Consumers have devised complex strategies to determine which of their various credit cards to use in different situations, according to focus group research from Visa U.S.A.

To help them decide whether to use a gold card or a standard card, an American Express card or a bank card, consumers evaluate four factors: economics, image, service, and value.

The findings indicate consumers are becoming more attuned to some subtleties of marketing.

In 1986 people used certain cards based on much more simple criteria, such as business versus personal expenses or purchases versus travel-and-entertainment expenses.

Visa will present its complete findings in October at a series of four, one-day seminars on cardholder usage and activation strategies.

Its report on the topic is the result of separate research projects among cardholders and member banks.

Willingness to Cancel Cards

Cardholders, who were interviewed in focus groups of about six people, demonstrated what Visa calls an "air of entitlement about the cards they owned and used."

With so many cards on the market, consumers indicated, they feel empowered to pick, choose, and cancel those that are not "worth it."

Annual fees were often cited as a reason to drop a credit card. Consumers tended to make exceptions for airline affinity cards and, less frequently, for gold cards, which some people believe have extra value.

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