Credit card trends to watch for in 2019

Industry experts see more personalization, but it could cost you more to pay with plastic


Read experts’ predictions on credit card trends for 2019. Prepare for changes, some of which might benefit you, some of which might not.

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Gear up for credit card companies creating a streamlined, personalized experience for consumers in 2019.

But also brace yourself for businesses passing on processing fees to customers and issuers making fewer changes to reward programs.

Many industry pros have insights into what’s in store for credit cards for 2019, some of which may seriously benefit consumers, and others that may not. Find out what the gurus think will be happening in the credit card world this year and see if you might come out a winner.

Credit card companies will make things easier for consumers

“In 2019 and beyond, we’ll see credit card companies streamlining and simplifying how consumers get what they want, when they want and how they want – similar to what we’ve seen with food delivery services,” said Daniel Cohen, executive vice president, Global Credit Products, Mastercard.

In the past, we often equated value to offering a menu of hundreds of services, Cohen said. But consumer perceptions of value are changing and they’re looking for a simpler, more convenient and personalized experience, he added.

Cohen feels that in the coming year, credit card companies will be taking a hard look at the nuts and bolts of their propositions to determine which offerings consumers still value and to create benefits that are digital first, easy to use and truly relevant to how they live their lives.

Card issuers’ mobile payment adoption has been fairly sluggish overall – despite digital wallet offerings by the likes of Chase and Citi – and that will likely continue in 2019, according to Ellen Cunningham, marketing manager for

“However, mobile payment companies are still making updates and adding features, hoping to capture more of that market,” said Cunningham.

As a result of the digital transformation in credit, consumers are buying more via mobile devices, and we should expect to see easy-to-use, mobile-first offerings with a merchant-driven experience, Cohen said.

“We might also see the credit industry adopt the concept of ‘mass personalization’ – for example, your Netflix profile is personalized, yet the content is available to all Netflix customers,” he said.

Simon Zhen, research analyst for, doesn’t feel 2018 brought any significant improvements regarding credit card companies’ adoption of mobile payments.

“I don’t think that will change much in 2019. Rather, I see mobile devices as being increasingly important in how immersive consumers become with their credit cards,” Zhen said.

See related: Finance expert advice for the new year: ‘If you do only one thing, do this’

Your bank may nudge you to use your card more

Zhen believes credit card issuers will revisit a previous strategy: convincing cardholders to use their cards more.

“In 2018, we saw credit card issuers revamp their offerings to level the playing field, especially in the category of premium travel cards. In 2019, as credit cards boast lucrative rewards and perks, the goal appears to be getting cardholders to transact,” Zhen said.

There are two ways we are seeing this already. The first is by increasing the ease of making transactions. Chase is working with Visa to bring back contactless payments on credit and debit cards in the next year. This is not new, but they obviously see a need to reimplement this feature, he said.

“Another method is by enticing cardholders to spend more. This is always a goal of credit card companies, but it’s ramping up. From special, card-linked offers to bigger sign-up bonuses that require more initial spending, consumers are tempted to spend more to get more back,” Zhen said.

Issuers could also launch more cards that offer bonus rewards for continued spending beyond the initial sign-up bonus period. Last year AmEx rolled out the American Express Cash MagnetTM Card, which offers a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of membership. Cardholders can also earn another $100 credit for spending an additional $6,500 during the first 12 months.

But it may cost you more to pay with plastic

Experts say consumers may see higher prices for card transactions in 2019 as merchants try to cover interchange, or “swipe” fees.

Surcharges are a way for merchants to recoup money on swipe fees, though many merchants simply factor in the cost of credit card processing when setting prices, Cunningham explained.

When merchants surcharge, they price all of their goods and services assuming everyone will pay with cash – and add a fee when someone pays with a card. The amount they can add is subject to credit cards’ individual rules, which typically include a cap on that figure.

Cash discounting involves merchants pricing all goods and services assuming everyone will pay by card and giving a discount – typically equal to the processing fee – when someone pays with cash.

“We’ve seen the practice of businesses passing processing fees to customers picking up a little bit lately, and it’s likely to continue as frustrated business owners look for ways to lower processing fees. For consumers, it will mean paying more if they want to use a card, which cardholders won’t like,” Cunningham said.

Some states prohibit the practice of charging more for credit card use, but most don’t. Cunningham also warned consumers to remain aware that companies cannot add fees to debit cards.

See related: 2019 will bring changes, more control to first-time borrowers

Rewards programs may have hit a plateau

Zhen predicts that issuers will be less active in ramping their core rewards programs.

Those premium rewards have turned into financial millstones, despite the fact that big banks predicted they would make consumers spend more and boost banks’ returns via interest. But cardholders have figured out how to game the system – they spend the minimum to earn healthy sign-up bonuses, then they don’t use the cards again. And that translates into banks facing increasing costs.

“For card rewards programs in 2019, I expect fewer changes than we saw in 2018. That’s because many rewards credit cards have already been tweaked to match the most attractive rewards programs,” Zhen said.

“It appears most credit card issuers have tweaked their premium travel cards already to stay in competition,” Zhen added.

For example, some premium travel credit cards, such as American Express® Gold Card and Citi Prestige card, changed their rewards and perks programs in 2018 and early 2019 in response to the Chase Sapphire Reserve card’s continuing popularity.

“As for sign-up bonuses, I think they’ll stay as lucrative as they were during the latter half of 2018 – big bonuses for big spending,” Zhen said.

If your credit is below average, you may be out of luck

Brian Riley, director of the credit advisory service at Mercator Advisory Group, has a rather gloomy credit card forecast for 2019.

He feels portfolio growth will taper in 2019 as credit card issuers brace for higher delinquency and rising interest rates. In addition, Riley predicts volume growth – or the amount of debt borrowers owe to banks – will slow. This could happen because cardholders typically use their cards less as interest rates rise – they don’t want to be holding debt if the economy turns shaky.

Riley feels banks are getting ready to see growth declines in their portfolios, which include all types of loans: credit cards, mortgages, business loans and personal loans.

Rising interest rates would certainly affect the number of loan originations – or successful loan applications – as many consumers stop applying for financing when rates go up because they can’t afford the higher cost of borrowing.

At the same time, banks might stiffen their lending requirements, making it tougher for people to apply and get approved. In times of recession, banks don’t want to lend to risky borrowers – they want surer returns on their investments in consumers.

“With slipping return on assets – the measure of how profitable a company is relative to its total assets – managers of U.S.-based credit card portfolios must be watchful for economic shifts to ensure that the 470 million cardholders in the United States have the ability to repay their credit responsibilities if the economic environment changes,” Riley said.

Riley’s predictions mean it might be slightly tougher to get a card, but not impossible for those with decent credit – the initial interest rate might be a tick higher, but that’s about it. People with shaky credit, however, could be shut out.

See related: How to travel better using your credit card rewards in 2019

Heed the predictions

Predictions are guesses, of course, and clearly not set in stone. That said, now is a good time to consider what experts think might happen in the coming year regarding credit card companies. It’s always smart to be prepared – and have a plan – just in case one of the experts’ hunches that may affect you comes to pass.

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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