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Clearly, the credit crisis has done a number to the credit card industry, making the competition become a little tougher among credit card companies. In the past, credit card holders could earn substantial rewards with the kind of programs available through companies like Visa, MasterCard, Discover Card and Citibank. Back then, you could receive significant savings from online purchases when you register your reward credit card to earn points or from a cash back credit card that credits you a cash bonus on a regular basis.

These days, what do we have? Great credit card programs are dwindling, with some banks even closing their credit card divisions (remember the fiasco at Advanta?) because of the current business environment. Other card programs have been merged with others as well, leaving fewer options for card customers who are looking for better deals. I don’t think this is a surprise either, since there are cost savings (from the point of view of companies) when programs are eliminated or merged.

So as consumers, what can we do during this time of skimpier deals from the card industry? If you need a new credit card and are shopping around for one, there may be a few things you’d like to do:

1. Keep abreast of the changing terms of credit card programs.

It’s not just reward programs that are diminishing: I’ve noticed the terms on balance transfer cards becoming slimmer over time as well. While we used to have such cards sporting no fees, zero percent APRs for long periods of time (a year or more), all these great benefits have been cut back significantly. If you’re seeing this sort of thing going on with your cards, just make sure you’re not caught off guard by these changes. Don’t assume that you won’t be paying fees forever, or count on the fact that you’ll be paying the same low rates indefinitely.

2. Credit card programs could disappear without notice.

The time has come when you should think of spending those points fast, and not hold it for too long. This is because, with the recent financial situation, credit card companies may withdraw the schemes anytime without notice and drop schemes at will. This is a warning for reward credit card holders.

Reward credit cards are quite attractive to consumers for the kind of rewards that the card offers. It is a way not only to attract customers but also to encourage them to spend more to earn points. The consumers tend to save up these rewards just by holding them, waiting to re-deem the points for something that they really want. It is time to be careful with this, and this is a reminder that credit card companies have no legal binding in continuing with the reward program, and may withdraw them anytime.

3. Stick with reputable credit card companies.

A smaller bank may offer you really sweet deals on credit cards, but there may not be that same stability that you’ll find if you work with larger, well-known companies. While Advanta is an example of a large company whose credit card division failed in a huge way, a scenario like this is more likely to be repeated at smaller outfits that have less of the clout that financial institutions carry. With bailout money going to larger banks and institutions, some of that is bound to shore up the credit card businesses of more recognizable names. You can certainly take this into consideration when you sign up for your next card!

These are just some of the points to keep in mind when shopping for a credit card in these tougher economic times. With a little digging, you may be able to find a credit card or two that may still work out well for you.