Since I used to write about credit cards for a living, my interest in them is abnormally high. On dates, and the few business meetings I still get invited to, I will invariably glance at what card is being used and opine, like a human version of the Mint.com better deal notifier.
With this said, I’ve noticed something that should interest investors who follow the macro trends closely: credit card offers are coming back in the U.S., in a big way.
At the height of the financial crisis, the direct mail targeted offers simply dried up. I stopped receiving them in the mail. My friends and colleagues reported the same. And countless folks online with excellent credit complained on credit forums that they were getting turned down for run-of-the-mill credit cards.
The banks were scared. Why lend to tapped out consumers, who might be a month or two away from the bread line, when you can just borrow Uncle Sam’s money at near 0% and shovel it into T-bills?
But now they’re lending. I’m starting to see pre-approved offers in the mail again. And some of the banks are outright generous: Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) recently offered a 21-month 0% intro APR balance transfer option for new Citi Platinum Select cardholders. And now it’s bumped the offer up to a positively charitable 24-month introductory period.
Bank of America’s (NYSE: BAC) BankAmericard Visa offers new cardholders 0% intro APR on balance transfers for the first 9 or 12 billing cycles, depending on your credit history.
If this Friday’s jobs report shows the jobless rate holding steady, and if the banks keep reaching out to consumers with targeted card offers as they’re doing, it’s a fair bet that the economy is already on the “road to recovery.”