The 5 Biggest Ways Credit Cards Changed in 2020

WATERLOO – In a normal year, there might be a few big credit card changes. But as we all know, 2020 is about as far as it gets from a normal year. The COVID-19 pandemic meant credit card companies made all kinds of updates to their card products.

There are several benefits to keeping up with this kind of credit card news. You’ll be able to take advantage of positive changes, such as new bonuses or ways to redeem rewards. You’ll also be aware of potential issues that could affect you, such as card issuers reducing credit lines.

To get up to date, here’s a recap of the biggest ways credit cards changed in 2020, for good and bad.

1. Limited-time offers became much more popular

Card issuers launched a variety of limited-time credit card offers throughout the year. Credit cards offered bonus rewards in areas where consumers were spending more, including groceries and gas. Some cards offered spending credits for streaming services and other typical lockdown expenses. And quite a few cards featured bigger sign-up bonuses to encourage consumers to apply.

These limited-time offers helped credit card companies to keep up with changing consumer needs during the pandemic. Many have come and gone, but new offers are coming out regularly.

2. Rewards credit cards expanded their bonus categories

As consumer spending habits changed, some rewards credit cards needed new bonus categories. This was especially true for cards that had bonus categories people weren’t using much, such as travel and dining.

Many credit card companies added limited-time bonus categories, but some made permanent additions. Chase was one of the most notable examples with its Freedom line. The Chase Freedom Unlimited®, which previously paid 1.5% cash back on all purchases, introduced bonus rewards in several areas. The card issuer also launched the Chase Freedom Flex℠, with both rotating and fixed bonus categories.

3. Travel credit cards introduced more perks and ways to use rewards

The pandemic has impacted travel credit cards the most. With far fewer people going on trips, these cards’ travel perks and points weren’t nearly as valuable.

To keep cardholders happy, card issuers have made their travel cards more versatile. For example, premium cardholders could use annual travel credits on other types of purchases.

There have also been changes to how you can redeem travel points. Capital One and Chase are two of the card issuers that started allowing customers to redeem points for everyday purchases without losing any value.

4. Credit card companies cut back on balance transfer offers

Balance transfer credit cards with 0% intro APRs are a popular way to pay off credit card debt. However, zero-interest offers like these are often the first to go during economic uncertainty.

That’s been the case in 2020. American Express and Chase both got rid of their balance transfer offers and have yet to bring them back. Citi kept its balance transfer offers but shortened the offer period.

There are still balance transfer cards available, but your options are more limited than they were prior to the pandemic.

5. Card issuers got stricter about issuing credit

Another consequence of economic uncertainty is that credit card companies are more cautious. So far, they’ve gotten more selective about approving applicants for credit cards.

If you’re planning to open a new credit card, it could be harder to get approved than pre-pandemic. The card issuer may look more closely at your credit score, income, and employment status.

There have also been card issuers, including Capital One, that have cut cardholder credit limits. Credit card companies aren’t required to notify you when they do this unless it’s because of negative information on your credit file. To see if a card’s credit limit has been cut, you’ll need to check your online accounts.

All these changes mean credit cards are very different than they were at the start of 2020. There’s no telling which of them will be permanent, but they all look like they’ll stick around for at least the beginning of 2021, if not longer.


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