Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How Credit Cards Cost Us More Money

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Some of us grew up in the days before credit cards were terribly prevalent. Forty years ago, you might have had a department store credit card, or perhaps a credit card for a gas station. Visa and MasterCard were around, but they didn’t have the kind of widespread acceptance they do today.

While the days of cash may be dwindling, some new research is shedding light on just how this shift has affected consumers. The method we choose to use for payment has a significant impact on what we choose to buy. Some new research from Professors Promothesh Chatterjee and Randall Rose of University of Kansas and University of South Carolina respectively suggests that this impact is significant, and even affects how we remember a purchase after the fact.

Cash means a focus on cost

In the study, customers who were primed to use cash for a given purchase came out as much more concerned about cost than they were concerned about benefits. For example, here are some of the observations in the study

  • Cash customers responded more quickly to cost-related words.
  • Cash customers had greater recall of cost-related aspects after the fact.
  • Cash customers exhibited recall problems with benefit-related words.
  • Cash customers often choose less expensive products, even those with inferior benefits.
  • Cash customers were more likely to identify a wide range of cost factors beyond just price, such as installation or delivery costs, warranty costs, and even delivery time.
  • Cash customers experienced more of the pain of payment. Every time a transaction takes place, money goes away while the consumer watches.

As you might expect, the opposite is often true when it comes to those customers who use credit cards.

Credit cards mean a focus on benefits

Those customers who were primed to use credit cards weren’t nearly as focused on costs as cash customers. Here are some observations from the study about credit card customers:

  • Credit card customers responded more quickly to benefit-related words.
  • Credit card customers had greater recall of cost-related aspects after the fact.
  • Credit card customers exhibited recall problems with cost-related words.
  • Credit card customers often chose indulgent or high-image products.
  • Credit card customers made more cost errors than cash customers.
  • Credit card customers experienced less pain of payment, because the process of consumption is decoupled from the payment process.

What this means, at least in part, is that customers using credit cards came out of the study as being much less concerned with cost than they were with what the given product could do for them.

Choosing the right payment method at the register

What does this mean for older Americans? Really, it reinforces something we probably already know: using credit cards can cost us more money. This is true not only because of the interest or fees we often face with credit cards, but because of the way paying with a credit card affects our choices as consumers.

If you want to make smart financial choices, let payment method be a factor in how you shop.

David Rodwell is an experienced writer who covers everything from business to personal finance. Check out his site CreditCardProcessing.net for similar articles.

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  1. Just think of gas stations that have two prices: one for credit, and then a cash price that is 4 - 8% lower. Credit is convenient, but adds about 4% to the price of things.

  2. Thank you for a very useful post. Lots of people can not imagine their lives without credit cards. And it’s really not surprising - when you use a card you do not feel that you spend money. To my opinion, it’s better to use cash because it reduces risk of overspending. When you take out money of your wallet you feel spending, and credit card using takes this feeling away. Lots of consumers have huge amounts in credit card debts, that’s why it’s worth to limit the credit using,especially if you go shopping to a mall or other place when there’s a risk that you will overspend and make unnecessary purchases.

  3. If you have money then you should be paying off your credit cards when the bill comes in. If you can't then you shouldn't use credit cards.


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