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It’s that time of year where we start to monitor the trends over consumer card use — particularly with summer travel season looming. But two other initial trends this spring caught our eye first, and may shed some light on where your customers are at.

The first of these comes from another update from the Federal Reserve, which released a report saying that consumers have cut back on credit use this spring, with borrowing rising to $8 billion — which may sound like a lot, but is actually the smallest increase in eight months. Most of this borrowing went to school and car loans. The latter is good for the car loans, but the first category may reveal why consumers are hesitant to take on other debt — something that used to affordable, or nearly free (i.e, school) in many cases, now requires significant indebtedness, stripping that money from circulating through other channels in the economy.

Still, the same report noted that that unemployment is down, so as consumer confidence increases, so might spending.

The other trend comes from seeming confidence on the bank end, however. USA Today ran a piece that talked about the uptick in 0% credit card offers from lenders — allowing consumers a window of “free money,” in which they can transfer balances, or buy a larger ticket item, and not pay any interest — if the balance can be paid off before the “regular” interest kicks in, a year or so down the road.

The bottom line here may come in this quote from Tim Chen, CEO of NerdWallet.com:  “The economy is definitely coming back, and the credit card industry is definitely making a bet on that.” Hence, the big increase in 0% card mailings.

So the question now is which trend will have the upper hand in the near term — consumer reluctance to take on debt, or consumer willingness to use “free money” that’s loaned to them for a year or two.

If the latter, make sure you’re ready to encourage customer card use by making it as easy as possible (and by taking other forms of payment as well). Any rewards you can offer (in addition to what their own card issuers might be giving them) help make the pot even “sweeter,” and your customers ever more loyal. As ever, contact your AVPS Rep for any pertinent details