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Though American Express Co. is offering $300 prepaid debit cards to some customers to encourage them to close seldom-used accounts still carrying balances (CardLine, 2/24), other issuers are not planning similar approaches to cut their credit risks. JPMorgan Chase & Co. says it does "not have such a program at this time." A spokesperson for Citigroup Inc. said in an email, "We offer a variety of programs that help customers who are anticipating or facing unexpected financial difficulty, including debt consolidation, temporary forbearance, work outs, settlements, rate reductions and others. Given the current economic challenges, we are continuously developing and refining these programs." Capital One Financial Corp. also says it does not offer such buyouts. Rick Wittwer, a former card collections and recoveries executive, calls Amex's offer "ingenious," "interesting" and aggressive." It is a variation on some collection tactics his teams at Washington Mutual Inc. and Providian Financial Corp. used to encourage delinquent cardholders to pay down their accounts, he says. "We would do all sorts of different things, give out things like gas cards or movie tickets or clocks," Wittwer says. "We had these clocks made up, I think they cost us $3, and they got us payments. You had to keep mixing it up. For a while we tried movie tickets, and then we tried gas cards. Each one actually showed an increase in payment over the control." It is more unusual for an issuer to approach cardholders who are not yet delinquent, even if they have been late on payments in the past, he says. "You have to be careful about trying to collect too early because then you just tick them off, and then they become nonperforming assets," Wittwer says.

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