The signs of the holidays are all around us. The weather has changed, pumpkin spice has been added to everything imaginable, and your mailbox is bending under the weight of catalogs – and unsolicited credit card offers.
Credit card solicitations certainly aren't limited to the holidays, but the intensity of offers tends to pick up during this time because your spending tends to pick up. The National Association of Retailers (NAR) predicts that holiday retail sales will approach $720 billion, excluding typical purchases like dining out and filling your gas tank. What retailer or card issuer wouldn't want a piece of that spending pie?
Most credit card solicitations are pre-approved or pre-screened offers, where the card issuer has done a cursory check of your credit already – without your request or knowledge – and considers you low risk. (These are different from pre-qualified offers, where you have agreed to provide credit information to lenders in order to shop for offers.)
Pre-screened offers do have uses, as they alert you to specialized offers and can aid comparison shopping. However, if you aren't interested and find yourself overwhelmed with offers, you have a few options to stop pre-approved credit card offers and other unsolicited requests like insurance offers.
As part of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the credit reporting agencies are allowed to supply lists of consumers to potential creditors. Creditors can filter these lists to target their preferred audience for pre-approval offers. The FRCA allows you to opt-out of those lists, choking off the main source of credit card offers.
To opt-out, go to Opt Out Prescreen, a website run for this purpose by the credit reporting agencies. You can opt out for five years through the website, or you can opt out indefinitely by downloading the Permanent Opt-Out Election form from the website, filling out the form, and returning a copy to each of the credit reporting agencies.
What if you changed your mind? You can opt back in at any time by using the same website, whether you chose the five-year or permanent option (so much for "permanent"). You can also initiate contact with lenders at any time to search for pre-qualified offers – but remember that if you have a credit freeze applied to your account, you'll have to remove the freeze to allow creditors access to your report.
Another way to cut down on direct mail credit card offers is to register with the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Preference Service. The site allows you to stop receiving credit offers in the mail, or to only block individual creditors. This site also allows you to set preferences for catalogs and magazine offers, as well as other mail solicitations. DMA opt-outs last for ten years and may be reversed on the website at any time.
Marketers are fine with using opt-out lists – it's not in their interest to waste resources contacting uninterested parties, even If it's part of a mass marketing effort.
If you don't mind the load in your mailbox, feel free to discard all the credit offers – but shred them first. Since the offers are already pre-approved, it's easier for identity thieves to steal the application and open an account in your name. If you would like to prevent identity theft, join MoneyTips and check out our free Identity Protector tool.
You may not be able to stop all unsolicited credit card offers, but you can greatly reduce the number by opting out with the credit reporting agencies and the Direct Marketing Association. As for the pumpkin spice epidemic, we’re still trying to solve that one.
If you want more credit, check out our list of credit card offers.