the lowest in 10 years of tracking, according to market researcher BAIGlobal Inc.

The proportion of people answering mailed credit card offers dropped to 0.6%, from 1.6% in the first quarter. The previous low was 0.8%, in the second quarter of last year.

The results seem to validate industry fears that mass mailings are continuing to turn off a credit-saturated population. Preliminary third-quarter data indicate a further decline in the response rate, according to BAIGlobal of Tarrytown, N.Y.

These rates typically fluctuate with the volume of mailings, BAIGlobal said. The previous low coincided with record volume of 956 million pieces.

This time the drop was more pronounced because there were fewer mailings: 817 million, down from 833 million in the first quarter.

Response rates tend to dip for a month or two in the second quarter, but this year they have fallen every month since February, said Julia Beaver, vice president of competitive tracking services at BAIGlobal.

"A lot more people are putting debt on one card because of competitive balance transfer rates," she said. "There is a definite trend toward consolidating debt."

According to BAIGlobal, the average number of cards per household dropped 11% from yearend 1997 to midyear 1999, to 2.5 cards from 2.8. In the same period the number of households that revolve balances on their credit cards dropped 8.5%, the company said, though it would not disclose the total.

Credit card use remains strong. In the first half of 1999 the average of new monthly charges for U.S. households was $949, up from $854 for all of 1997.

"With the economy booming, many consumers are indeed using their cards but also paying off their balances," Ms. Beaver said.

Jerry D. Craft, president of Inficorp, a consulting firm in Atlanta that manages credit card portfolios, said most people who revolve balances are in their 20s and 30s. With the aging of the baby boom generation, "you have more of the larger demographic moving into their late 40s; there is not the engine of pure revolvers moving in."

W. Christopher Staab, an associate at Auriemma Consulting Group in Westbury, N.Y., tied the upswing in credit card charges to the end of the recent boom in home equity loans.

"Mortgage refinancing has gone down in the second quarter," he said. "Will credit card solicitations pick up now because people aren't using mortgages to refinance debt?"

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.