In News We Already Know: Credit Card Rewards Get Richer (WSJ Article)

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UPDATE: 50,000 point Sapphire Preferred sign-up bonus offer is now 40,000 points.

Several TPG readers emailed me this WSJ article all about how credit card bonuses have been as high as ever. It’s an interesting read, although not a surprise most savvy TPG readers, with quotes directly from American Express on the state of the credit card industry.

In general: Credit card companies are really competing for consumers with excellent credit scores. While the focus in the past was to get customers who would carry a balance and pay lots in interest fees, with new regulations, taking on that risk isn’t as lucrative. Instead, card companies are looking for responsible borrowers who charge a lot and bring in lots of revenue on the processing side of the house (every time you use a credit card the merchant pays the credit card issuer a fee, usually around 2-3%).

However, these types of credit card borrowers, including many TPG readers, are savvy and want solid rewards and service. So it’s been interesting to see Chase and Citi get extremely aggressive against American Express (who acknowledges as much in this article), which has historically been the main card company for the creditworthy.

Bottom line: If you have good credit – leverage it! The credit card landscape changes with the economy and it’s clear that the competition is as tough as ever. There are still a lot of really good deals out there, like the 50,000 point Sapphire Preferred (which likely drops this week to 40,000), 100,000 Capital One Venture and 50,000 point Amex Platinum.

Two of the most interesting quotes:
“The new deals are part of a broad effort by lenders to woo affluent households as the nation emerges from the financial crisis. High spenders are a “core and coveted group,” says Eva Reda, a senior vice president at American Express. “We are seeing our competitors dial up the energy in this space.”

I imagine this is in response to Chase ratcheting up their Sapphire Preferred card, which emerged from obscurity to become known as one of the best cards on the market – especially for travelers. Amex shouldn’t really be surprised since this sign-up bonus is twice the current 25,000 point offers on the comparable Premier Rewards Gold, and the Sapphire Preferred’s $95 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees handily beat the $175 and 2.7% foreign fees on the Premier Rewards Gold.

“‘These new customers typically have high credit scores, which means banks don’t have to set aside as much in reserves to meet capital requirements that were stiffened in response to the financial crisis,’ says John Grund, a partner at First Annapolis Consulting, an advisory firm focusing on the electronic-payments industry.”

This just enforces the point that you need to have a good credit score to maximize credit card offers. The best way to raise your scores is to pay off your balances and pay your bills on time (or preferably early). Check out this post for more on credit score calculations.

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