The end of credit controls may not produce much immediate change in either retail sales or credit card terms, although credit cards may become easier to get again.
Retailers and credit card issuers said yesterday they expect the results of the phase-out of controls to be primarily a psychological boost, a slight of the economic doom and gloom that kept people out of stores and their hands out of their wallets.
At the same time, much of the decline in credit use is attributed to the recession, so no great surge of renewed buying is expected because of the lifting of the controls.
Changes in credit card terms -- including new annual service fees and changes in the way monthly average balances are computed -- appear likely to remain in effect.
"What we really will see, I think, is a gradual return to normalcy. I don't think public confidence will come back that fast," said Dee Hock, president of Visa. "I think we're in a more serious recession than the administration admits, and we'll be slower to come out than we were to get in, and the removal of credit controls is not going to be a significant factor," he said.
Hock said that, in those states that permit annual fees for credit card services, "I think they're here to stay." The fees were as much a reform designed to spread the cost of servicing credit card accounts more equitably among customers and to offset the rising cost of money to credit card issuers as they were a reaction to controls, he said.
"The credit controls and high money costs simply provided the absolute necessity and economic conditions under which that could begin," he said.
Susan Flack of the American Retail Association said that sharp declines in retail sales may be as much the effect of the recession as of credit controls."It's such a chicken-and-egg sort of thing. There's no way to know whether the economic capacity had come to a place where people felt they had to pull back" or whether credit controls made them do so, she said.
The biggest impact of controls has been "a mental negative attitude," Flack said. "It made people unsure of their ability to handle their own money, when in many cases they were doing okay," she said.
"Sales have been so bad, it' hard to believe it was all controls," she added.
Where credit terms have been changed, "you're not going to see anyone undoing them," she predicted. In part, the terms will remain as they are because of the trouble involved in undoing the last few months' work and the confusion that reversing recent changes might create. But she added that the impact of the changes in credit terms has been small.
In recent weeks -- after the Fed began phasing out controls and after some of the initial confusion about the impact of controls began to clear -- banks, oil companies and other issuers of credit cards began to end moratoriums on new applications and return to business as usual. That trend appeared likely to accelerate with the total phaseout of controls.
A spokesman for Mobil Oil said it was too soon to know whether the oil company would reverse a decision doubling the minimum monthly payment required on credit accounts. An Exxon spokesman said the same thing about changes his company had made.
A spokesman for Sears said he expects no dramatic impact on sales from the end of controls. "It will take some time to reverse the negative impact," said Bob Shoup.
He said a change made by Sears in the method for computing accounts that resulted in slight increases in minimum monthly payments would not be rolled back.