Save a tree, apply online

Last year, according to Synovate's Mail Monitor Service (a research company that tracks direct mail), there were more than 6 billion credit card solicitations sent through the U.S. postal system to consumers.

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Why are the credit card companies inundating Americans with so many solicitations? Because it works.

Direct mail has proven to be one of the most effective ways to induce consumers to apply for credit cards. The banks and issuers have learned this over the years from trial and error. This is despite the fact that direct mail response rates have been falling over time and are down to a record low of less than one half of one percent. That means that for every 1,000 solicitations sent to American households, 995 go into the trash can. It's enough to make even an anti-environmentalist go hug a tree.

Direct mail does provide credit card issuers with the ability to finely target their offers according to consumers' risk profiles. And because the banks are publicly traded companies, they must meet aggressive growth targets to keep their stock prices on track. Regardless of how many forests are felled in their quest for increased market share, direct mail is probably going to continue as the primary mode of account acquisition for issuers.

There is an alternative way to apply for a credit card -- online, through a secure website.

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Updated: 03-23-2019