You're at dinner with friends or on a business lunch and whip out your credit card to pay the bill. Is the credit card gold, black or emblazoned with a picture of your favorite pet? Does it matter?
Are credit cards status symbols?
A new CreditCards.com poll says nearly nine out of 10 people say the type of credit card a person uses has never affected their opinion of the user.
"The status of these high-level credit cards is not so much how others perceive us; it's how we feel about ourselves," says Stephen Goldbart,a licensed clinical psychologist who counsels wealthy clients about making value choices about money. "If I have one of those cards, I feel better about me."
Status symbol? According to a new CreditCards.com poll, the type of credit card you use is a source of neither pride nor prejudice. More than nine out of 10 people say their opinion of a credit card user has never been affected by the type of card they use.
The random telephone poll, conducted Oct. 17-19 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media, found that only 2 percent of respondents felt the type of credit cards used by others led to a higher opinion of the users. Only 1 percent of people said they felt less of the user based on their credit cards. Nearly 2 percent of respondents said they have at times harbored both higher and lower opinions of different users because of their choice of cards. (See poll methodology.)
The poll data seems to contradict national advertising campaigns sponsored by major credit card networks, namely American Express, a global brand that prides itself on its exclusive card member services. To some, whipping out a Platinum or even a super exclusive Centurion (black) card sends the message that users are among the elite, privileged group who enjoy status.
A case in point: A commercial for the Gold Card from American Express OPEN that debuted in recent months depicts a group of small business owners wrapping up a meeting at a restaurant. One person pulls out a credit card with the picture of a comic book character on it and gets a negative reaction from foreign businessmen around the table. They rise, presumably signaling an end to the business deal.
According to AmEx, the ad's message is that business owners should use credit cards designed for business use -- rather than personal credit cards. But according to the CreditCards.com poll, the type of credit card doesn't matter to the general public.
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American Express cardholders associate their cards with living a certain way of life. "The card is more than a payment tool. It's really a lifestyle tool." says Monica Beaupre, an AmEx manager of public affairs. "Today, people are very busy and live very hectic lives. They want to have access and special experiences, get into the hottest plays and go to Fashion Week. Lifestyle and entertainment benefits are important to the premium card market and the people who carry that card."
Goldbart, co-founder of the Money, Meaning & Choices Institute, a California counseling center, says his client list includes the rich and famous who routinely carry premium credit cards.
"They offer privilege that makes life easier," Goldbart says. "The sales points of these cards is that they open up doors. They get you into business class of the airport."
Signs of changing attitudes "Money will buy me choices. It will buy me comfort, buy me safety, buy me power and status. This is part of the psychology of money in this country," Goldbart says. Attitudes about credit cards and what they represent are changing -- fast. The poll showing 95 percent of people don't care what kind of credit card a person has may be a reflection of that change, he says.
The economic slowdown and Wall Street meltdown have turned the tables: "We're at the beginning of a new era in terms of how the average American views credit cards," Goldbart says. "Clearly the idea of free and easy credit that's not understood by the consumer is now conceived as a great danger fiscally and psychologically."
Poll methodology The survey was conducted from Oct. 17-19, 2008, by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media on behalf of CreditCards.com, via random digit dialing phone interviews with 1,004 interview subjects. Interviewees were approximately split between males and females ages 18 and over, with 525 females and 479 males surveyed. The raw data was then weighted by a custom designed computer program that automatically developed a weighting factor for each respondent, employing five variables: age, sex, education, race and geographic region.
The total margin of error on weighted data for the full sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.
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