Personal finance predictions for 2010: Rewards cards

What's ahead for card rewards programs?

Fees and frugality, that's what.

For years, card companies footed the bill for these expensive programs, which proved highly effective both in driving consumers to use plastic and getting merchants to accept cards. Even infrequent spenders got a free, no-fee ride.

Not anymore.

"That era is coming to an end," says industry analyst Michael Auriemma. "The reward programs these consumers have come to take for granted will still be there, but they will be much less rich or they will carry a fee."

The evidence is already in the mail.

"Fee-based cards are on the increase," says Andrew Davidson of Mintel Comperemedia. "Many of the top issuers are rebalancing their portfolios by mailing more offers for fee-based cards."

Auriemma says the changes won't span the rewards spectrum, however.

"Programs that already have annual fees, like airline co-brands, will be less affected, but cash-back and generic points-based rewards will be far less accessible for low-volume customers," he predicts.

Next in the countdown, 6:  Your phone

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