Suburban Trust Co. announced yesterday that it will resume accepting applications for Visa credit cards, ending a nearly three-month moratorium on new accounts.
The move follows a decision earlier this month by Suburban to begin charging a $15 membership fee on its 200,000 Visa accounts, effective July 1.
The decision reflects "both demand and the fact that consumers have reduced credit voluntarily on the credit card base," said Thomas Brightman, vice president for marketing.
Brightman said most consumer lending will now be treated by the bank as it was in the days prior to credit controls in terms of customers' access to credit. He also said the bank would consider requests for increased credit limits from Visa customers.
Brightman said that, using seasonally adjusted figures, credit card outstanding balances were down 5 percent from the same time last year. Merchant sales by credit card are down 12 percent, and card issuances are down 9 percent, Brightman said.
In general, Washington-area banks have been as cautious about reversing credit restrictions as they were imposing them after the Federal Reserve Board moved to restrain consumer credit in March.
"We have not started solicitations and have no plans to start them," said Jack Fox, senior vice president of United Virginia Bank, which has 450,000 Visa customers. Fox said the bank was dissuaded from seeking new card customers right now both by the Federal Reserve's requirement that lenders put 7 1/2 percent of any increase in consumer credit in non-interest-bearing accounts -- which makes more lending expensive -- and uncertainty over consumer response in the face of a recession.
Fox said the bank would increase interest rates from 12 percent to 15 percent on cash advances on credit cards, efective July 1. He also said the bank may consider allowing credit card customers high limits in the future. Although United Virginia never stopped accepting applications for credit cards, once it stopped soliciting them applications dropped "from the thousands to the hundreds," he said.
Central Charge is expected to announce a change in its credit card practices today.