Mar 5, 2023 - Economy

Credit card debt soars as perks proliferate

Illustration of a hundred dollar bill being slid through a credit card machine.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Voracious spending and historically high inflation have helped drive credit card debt to a record high of almost $1 trillion — and credit card issuers are offering all sorts of incentives to lure new customers.

Why it matters: Travel points, cash back and other perks can be a siren song for many Americans who are spending their way through rising prices, even amidst ambient concerns about an eventual recession.

  • There's been an uptick in the number of people struggling to make payments, Federal Reserve data shows.

Driving the news: This week, DoorDash and Chase unveiled a new Mastercard-branded rewards card for power users of the food delivery platform.

  • Among other perks, cardholders get 4% cash back on DoorDash/Caviar orders, a free year of the DashPass subscription service (worth $10 per month), and $100 cash back after spending $500.

Yes, but: There’s no such thing as a free lunch, even when it's delivered without a fee.

  • The Fed’s monetary tightening offensive is pushing up borrowing costs — including annual percentage rates, which recently set a record above 19%. For consumers who don’t pay their balances in full every month, the costs can really add up.
  • Meanwhile, cool perks don't come cheap: The DoorDash-Chase card's APR carries a variable rate between 19.49% to 28.24%.

Credit cards “are like power tools: as in, they can be really useful, or they can be dangerous. It all depends on how you use them,” Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate, told Axios in an email. Credit card rewards tend to be more generous than their debit counterparts.

  • According to a Bankrate survey, 54% of cardholders pay their balances in full each month. “For them, life is great,” Rossman said, but added the other 46% should prioritize low interest rates “rather than chasing rewards.”

What they’re saying: Ed Olebe, President of Chase Co-Brand Cards, said the banking giant was not trying to incentivize overspending with its DoorDash partnership.

  • “We do not ever want someone to get into trouble with a credit card,” Olebe told Axios on the sidelines of a press conference. The new card is “a better tool if you already use DoorDash” and helps drive loyalty for customers who “want options and value.”

The bottom line: Revolving credit is a flexible pathway to other avenues like home and car ownership, and can help build a credit history.

  • “The current system is best for consumers. Just make sure to be among those who are able to pay in full, and avoid interest,” Rossman said.
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