Store-branded credit cards are becoming more popular with major retailers and with consumers who have the option to save money on their purchases if they open one, according to new data from Equifax.
Nationwide, new account opening for retail credit cards has rebounded from the recession much more so than bankcards, Equifax reports. The trend seems to indicate that consumers are practicing discipline as they plan ahead and consider all spending options.
"We see the increase in retail credit card debt as an indication of rising consumer confidence," said Trey Loughran, president of Equifax Personal Solutions. "At the same time, carrying over balances can lead to debt trouble fast, and consumers should be cautious about not overspending."
Retail card debt is growing while that of bankcards is remaining flat or rising slightly compared to the prior year, according to National Consumer Credit Trends Report data from Equifax. U.S. retail card debt grew 7.05% while bankcard debt was up only by 0.37% at the close of the third quarter of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012.
Across all but six of the top 25 metropolitan areas, bankcard balances were flat or declining while retail card balances rose in the third quarter compared to the same period last year. Both bankcard and retail card balances increased in the following areas of the country -Dallas-Fort Worth, TX; Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, TX; Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Portland-Salem, OR-WA; San Diego, CA and Washington-Baltimore DC-MD-VA-WV.
New retail card accounts opened during the first seven months of the year are at 89% of 2007 pre-recession levels, while the number of new bankcard accounts is only at 59% of those levels. Card issuer policies explain some of the difference, but consumer behavior is likely also a leading factor as shoppers try to get the most value in the venues where they spend most of their money and are loyal customers.
"Consumers may be opting for retail credit cards because of the promotions, discounts and other perks they get at the register," said Loughran. "Other consumers are likely compartmentalizing their purchases -- opening retail accounts to pay for larger purchases over time and using their bankcards for everyday purchases like gas and groceries to be paid in full each month."
Another factor that may be contributing to the consumer preference for retail cards is the availability of these cards to all segments of borrowers, particularly those who experienced financial difficulties during the recession.
"Retail card issuers are continuing to extend credit to near-prime borrowers, making store credit a viable option for consumers with lower scores who may have difficulty opening a bankcard," Loughran said.