Faced with increased charges, nearly half of Marylanders surveyed recently have cut down their use of bank credit cards according to Hollander, Cohen Associates, which conducted the poll.
Among all the respondents, 29 percent said they had given up or stopped using their Visa or MasterCard; another 13 percent said they used them less. Six percent have switched to cheaper accounts. Individuals reported making more frequent use of store cards that do not assess annual fees.
The shift in financing habits stems in part from a rise in the state's interest rate ceiling and from the imposition of annual fees by some banks. The pollsters did not assess how much of the cutback results from the recession and the natural inclination to save money in hard times.
Last July 1, the legally permissible annual percentage rate charged on unpaid balances of credit cards jumped to 24 percent from the previous limit of 18 percent on the first $700 and 12 percent thereafter. Because market interest rates have declined since then, only one bank, Citizens Bank & Trust Co., is charging the limit for new customers. Other annual percentage rates range from a low of 18 percent on the first $700 and 12 percent thereafter at the Savings Bank of Baltimore to a high of 19.8 percent at Equitable.
Apart from the rise in interest rates, Marylanders appear to have cut back on credit due to the decision of some banks to charge an annual membership fee. The fee is levied to cover the administrative costs of accounts, particularly of that half of card holders who pay their bills in full each month and never incur any finance charges.
However, the Maryland legislature banned banks in that state from charging an annual fee. Consequently four large banks -- Equitable, First National, Maryland National, and Suburban -- moved their credit-card operations across the border into Delaware, which has no such limitations. These now charge $18 a year for Visa and/or MasterCard. First National, however, charges $21 if the customer has both cards.
The remaining Maryland banks that charge no annual fee are Union Trust, Citizens Bank & Trust, Provident Savings Bank and the Savings Bank of Baltimore. Whether they charge a fee or not, a number of banks require the customer to maintain an account with the bank.
Maryland National Bank lost some 22,500 credit card accounts in the two months after it shifted its operations to Delaware. But the bank says 7,000 of those accounts were reopened when customers discovered terms offered elsewhere were similar in many cases.
The best deal for existing customers is offered by Citizens. Its rates are 18 percent on the first $500 in goods and services financed; 12 percent on the remainder; and 12 percent on all cash advances.
The best deal for new applicants is offered by the Savings Bank of Baltimore: the same rates as before. Vice President Jeff Brown said that with interest rates declining, the bank decided it was not worth the expense to program its computers to charge a higher rate on new balances, the old rate on old balances, as required by law. He said the bank's accounts have risen 25,000 since the first of the year, about triple the number of accounts it had previously.
Union Trust, which is waging an aggressive mailing campaign, reports a 24 percent increase in applications for the third quarter over the same period last year. Citizens, which had suspended card applications during the credit crunch two years ago, reinstated the service to customers only Oct. 1.
The Hollander, Cohen survey showed the greatest change in financing habits was reported by college graduates and by people aged 30 to 49 years. In this bracket, 35 percent gave up credit cards, 17 percent cut down, and 6 percent switched banks. The least change was registered by card holders under age 30.
The District has an interest rate ceiling of 18 percent and does not permit annual fees. As of April 1983, Virginia's usury ceiling is to be abolished. Annual fees are already permitted.
In related news, two other local card systems have lost key merchants. Garfinckel's intends to discontinue use of the Preferred Shopper card or Washington Shopping plate at the end of January. In its place it will introduce a charge card of its own. spokesman for Allied Stores, which owns Garfinckel's and a number of other retailers nationwide, said that the store wished to establish a "separate identity" that would allow it to promote its own card to mail order customers outside Washington. Garfinckel's catalogue operations represent a growing segment of its business. A Garfinckel's card would also help customers obtain credit at Allied's other stores in other cities, including Brooks Brothers, Bonwit Teller and Jordan Marsh, the spokesman added.
The departure of Garfinckel's leaves Woodward & Lothrop, Hecht's and Raleighs as the only three merchants honoring the Preferred Shopper card. At one time three other department stores, all now defunct, shared the system's expenses. Nevertheless, Preferred Shopper will continue to exist, said Woodies' Vice Chairman Robert J. Mulligan. "It's always cheaper to issue one card than to issue three. Besides, surveys have shown customers prefer a single card." The only other local credit card, Central Charge, recently disappeared, superseded by Citicorp's Choice card.
Peoples Drug Store has withdrawn from SaveSystem, a cash discount card program established by Washington Federal Savings and Loan Association. Peoples was the largest chain in the system. A spokesman said it did not renew its contract when it expired last month because SaveSystem wanted a substantial increase in service fees.
Thomas G. Riley, SaveSystem's president, acknowledged that his company could no longer afford to keep Peoples at the initial rate due to the costs of advertising. He also said Peoples could no longer afford to offer a 10 percent SaveSystem discount to senior citizens in addition to their regular 10 percent discount.
SaveSystem has more than 2,000 merchants and continues to expand, Riley added. For the year ending last July, it generated almost $4 million in sales, and deposited $295,500 in customers' savings accounts.