Consumers who hold private-label and general-purpose cards typically decide which to use at the last minute, a survey has found.

And the top consideration-for people who revolve balances as well as convenience users-is the size of the balances, according to the poll, by Auriemma Consulting Group Inc.

Among revolvers, interest rates and available credit were also important considerations.

Among convenience users, rewards programs were also part of the equation. The most popular choice was a card that offers free shipping and handling on catalogue purchases.

People with store cards as well as bank cards do not necessarily favor one type all the time, said Marc Sacher, managing associate at the Westbury, N.Y., firm. "Rather they make decisions on a situation-by- situation basis."

Mr. Sacher said he found it curious that people who do not carry card debt expressed such concern about balance size.

"Whether they are writing one large check or two small checks, presumably they are going to pay that balance off," he observed.

Of the 802 people approached by Auriemma Consulting in June and July, 530 said they had private-label cards, and their responses were the ones included in the survey. Among the respondents, 355 identified themselves as revolvers and 168 as convenience users. The others did not place themselves in either category.

Sixteen percent of the 530 said they held one private label card, and 15% said they held five or more. The mean was 2.2.

When asked how many times a month they used private-label cards, 57% said not at all, or once. Twenty-three percent said two to four times a month, and 17% said they more then five times. Three percent said they did not know.

The survey also indicated that "cardholders did not respond to 'members- only' product offers or loyalty to the retailer," Mr. Sacher said. Those options were cited far less frequently as priorities.

But Mr. Sacher said the survey may not have the final word on the subject. "We think that to accurately measure that would require putting forth a specific brand in front of the respondent."

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