Despite warnings from a few years ago that issuers would react to new regulations with higher annual card fees, most did not.

Some 21% of consumers said the credit card they use most frequently carries an annual fee, a rate that has held fairly consistent for the last two years, according to a study Auriemma Consulting Group released July 2. The firm surveyed 189 credit card customers online in April and May.

The number of consumers who reported in the recent survey that their Visa card carries an annual fee rose to 20%, from 17% a year ago, but that rate is "still within the range" of annual fees on Visa cards in recent years, Scott Strumello, an associate with Auriemma, said in an interview.

"Some people predicted that card issuers would raise annual fees after the CARD Act went into effect, and that may have been political posturing," Strumello says. "Banks are struggling to win back credit card customers in a tough economy, so they are sticking with tried-and-true formulas, which generally do not include annual fees."

The Pew Safe Credit Card Project also said last year its own research suggested credit card issuers' interest rates and fees actually stabilized in the wake of the CARD Act, which went into effect in February 2010. 

Rewards cards continue to be the most popular type of credit cards, Strumello says, and the vast majority of those carry no annual fee, nor are issuers eager to monkey that formula.

"When the average Joe has a social media following of several thousand and he can tell everybody about his bad card experience, issuers tread very carefully," he says.

Bank of America Corp. sparked a strong backlash from consumers last year after it proposed a $5-a-month debit card fee. It quickly withdrew that plan.

"Issuers are still in a test-and-learn mode following the CARD Act and they only have to look at Bank of America's debacle with proposing a debit card fee to see how consumers might react, especially now with social media to spread the word," Strumello says.

Annual fees may make a gradual comeback eventually, Strumello says. Some issuers are already introducing higher-fee cards loaded with perks. 

But for the most part issuers are too wary to risk scaring prospective customers away with new fees in the still-volatile economy, Strumello says.

"Issuers as a whole currently do not want to rock the boat when it comes to annual credit card fees, although it is an area that could change," he says.

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