Weekly Credit Card Lowdown: Jan. 14, 2021
Our summary of the top credit card news this week
January has zero chill, even in the credit card space, as news of another cryptocurrency rewards card, a Walgreens Mastercard, and several travel card bonus offer updates flooded our news feed this week.
This weekly credit card news roundup contains all the things you should know about the cards in your wallet, other available offers, and new product announcements or reports that made us pause while refilling our coffee mug for the umpteenth time.
What’s the Lowdown?
Here’s what caught our attention between Jan. 8 and Jan. 14, 2021:
Another Credit Card Is Joining the Cryptocurrency Party
Cryptocurrency management company Gemini announced it will debut its own cryptocurrency rewards credit card later this year. The new card, aptly named the Gemini Credit Card, will give cardholders up to 3% back on all purchases in the form of, you guessed it, Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency.
The company is also promising no exchange fees on card rewards, which definitely grabbed our attention. Cryptocurrency exchange fees (the costs associated with buying and selling the digital money bits) can vary greatly, especially between platforms and currency types.
The new card follows Gemini’s acquisition of Blockrize, a fintech company that was already developing its own rewards card. The Gemini Credit Card will marry the two companies' technologies. It’s also well-timed given Bitcoin’s meteoric recent rise in value.
Walgreens Plans to Waltz Into the Credit Card Arena, Too
There are about to be a couple new store credit cards on the block. Walgreens announced Wednesday that a partnership with Synchrony Bank and Mastercard will help them debut two branded credit cards later this year, plus a prepaid debit card. The new cards will be connected to the drugstore’s recently revamped loyalty program, myWalgreens, to help customers earn rewards on Walgreens purchases and access other deals.
This new card announcement is noteworthy because drugstore-branded store cards are basically unheard of. If Walgreens is your go-to corner store for prescription refills and clearance holiday candy, stay tuned. Fees and rewards terms aren’t available yet for the new cards yet, but we’re watching for them.
Chase Dials Back Giant Bonus Offers
Chase updated a few card bonus offers Thursday, and the new offers are a bit deflated. For example, the 70,000-mile offer touted on the United Explorer Card is now 40,000 miles (though you’ll only need to spend $2,000 in the first three months to earn it instead of $6,000). The six-figure IHG Traveler’s Card bonus was knocked down to five figures. New cardholders will get 60,000 points (instead of the previous 100,000) when they spend $2,000 within the first three months. Both offers are still competitive, just not as drool-worthy.
Oh, and the 5% cash back offered on grocery purchases by the Chase Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited cards also ended Wednesday. Both cards still promise a $200 cash-back bonus, but groceries are back to earning just 1% now. We’ll miss extra rewards, which were a solid addition to the cards, given the comfort we can all find in food right now.
Bonus offers are always subject to change, so if you are on the market for a new card and are bummed about any of the updated offers mentioned in this article, hang tight. There may be better deals on the horizon, especially once travel is more appealing (and feasible).
Consumers Continue Taking It Easy When It Comes to Card Spending
Credit card spending has cooled off. According to the latest Fed report, the national revolving debt balance (which is mostly due to credit cards) decreased again in November, marking the eighth month-over-month decline since the pandemic began. The current revolving debt balance is $978.8 billion, about $120 billion less than February 2020’s record high of $1.099 trillion.
There wasn’t a lot of good news in 2020, financially and otherwise (and 2021 isn’t off to a great start), but that stat reminds us that there was one positive trend that came out of 2020: Americans are handling their credit cards better, despite it all.
What Else Is Happening?
- Marriott Amex Cards Wave Bonvoy-age to Big Bonuses: The massive six-figure welcome offers advertised by the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and the Marriott Bonvoy Business cards from American Express have left port. Both cards are now offering new cardholders 75,000 points for spending $3,000 within three months of opening a new account, which are still nice deals, just not quite as nice as before. Based on our valuation of Marriott hotel points, the new bonuses are worth about $833 each, which beats out the bonuses offered by similar premium travel cards.
- London Startup Plans to Launch Payment Tools Here: After a successful round of fundraising, a fintech from across the pond intends to bring… something to the U.S. The company, Curve, offers a digital card consolidation app in the U.K. that essentially puts all the cards in a user’s wallet into a single card. That concept has flopped in the U.S. before, but nevertheless, Curve said in a Tuesday statement that a product launch is coming soon. The company still isn’t sure what its first U.S. product will be, but the hype is real—and there’s a waitlist open for those who want in on the fun.
- Best Western Card Costs Bumped Up: The Best Western Rewards Premium Mastercard is now touting a larger bonus for new cardholders, but also a higher APR and annual fee. The card used to charge a $59 annual fee, but The Balance noted that jumped to $89 Wednesday. The purchase APR is now 17.99%-24.99%, variable (up from 16.99%-22.99%). The new costs are in line with what similar hotel cards charge, but the updates are still a bummer, especially considering the current state of travel.
- U.S. Bank Tweaked Radisson Visa Terms: The Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card offer was updated in several ways late last week. It’s now advertising a slightly lower bonus offer, and a higher cash advance APR, cash advance fee, and returned payment fee. Small changes in the grand scheme of things, but it’s rare that The Balance records so many changes for one card at a time.