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Customized credit cards sweep the market

By Stephen Milioti

Gone are the days of credit cards illustrated with boring blocky bank logos that haven’t changed since the Cold War. A do-it-yourself credit card design movement is rising to let consumers create cards that match their personalities.

customized credit cardPersonalized plastic is varied and evolving.

The basics
In its simplest form, customization involves choosing a stock image, usually from a selection that arrives with a new card. Capital One offers stock images that range in theme from the patriotic to the geographic to the artistic (think lighthouses and sandy beaches). There are even cartoon characters such as Dilbert and Daffy Duck.

Capital One also raises awareness for charities with cards bearing the insignia of the March of Dimes, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and others. Its CureSearch Platinum Debit Card, for example, features a colorful drawing of a cat by a young, three-time cancer survivor, Jacquelyn Wheeler. Each time a cardholder chooses a credit transaction, Capital One makes a donation to the CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation.

Lifestyle choices
Some companies go to even more-detailed customization with offerings designed to provide individuality while promoting a product, a lifestyle, or both.

Owners of the determinedly quirky Mini Cooper car, for example, can flash a customized Visa card graced with a photo of the owner’s model and color. The card is from Mini Financial Services, a division of BMW Financial Services North America. The card includes a motoring rewards program, with points for virtually all purchases, and two points for motoring-related purchases such as gas and tolls. The card even earns cash back on the purchase of an actual Mini.

Got a pet? Bank of America, in conjunction with Hill’s Pet Nutrition, has launched the PetRewards Visa, which earns points on Hill’s pet food, gives discounts on trips to participating veterinarians and clinics, and provides donations to animal shelters. Best of all, you can put your pet’s image on the front of the card via a digital uploading system. (Editor's note: As of Dec. 5, 2008, the bank discontinued the card.)

Click, copy, customize your card
Thanks to the ease of digital images — just click, copy and send — credit card personalization goes well beyond Minis and malamutes: More card-issuing companies allow customers to choose photo images for their cards — within limits. Pornographic images and those that violate copyright regulations are not welcome.

Many companies issue personalized credit cards. Why? Because customers said they wanted it, says Capital One spokeswoman Pam Girardo. Customization benefits customers because, she says, “customers love to ‘badge’ themselves; people love others to know they’re into something like dogs or golf. So customers get to demonstrate their personality and passions while doing something they do every day — use their credit cards. It gives the credit card a personality. A generic piece of plastic becomes interesting.”

More than images
Customized cards aren’t just for adults. Teens who log onto the PAYjr Visa Buxx Custom Card site can access features such as an online chore and allowance tracking system provide a financial education. In addition, teens may personalize the image on the fronts of their cards — and maybe win an Apple MacBook or iPod for creating a hot design in a peer-judged contest.

Some personalizations are a bit more edgy than a happy pet or a favorite vacation pic. For instance, CreditCovers sells a variety of skins consumers can stick on their cards. The company is not affiliated with any card issuer, so there’s more freedom for self-expression. CreditCovers are card-sized stickers , with cut-out slots in the middle, so the number and name aren’t covered. Designs include the swirly, wavy abstract “Water Series 17 1/2″ by Southern California artist Todd Arthur Wolf, based on his watercolor painting, and one called “Mizz Lady Pink” — a woman’s face represented graphically in pink tones — by L.A. artist Food One. At around $4.99 each, they’re an inexpensive way to display your unique vibe.

Updated: December 5, 2008



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