By CANDICE CHOI

Americans prefer using their debit cards at the register. But a small fee could change that.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds that about two-thirds of consumers use debit cards more frequently than credit cards. But when debit card holders were asked how they would react if they were charged a $3 monthly fee for their debit card, 61 percent say they’d find another way to pay.

If the fee was $5, 66 percent would do the same. If the fee was $7, the figure rises to 81 percent.

The findings come at a time when consumers are seeing unwelcome changes to their debit cards and the checking accounts to which they’re linked. Although banks haven’t started imposing monthly fees for debit cards, there are signs higher costs could be on the way.

Starting in October, a new cap will sharply limit the revenue banks can collect from merchants whenever customers swipe their debit cards. That revenue has been a critical income source for banks; merchants paid issuers $19.7 billion for debit transactions in 2009, according to the Nilson Report, which tracks the payments industry.

Consumers are already seeing the fallout. Chase, PNC Bank and Wells Fargo ended or scaled back their debit rewards programs citing the new regulation. The availability of free checking accounts also declined last year for the first time since 2003.

And more changes could be in store.

Chase, for example, is testing a $3 monthly fee for debit cards on new accounts in northern Wisconsin. In Atlanta, it’s testing a $15 monthly fee on basic checking accounts.

Among the AP-GfK poll respondents who say they would leave their debit cards in their wallets in the face of such fees, more say they’d pay with cash, 53 percent, or check, 42 percent, rather than another form of plastic.

“Cash or checks — they’re not very expensive,” said Aaron Alto, a 44-year-old resident of Grand Rapids, Minn. Alto says he’d be annoyed enough to look for an alternative to his debit card if the fees approached $10.

Debit card fees would cause 22 percent to switch to credit cards, and 12 percent say they would switch to a prepaid spending card.

For now, the notable preference for debit could be linked to a negative sentiment about credit cards; nearly half of respondents to the AP-GfK poll say the interest rates they’re charged are unfair.

That may be because 30 percent had their interest rates hiked in the past two years. That’s more than twice the number who say their rates were lowered.

Forty-two percent of respondents also say the fees and penalties on their cards are unfair; 37 percent say card issuers recently raised those potential charges.

The higher rates and fees may have surprised consumers in light of the new regulations that were intended to protect cardholders and put an end to questionable billing practices.

Under the rules that went into effect last February, cardholders are now entitled to 45 days notice before their rates are hiked. Card issuers are also prohibited from raising rates on existing balances, a once-common practice that consumer advocates had long decried.

Additionally, the one-time penalty fees for late payments are capped at $25 per violation. But there’s no limit on how high banks can hike interest rates on purchases or the default interest rates that kick in when customers are late on payments.

Earl Law, a 61-year-old resident of Buffalo, N.Y., said the penalty rate on a few of his cards is 30 percent.

“It’s absurd. It’s usurious,” he said. “If you’re struggling with debt, that’s the last thing you need. You’re asking people to fail.”

Despite the widespread discontent with interest rates, the regulations are having a clear, positive impact in one area: monthly statements. Nearly half of respondents say they’re now easier to understand.

Part of the reason is that the new law requires credit card issuers to spell out the cost of carrying a balance. For example, statements now include a chart that shows how long it would take to pay off a balance if only minimum payments were made. The chart also includes the total amount the cardholder would pay over that time, including interest charges.

The increased transparency might be one reason why the majority of consumers — 78 percent — say they plan to stick with their cards, despite their grumblings about high rates and fees.

It could also be that consumers have grown numb to unpleasant changes. In the months leading up to the passage of the new regulations, many cardholders saw their interest rates hiked, credit limits slashed and inactive accounts shut down.

The poll was conducted June 16-20 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide, including 715 who have credit cards and 706 debit card holders. Results from the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points; it is 4.8 points for those with credit or debit cards.

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Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

Online:

Poll results: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 

 

How the poll was conducted

By The Associated Press

The Associated Press-GfK Poll on changes to credit card laws was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from June 16-20. It is based on landline and cellphone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,001 adults. Interviews were conducted with 700 respondents on landline telephones and 301 on cellphones. The sample included 715 credit card holders and 706 debit card holders.

Digits in the phone numbers dialed were generated randomly to reach households with unlisted and listed landline and cellphone numbers.

Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

As is done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population’s makeup by factors such as age, sex, education and race. In addition, the weighting took into account patterns of phone use — landline only, cell only and both types — by region.

No more than one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 4.1 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in the U.S. were polled. For results among credit card holders and debit card holders, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com .

 


AP-GfK Poll: Most say filing tax returns is easy; few willing to pay more for simpler forms

By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Struggling to figure out your federal tax return? You’re not alone, but you’re in the minority.

With the tax filing deadline looming next week, a majority of Americans say completing a federal tax return is easy, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

The findings defy conventional wisdom in Washington, where politicians have made careers out of promising a simpler tax system. In another blow to advocates of tax reform, almost no one is willing to pay higher taxes in exchange for a simpler code.

“If you’ve got the equivalent of a high school degree and you know how to do math, it’s very simple,” said Sara Thornton, a small business owner from East Granby, Conn.

Only 7 percent of those surveyed say they would be willing to pay more in federal taxes if the process of filling out a tax return were easier. Some 90 percent say “no, thanks.”

“No, because I don’t know that it is that difficult,” said Alicia Brown of suburban Des Moines, Iowa. “We already pay outlandish taxes because we live in Iowa. We have very high real estate taxes.”

The tax-writing committees in Congress have spent the past several years trying to build momentum for the herculean task of simplifying the tax code. One reason it’s so difficult is there are bound to be winners and losers. Sweeping changes to precious tax breaks will undoubtedly leave some people paying more, while others pay less.

One selling point for tax reform has been a simpler tax form. Ever hear a politician say you should be able to fill out your taxes on the back of a postcard? You’ll probably hear it again during this fall’s elections.

The National Taxpayer Advocate says filers spend a total of 6.1 billion hours a year preparing tax returns, at a cost of $168 billion. According to the IRS, 90 percent of filers either pay a tax preparer or use computer software to help them fill out their returns.

But 58 percent in the AP-GfK poll say completing a federal tax return is easy. Thirty-eight percent call it hard.

Fully 86 percent who have completed their tax forms say they are extremely confident or very confident that they filled them out correctly.

Not surprisingly, higher income taxpayers are more likely to say that filling out tax forms is difficult. Wealthy people tend to have more complicated taxes because they often have multiple sources of income and they are more likely to itemize their deductions, making them eligible for more tax breaks.

Forty-five percent of those with incomes above $100,000 said it is hard, compared with 33 percent among those making less than $50,000.

Through March 28, the IRS has processed 89 million returns. About 82 percent have qualified for refunds, averaging $2,831. That’s about $207 billion in tax refunds. Almost 91 percent of returns have been filed electronically.

Americans think most of their fellow taxpayers are honest, but not all of them. On average, poll-takers estimate that about one-third of Americans intentionally cheat when filling out their tax returns.

Erma Pierce of Poplar Bluff in southeast Missouri said she thinks about half of people cheat on their taxes, and she takes a dim view of it.

“You’re not supposed to cheat, lie or steal,” Pierce said. “It’s against the Bible.”

Thornton, the small business owner in Connecticut, said her estimate depends on the definition of cheating.

“People think of cheating as a case of, I reported I have nine children and I only have two. Or I reported I only made $20,000 this year and I actually made $50,000,” Thornton said. “They think of those forms of cheating, the absolute blatant, extravagant forms.”

Thornton’s definition of cheating is broader, which is why she thinks 80 percent to 90 percent of people cheat on their taxes.

“The minor forms of cheating are things like, well, I can increase my charitable deduction by $200,” Thornton said. “Most people consider, quote, unquote padding their income tax reporting or shaving it off a little bit, they don’t necessarily view that as cheating.”

“I define that as cheating only because it really is.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap


AP-GfK Poll: Election indicators suggest GOP edge

By, JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

(AP) – The latest Associated Press-GfK poll holds bad news for President Barack Obama, but as the November elections draw closer, there are ominous signs for congressional Democrats as well.

A look at the key findings from the March poll on this year’s election and the burgeoning 2016 presidential field.

GOP GAINING GROUND

Preferences for control of Congress are tight, but Republicans have gained on Democrats since January. Thirty-six percent in last month’s poll said they would rather see the Democrats in charge of Congress and 37 percent chose Republicans.

Democrats held a narrow advantage on that question in January, when 39 percent favored the Democrats and 32 percent the Republicans.

Democrats are in the majority in the Senate while Republicans run the House.

The shift stems largely from a change among those most interested in politics.

In the new poll, registered voters who are most strongly interested in politics favored the Republicans by 14 percentage points, 51 percent to 37 percent. In January, this group was about evenly split, with 42 percent preferring Democrats and 45 percent the Republicans.

That’s not the only positive sign in the poll for the Republicans.

Favorable views of the GOP have improved, with 38 percent overall now saying they hold a favorable impression of the Party. Republicans’ positive view of their own party has increased from 57 percent in January to 72 percent now.

Even impressions of the tea party movement have shifted more positive in recent months. GOP favorability still lags behind that of the Democrats, however, with 43 percent holding a favorable view of the Democratic Party.

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CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL STAGNANT

Congressional approval is stagnant and negative, with just 16 percent saying they approve while 82 percent disapprove. Among those who have “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of interest in politics, 90 percent disapprove, including 61 percent who strongly disapprove.

Nearly 4 in 10 (39 percent) would like to see their own member of Congress re-elected, an improvement since January. Among registered voters who say they pay a great deal of attention to politics, 44 percent say they would like to see their current member re-elected, compared with 33 percent in January.

Here, there’s a glimmer of hope for Democrats. Those who consider themselves Democrats are now more likely than Republicans to say their own member of Congress ought to be re-elected. Not all Democrats live in districts represented by Democrats, of course, but it represents a shift in opinion since January.

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WHO’S IN CHARGE

With control of Congress divided between the parties, most Americans say Obama has a lot or quite a bit of control over what the federal government does, outpacing the share who say the Democrats or Republicans in Congress are in control.

Partisans tend to see the opposition as the controlling force, with Republicans more apt than Democrats to see Obama in charge, and Democrats more likely to say the Republicans have the upper hand.

Six in 10 (62 percent) of those with a great deal or quite a bit of interest in politics say Obama has a lot or quite a bit of control of what the federal government does. Just half (51 percent) of those closely attuned to politics say Democrats in Congress exert a similar influence over what the federal government does and 40 percent say the same about Republicans in Congress.

There’s little change since December in which party Americans trust more to handle major issues.

Democrats’ strong points are on handling social issues, including same-sex marriage (31 percent prefer Democrats, 17 percent the Republicans) and abortion (30 percent prefer Democrats, 22 percent Republicans). Republicans have the edge on protecting the country, 34 percent to 16 percent, a slightly wider margin than they held on the question in December.

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LOOKING TO 2016? NOT SO MUCH

The poll measured impressions of 19 potential 2016 presidential candidates, and found that a majority of those surveyed offered an opinion about just seven of them. The other 12 have quite a lot of introducing themselves to do if they are to make a run for the White House.

Most people said either they hadn’t heard of them or skipped the question.

Hillary Rodham Clinton generated the most positive response of the bunch, with 46 percent viewing the former secretary of state and first lady favorably and 39 percent unfavorably.

Among potential GOP contenders, none generated a net positive reaction from the public, with 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan faring best – 27 percent viewed him favorably, 29 percent unfavorably.

Among Republicans, majorities have favorable impressions of Ryan and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. But in a sign that the past isn’t always prologue, nearly half of Republicans say they don’t know enough to have an opinion about former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a large factor in the 2012 nomination fight.

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The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta