Only about one in eight Americans feel their credit card companies treated them unfairly in 2011, according to a nationwide survey commissioned by Consumer Reports. That's less than half the number of similar responses generated in 2009, the year that regulators passed the Credit CARD Act. The Consumer Reports National Research Center interviewed 1,258 consumers in July 2011, learning about their attitudes toward the banking industry and about their approach to managing debt.
Consumer Reports' editorial team revealed the results of their survey in a statement to reporters this month. Finance editor Noreen Perrotta characterized the current financial environment as "rosier" than the period that inspired tougher federal rules. Although Americans have changed many of their attitudes toward personal finance, Perrotta cautioned consumers to watch out for potential pitfalls among today's best credit card offers. "Average interest rates on new cards are still up and you have to read the fine print of rewards programs," Perrotta said.
Credit card companies improve communication, set better expectations
Researchers attributed much of the industry's improvement to new rules enforced by regulators after the finalization of the Credit CARD Act. The law's protections have limited penalty fees while improving communication between banks and borrowers. New rules also make it easier for credit card customers to restore their original account terms and conditions after missing a minimum payment or exceeding their credit limits. With survey respondents reporting a drop in median credit card debt to $3,414 this year from $3,793 in 2010, more consumers now qualify for better deals.
The product testing organization's results show improvement among credit card issuers, but not enough overall customer satisfaction to raise the industry's perception among consumers. With only 51 percent of survey respondents reporting being highly satisfied with their credit card company, the product category maintains one of the worst rankings ever tracked by Consumer Reports' research teams. Over a third of respondents reported experiencing some kind of problem or inconvenience with their credit cards at some point in the previous year.
If the current findings are any indication, the problem rate can be expected to decline as consumers continue to improve their financial standing, make better decisions regarding debt, and more easily compare credit card terms.