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Sunday, February 1, 2009

1 family gets 445 credit card offers in a year

Credit card offers abound
Gary Silbar holds some of the 445 credit card offers his family was mailed last year. (Tribune photo by David Trotman-Wilkins / January 5, 2009)

Somebody had to do it. Who, after all, hasn't wondered how many credit card applications arrive in their mailbox in a year?

Gary Silbar of Highland Park decided to find out and has saved 445 applications to show for it, including a hefty 35 addressed to his kids, Max, 8, and Jake, 11.

Silbar collected and sorted every application sent to his family of four between November 2007 and October 2008. He filled two filing boxes with them and likely extended the life of his shredder.

"I had no idea it would be this amount," Silbar said, ripping open a few of his most recent mailings to demonstrate their variety.
The stack of "pre-approved" promises and "apply now" pitches weigh in at 23 pounds and include offers of zero balance transfers, air miles and local store discounts.

It all began when Silbar received seven applications in a day and tried to imagine how many he could harvest in a year.

While it must have been tempting to toss the growing pile every once in a while, he savored the challenge. He even wondered whether Buddie, the family's dog, would get a few. So far, no.

But Silbar's two sons received pre-approved credit card applications, including Citibank's offer to match airline miles for each dollar spent. For some reason, Max led his brother by five applications.

"Jake's upset," Silbar said. "Why is Max getting more credit card applications than him?"

When the economy soured halfway through the year, he expected the barrage of direct mail to slow to a drizzle. It did no such thing.

The reason, experts say, is that Silbar and his wife, Karen, have good credit histories. He runs a public relations firm, Gary Silbar Communications, from his home and banks with Chase. That company, alone, sent 110 solicitations.

Silbar wondered if his family was an anomaly and why banks continued to spend a "boatload" of money on people like himself who don't respond.

"It's not typical, but it's also not unprecedented," said Stephen Clifford, vice president of financial services for Chicago-based Mintel Comperemedia.

The company, which monitors direct mail and e-mail marketing, finds that most households average two or three solicitations per month.

"My guess is this gentleman and his wife have very good credit card scores and so they will be in the sweet spot," Clifford said.

Nationally, the number of credit card offers sent to consumers declined to a three-year low by the third quarter of 2008 because of the faltering economy, according to Mintel.

The financial giants sent a mere 1.34 billion mailings during that quarter, a 28 percent drop from the same period in 2007.

Those banks are focusing their efforts on more affluent spenders. Consumers with poor credit scores or annual incomes below $50,000 can expect fewer mailings, but others such as the Silbars remain choice targets.

Silbar's questions were posed to a few of the credit card companies that most aggressively pushed their products, including Chase, American Express and Citi.

All declined to provide numbers on their direct mail spending, which they described as proprietary information.

Desiree Fish, an American Express spokeswoman, agreed that direct mail is the company's most profitable form of marketing. She talked about behaviors that deem people "credit-worthy" and factors that play into it, such as the number of adults per household and whether they are existing customers.

"We do a number of mailings throughout the year to obviously entice customers who may not have a card," said Fish. "We have a number of customers who have multiple products. We don't solicit to children" and said that was a mistake.

Citi spokesman Samuel Wang declined to comment.

Chase recommended that irritated consumers call the phone number on the mail offers and ask them to stop. However, spokeswoman Tanya Madison warned that the offers may continue rolling in for a few months "while the opt-out is being processed."

Justin McHenry, president of IndexCreditCards.com, which lists card offers, said in an e-mail that he believes consumers have grown accustomed to a daily barrage of credit card offers.

"However, many credit card companies are cutting back on credit lines and/or raising rates on their customers these days, even for customers who've done nothing wrong," wrote McHenry.

Silbar is not so much annoyed as he is flabbergasted by the sheer amount of mail.

"We will have to shred it over a couple of days," he said. "Otherwise, we will burn out the shredder, and I will have to use a credit card to buy a new shredder."

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