Credit card users enjoyed a bounty of rewards in 2018: Thanks to a relatively healthy economy and competition for consumers, issuers launched new products with attractive incentives.
But there was a downside: Rising interest rates made carrying credit card debt more expensive. NerdWallet found that the average U.S. household with credit card debt carries almost $7,000 of it. Given current rates, that means paying over $1,100 a year in interest charges alone.
Card issuers last year also cut back on some of the ancillary perks, citing low levels of use. Discover eliminated several benefits, including extended product warranty, purchase protection and auto rental coverage. Citi and Chase also trimmed their price protection benefits.
Some credit card experts say 2019 might usher in a more austere period for credit card rewards, especially if interest rates continue to rise and the economy struggles.
“If there is an economic slowdown, or even a strong belief that one is coming, consumers are likely to start looking more strongly at card rates and fees, 0% [APR] offers and their length, and less at rewards,” says Mike Berinato, vice president of research and consulting for Market Strategies International, a financial services research and consulting company.
Here are five credit card trends to look for in 2019:
- More dining and entertainment rewards
In 2018, Wells Fargo launched the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card, which offers triple points on things like dining out, ordering in, travel, transit and streaming services. Other non-bonus-category spending earns one point per dollar. Terms apply.
Also last year, the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card began offering additional rewards in the dining and entertainment categories. Plus, the issuer launched the no-annual-fee Capital One® SavorOne℠ Cash Rewards Credit Card, which also offers bonus rewards on dining and entertainment.
All three cards target consumers looking to offset the expense of some splurges, and we can expect to see more issuers try to get in on that action as long as the strong economy continues.
- More co-branded retail cards
If your favorite store still doesn’t have its own co-branded credit card, there’s a good chance it will before 2019 is over.
Over the past 12 months, we saw even more retailers offering co-branded credit cards, including Ikea and Starbucks. Such cards can be lucrative for the merchant and can also encourage greater shopper loyalty. What’s more, store cards have greatly improved their reward offerings recently, making them more useful for everyday spending.
Consumers should be mindful of the fees and high interest rates associated with many store-branded cards.
- More credit card spending
As more merchants eliminate cash as a payment option, consumers will continue to increase their credit card usage as a proportion of their overall spending. Some businesses, especially restaurants that cater to lunch crowds, say going cashless can save them time and money. They don’t need to count cash at the end of the day, and transactions at the register often move more quickly.
Given the cashless trend, 2019 will likely see more merchants joining the likes of salad chain Sweetgreen and Dos Toros, a taqueria, which have already opted to eschew cash in favor of plastic. This isn’t ideal news for those who can’t qualify for rewards credit cards, or those who find that cash works better for their budgeting. But for rewards-chasing consumers, it can mean opportunities.
- More contactless options
Paying with your credit card without swiping or inserting it might sound futuristic if you’re not already a convert, but a growing number of consumers are using contactless cards, and even more will do so this year.
More card issuers are adding such options to their cards: Chase says it will offer contactless payment on all of its Visa credit and debit cards by the end of the year, and others, such as Capital One, already do so on many cards.
For consumers who enjoy convenience and speed, that’s something to look forward to.
- Higher interest rates
If you’re carrying credit card debt, make a plan to pay it off as soon as possible in 2019. Interest rates are expected to continue to rise this year, meaning debt could become more expensive to carry as the year goes on.
If credit card debt is a concern, focus less on the flashy rewards your cards may offer and more on ways to pay down your balances.
Offers for 0% introductory APRs could get harder to find, which makes it a good idea to lock one in while you can. A credit card with a 0% introductory APR can help you pay off credit card debt without accruing additional interest, as long as you pay it off before that introductory period ends and make all minimum payments along the way.
Original article written by Kimberly Palmer at NerdWallet