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Fewer With Rewards Credit Cards Planning Black Friday Shopping

Fewer than half of Americans who have rewards credit cards are planning to shop either online or in-store on Black Friday this year. That's one of the conclusions of the latest edition of Capital One's quarterly Rewards Barometer tracking study, which seeks to measure consumer attitudes among those with rewards plastic from all credit card companies.

Rewards credit cards and seasonal spending

Other headline findings from the report, published Nov. 14, include:
  1. Most (58 percent) of holders of rewards credit cards intend to maintain their 2012 holiday spending at 2011 levels -- although, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
  2. A significant amount -- given the slow economic recovery -- 14 percent say they plan to spend more during this season of good cheer than last.
  3. Just 18 percent report they are going to redeem rewards points for gifts during the period.

That last one's a bit of a shocker. Many might think the holiday shopping season would be prime time for redeeming points and cash back. So how come so few are planning to do so this year?

Redeeming rewards all year round

Capital One's press release suggests two possible reasons:
  1. Affluent consumers are nowadays tempted by sales and bargains throughout the year, so shopping patterns are changing. That means less emphasis on the traditional buying season.
  2. Less wealthy Americans have come to rely on their rewards credit cards' points and cash-back credits to subsidize their lifestyles. Twenty-three percent of women responding to the survey said they use their rewards to offset spending on essentials such as groceries and gas.

Black Friday -- and staying in the black

None of this is likely to mean that shopping malls are going to be deserted on Black Friday. On the contrary, your bruised ribs and trodden toes may well be indistinguishably less sore than last year. But any reduction in the crowds may not be a bad thing for two reasons:
  1. Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported a Decide Inc. study that found that Black Friday is, for many types of item, far from the cheapest shopping day of the year. It's good for some, including high-end jewelery bargains, but many goods may get cheaper closer to Christmas.
  2. On Nov. 19, TransUnion, one of the big-three credit bureaus, revealed that both problem credit card debt (the rate of accounts 90 days or more past due) and card balances inched up during the third quarter of 2012.

Those rises aren't large enough to be worrying yet (unless, that is, you're one of the people directly affected). But they suggest that many consumers might be wise to spend cautiously this holiday season. After all, we all want 2013, when holiday credit card debt has to be repaid, to be a happy new year.

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