Financial Services: Charge It Your Way

Credit-card users finally get a break, as fierce competition spurs a free-for-all of innovative services and jazzy incentives

Ka-chunk! Ka-chunk! Every day more than 200 million credit cards slide in and out of charge machines across the U.S. Ka-chunk! Americans used plastic to charge $480 billion last year, at a rate of about $1 million a minute. The typical American charge customer carries nine cards and owes more than $2,000 on them. Despite interest rates averaging close to 19%, many cardholders are blase about paying hundreds of dollars a year in interest, plus an annual fee for the privilege of doing so.

No wonder the competition for these docile consumers is growing far tougher. Powerful new players are entering...

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