earn points from everyday spending which you can redeem toward booking and travel perks.
For instance, with the American Express® Gold Card, you’ll get 4X Membership Rewards points at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year, then 1X after that), plus 3X Membership Rewards points on flights booked with American Express or directly with airlines. Membership Rewards points are flexible, so you can redeem them for travel booked through Amex, toward purchases you make with your card, or transfer them to Amex travel partners.
Flexible Choice Rewards
In addition to the shift toward everyday categories over the past several months, there’s also a continuing move toward flexible, customized credit card rewards.
“We are seeing an increasing number of offers that let you choose your own adventure,” says Ted Rossman, a senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, which like NextAdvisor is owned by Red Ventures. As issuers seek new ways to retain cardholders, flexible rewards are one way to ensure you still get the maximum value, even if your spending habits evolve over time.
For instance, the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card offers 5% cash back on your top eligible spending category each billing cycle (up to the first $500 spent, then 1%). Eligible categories include gas, grocery stores, restaurants, select travel, and more.
The flexibility applies to redemptions, too. Cash back cards, for instance, aren’t usually restricted to only cash rewards. “Now you can redeem for cash back, or statement credits, or travel,” Rossman says. “So I think that we will continue to see that kind of diversification.”
Before you apply for any new card though, figure out which will yield the highest rewards based on your spending and preferences. Look at your budget over the past several months and consider which rewards and redemption options may best suit your spending habits.
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American Express® Gold Card
New Buy Now, Pay Later Options
Buy now, pay later services are already a popular payment option for online shoppers — though they can also be risky. Transunion even recently announced plans to allow users to opt into reporting BNPL payments on their credit profiles. As a result, you can use BNPL plans to build credit the same way they would with traditional credit cards or installment loans, if you pay on time.
This year, BNPL options are expected to expand to in-person shopping too, via buy now, pay later credit cards. Like the services that exist already, you could use a BNPL credit card to make interest-free installment payments on any purchase.
BNPL plans may be attractive for consumers who are worried about accruing interest. Just knowing there’s a finish line when your purchase is paid in full after four interest-free payments may make some users more comfortable, says Jason Steele, a credit card writer and industry expert.
But just as some experts say BNPL may make overspending or impulse buys more tempting, the same warning can apply to credit cards that incorporate buy now, pay later plans. Even if installment plans are interest-free, you can incur late fees if you miss a payment, and delinquent activity may also be reported to the credit bureaus.
Some credit card issuers already offer similar installment plan options, like American Express’ Pay It, Plan It and My Chase Plan from Chase. “It’s not going to put credit cards out of business, certainly anytime soon. But I do think it’s cutting into market share to some extent,” says Rossman.
More Credit Opportunities
Over the past several months, demand for credit cards has rebounded — with more than a 10% increase in card applications between Oct. 2020 and Oct. 2021, according to a recent Credit Access Survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And at the same time, issuers and other institutions are making credit more accessible than ever before.
“I think that banks are increasingly conscious of the Gen Z demographic that has largely been outside of the traditional credit system [and] is looking to join,” Rossman says.
Alternative methods to build credit are helping people access credit and use cards that offer rewards and perks —like the Petal 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa Credit Card and the Tomo Card. And credit scoring alternatives, like Experian Boost, UltraFICO Scores, and eCredable Lift from TransUnion, can help build your credit by reporting on-time payments to streaming services, utility providers, and other monthly bills.
Economic Factors May Lead to More Debt for Cardholders
In addition to rising costs of everyday goods due to record inflation, the average credit card holder already has an average of $5,525 in credit card debt according to Experian’s 2021 State of Credit report — and those balances could grow this year.
“When COVID began, we saw people pull back from credit cards and balances go down,” says Rod Griffin, senior director of public education and advocacy for Experian. “We saw a reduction in the way people were using cards. Now that we’re coming out of the pandemic, I think there’s been really a desire for people to feel like they’re getting back to normal.”
The end of stimulus payments, expanded Child Tax Credit payments, and expanded unemployment benefits may contribute to more people’s reliance on credit in the coming months, Rossman adds — all compounded by rising inflation.
To offset increasing costs and debt, the experts we spoke to recommend setting a budget and following good credit habits, like charging only what you can afford to pay off in full every month. If you’re already paying down debt, consider a balance transfer card with a 0% introductory offer.
It’s also important to find ways to save wherever possible. If you’re planning to get a new credit card, see if you qualify for the lowest interest rate possible, Griffin says. And in addition to rewards that work with your spending, look for cards that don’t have a lot of fees to save money while building your credit and earning rewards.