Lenders can expect consumer demand for credit to diminish over the next 15 years because of demographic shifts, according to research presented at the International Credit Association conference last week in New Orleans.
Generation X, born from 1965 through 1982, will be less profitable than the much larger baby boom generation, experts said. They advised lenders to market harder to baby boomers and older people.
"You can't afford to let these customers get away, because there are not going to be that many people coming in to replace them," said Michael Staten, director of the Credit Research Center at Purdue University.
"For the next 10 to 15 years, you will have to make do with a smaller customer base and a more diverse population," he added.
As the supply of new customers dwindles, lenders will also have to look to the segments of the population that are growing the fastest. For example, Hispanics are expected to account for 25% of the U.S. population by 2020.
Although the baby boom generation is moving into the age range historically associated with savings and investment, J. Edward Pickle of Claritas Financial Group in Arlington, Va., said that baby boomers are going to have a need for credit later in life, because many of them waited longer to start families than previous generations did.
Furthermore, baby boomers are more inclined to use credit than the generation before them, which experienced the Depression.
However, according to Mr. Staten's research, people who grew up during the Depression have slowly increased their credit card debt over the past four years.
In 1992, households headed by people ages 65 to 74 accounted for 27% of all credit card debt, 3 percentage points more than in 1989.
Mr. Staten attributed the increase to the proliferation of pre-approved credit card offers and to that generation's increasing comfort with using credit cards.
By contrast Ralph E. Spurgin, president and chief executive of World Financial Network National Bank, a private-label issuer, pointed to the danger of consumers' increasing comfort with credit card debt.
Since 1992, personal debt is up 36%, compared with a 17% increase in personal income, and most of the spending is on revolving credit, he said.
"Given these trends, debt to total income is going to top out, so don't count on growth for help," Mr. Spurgin warned. "An increase in collections staff should be seen as an investment not an expense."
Despite lenders' efforts to educate consumers about financial management skills, two new studies show that such initiatives are of little consequence.
Formal consumer education contributes little to the learning of various consumer skills or to influencing money attitudes, according to two studies.
One study was based on 540 responses from randomly selected Iowans, and the other was based on the responses of 140 college students, conducted for Iowa State University.
Instead, Tahira K. Hira, professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University, said the research shows parents are the most important influences involving attitudes about money.
The research also showed that a much larger proportion of students than nonstudents are more inclined to buy on impulse. They buy what they cannot afford and say that their spending habits create chaos. Moreover, a majority of the survey respondents in all age categories except students said they are worried about finances.
Mr. Staten sees multi-application college campus cards that serve as both identification and a financial tool as "scary" for the banks that are locked out of such contracts with schools.
"Millions of students will be emerging over time accustomed to the one- purpose card - they won't need to be re-educated. There is more pressure for issuers to be that one card," he said.
More than 100 schools have such cards, Mr. Staten said.
He referred to the intense competition among lenders to secure contracts with schools, so that they can give students their first card and thus secure a long-term relationship.
Spencer Nilson of The Nilson Report in Oxnard, Calif., believes that the trend is toward multiple cards rather than one card.
Another hotly debated issue - the use of risk scores and what consumers need to know about them - was addressed by David Medine, a Federal Trade Commission attorney.
He said the commission, which ruled last year that credit bureaus are not required to include such numbers on credit reports, is seeking partners for a consumer education campaign.
TRW Information Services and Systems said recently that it too has been exploring such a program.
"I'm not convinced that disclosing risk scores is helpful, because consumers won't have the disclosures (explanations) necessary to understand the scores," said Mr. Medine. Nevertheless, he said, the commission believes that consumers are confused about risk scores in general and require more information.
The commission also is concerned about credit bureaus' fielding requests for consumer credit reports on the Internet. Of the three major credit bureaus, only Equifax Inc. does so.
Consumers may request their Equifax credit reports via electronic mail, and Equifax will then mail the report via the postal system. "How do they identify the identity and whether the person has a permissible purpose to request the file?" asked Mr. Medine.
Equifax said it verifies the information that a consumer provides to get the report.
"We do not accept E-mail requests, because we cannot authenticate a consumer's identity," said a TRW spokeswoman.