The most desirable credit card customers–those who are younger and continue to build buying power–have lower ownership of proprietary store cards and network-branded credit cards than do consumers in other age groups, according to a cobranded card report from Mercator Advisory Group.

For its research, Mercator conducted an online survey of 1,009 U.S. adults ages 18 and older in May. Among the respondents, consumers ages 65 and older were the most loyal credit cardholders, with 71% having a network-branded credit card and 36% having a store credit card.

In his report “Co-Brand Consumer Cards 2010: Mature Products Ripe For Change,” Mercator principal analyst Ken Paterson suggests older consumers also likely have the best established credit histories but may not be in the peak of their spending years. He also expresses concern that consumers ages 35 to 64, who likely are at the peak of their spending years, reported a decline of 20 percentage points in household ownership of network-branded cards and a 10 percentage point decline in having private-label store cards since 2009, Mercator says

“Card companies have some real challenges ahead reaching younger consumers,” says Paterson. He cites the CARD Act regulations that restrict card marketing to consumers younger than 21 as a potential roadblock to gaining younger customers.

“Issuers will have to formulate new targeting strategies to reach consumers that are newly eligible [for credit] and [ways to] establish their ability to pay,” Paterson says. There may be opportunities for issuers to develop “graduation” strategies for authorized cardholders from parents’ accounts when they reach the eligible age, he says.

But beyond the entry level, many consumers have closed accounts or have had accounts closed by issuers, Paterson says. For consumers with damaged credit histories, the market may have to wait for issuers to again consider providing credit for riskier groups, he says.

“For those consumers who represent prime prospects, there are still opportunities to market charge products, which have some advantages over debit but clearly focus on the discipline of paying off the account monthly,” Paterson says.

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