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.


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


Poll results:



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 .


AP-GfK poll: Americans favor farmers & food during drought
LOS ANGELES (AP) — When water gets scarce and the government slaps restrictions on its use, who should be first in line at the spigot? Farmers, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

The national survey provides a glimpse into how Americans think water should be managed at a time when abnormally dry weather has afflicted swaths of the country, and water shortages in some states have led to conflict over who should get water and how much.

Two-thirds of Americans believe water is a limited resource that can be depleted if people use too much, the poll found, and 70 percent believe that government should restrict how much residents and businesses use when drought takes hold.

When asked to rate the importance of competing needs when water is scarce, 74 percent said agriculture should be a top or high priority, followed by residential needs (66 percent), wildlife and ecosystems (54 percent) and business and industry (42 percent).

To Cheryl Hendricks in parched California, it’s simple: To put food on the table “we rely on agriculture.”

“It’s getting kind of serious when you are not giving water to people who are producing food,” said Hendricks, 63, of Rancho Cucamonga, about 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

She and her husband are taking shorter showers and removing lawn in response to California’s four-year drought, but for growers and ranchers “it’s more important for them to have it.”

The poll’s findings appear to run against criticism of farming practices that demand vast amounts of water. In California, for example, agriculture accounts for 80 percent of all water drawn from rivers, streams and the ground. Producing California’s almond crop consumes more water than all the showering, dish-washing and other indoor household water use of the state’s 39 million people.

The drought has been acute in California, where rainfall has dipped to record lows, reservoirs are depleted and state regulators have ordered conservation from cities, businesses and agriculture. Some communities have been given nine months to cut their use by 36 percent compared to 2013 levels.

Nevada’s Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, is hovering near its historic low water mark and residents in the Las Vegas area have limits on lawn watering. In Oakridge in western Oregon, a community well is 23 feet below normal and restrictions prevent residents from washing cars and filling swimming pools.

“We need to take care of people first — and food,” said William Clarke-Jessimy, 33, from Queens, New York, who thinks homes and agriculture should be favored for water rights.

He’s watched prices spike for California fresh fruits and vegetables in his local markets, and he worries about friends and family in the San Francisco area who are living with the scarcity of water, with no relief in sight.

“It’s really scary,” he said. “They need to find ways to deal with the drought on a long-term basis. I don’t think a lot of people realize how bad it really is.”

Earlier this month, the House passed Republican-backed legislation designed to bring more water to California’s farm belt. Republicans have blamed some cutbacks on environmental regulations designed to protect salmon and the threatened Delta smelt, a three-inch-long fish that is disappearing. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has proposed spending $1.3 billion over a decade for reservoirs, desalination projects and water recycling.

According to the survey, Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to call water for agriculture a top priority, 81 percent to 74 percent, respectively. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to see water for wildlife and ecosystems as a top need, 61 percent to 49 percent.

There was little variation in regions around the nation in picking top priorities.

The poll also found most Americans — nearly 80 percent — think government should limit developers to building only in places with an adequate, long-term water supply.

The advocacy group Food & Water Watch has urged Gov. Jerry Brown to place a moratorium on groundwater use for irrigating crops in some parts of the heavily farmed San Joaquin Valley. California director Adam Scow said the poll’s findings reflect that people value food production but the group believes “we simply don’t have the water” to support crops in some drought stricken regions.

David Abbott has witnessed the toll in his hometown.

The resident of Winton, California, in the heart of the state’s Central Valley farm belt, has seen fields turn to dusty patches and farm workers end up jobless. Friends’ wells have gone dry.

In California, farmers have seen allocations of water from rivers and reservoirs slashed by government agencies in amounts greater than at any other time in California history, forcing many to tap depleted groundwater sources or buy it at high prices.

Abbott, 27, a part-time college business professor, places home use and the needs of agriculture on about equal footing. For his part, he’s watering less outdoors at home, has changed shower heads to conserve and waits to get a full load of dirty laundry before turning on the washing machine.

“I know it’s hard when we don’t have water,” said Abbott, who lives amid farms and almond orchards. “They say we are going to have a real wet winter, but I don’t think that’s going to be enough.”


The AP-GfK Poll of 1,004 adults was conducted online July 9-13, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.



AP-GfK Poll:

AP-GfK Poll: Majority of Americans favor diplomatic ties with Cuba

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly three-fourths of Americans think the United States should have diplomatic ties with Cuba, but they’re not sure how far to go in lifting sanctions, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released Monday as full diplomatic relations between the two countries were formally restored.

“Relations between Cuba and the U.S. I think are long overdue. There’s no threat there,” said Alex Bega, 30, of Los Angeles. “I think the sanctions we have on them are pretty much obsolete.”

The resumption of normal ties ended decades of acrimony between the two nations that was hardened when President John F. Kennedy and Cuba’s Fidel Castro fought over Soviet expansion in the Americas. The new diplomatic status, however, does not erase lingering disputes, such as mutual claims for economic reparations, Havana’s desire to end a more than 50-year-old trade embargo and the U.S. push for Cuba to improve human rights and democracy.

The new poll also found that 58 percent of Americans approve of President Barack Obama’s handling of the U.S. relationship with Havana while 40 disapprove. By contrast, only 39 percent approve of his handling of the U.S. role in world affairs more generally, while 59 percent disapprove.

“I just disapprove of his politics in general,” said Julie Smith, 40, a university administrator from Bowling Green, Kentucky. “I just don’t think that us trying to improve relations with Cuba is beneficial to the United States.”

Respondents were split on what to do about the sanctions on Cuba. Forty-eight percent thought they should be decreased or eliminated entirely while 47 percent favored keeping them at their current level or increasing them. Five percent didn’t answer.

The story was different when it came to Iran.

Seventy-seven percent said they thought sanctions on Tehran should be kept where they are or increased, according to the poll, which was conducted just days before the U.S. signed an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief. Under the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program will be curbed for a decade in exchange for potentially hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of relief from international sanctions.

Mary Barry, 57, of Arlington, Texas, is happy that the Obama administration opened diplomatic efforts with both Cuba and Iran, but is wary about lifting sanctions on the two countries.

“I think we need to have diplomatic relations with Iran and monitor their nuclear weapon,” said Berry, who works producing and staging corporate business meetings. But, she said: “I think we need to keep the sanctions in place on Iran to make sure they’re doing what they’ve promised they’re going to do because I think Iran is a country that you can’t really trust.”

On Cuba, she thinks it’s “just time” to restore diplomatic relations. But she favors a gradual lifting of sanctions on Cuba. “I don’t think they should be lifted immediately,” she said.

There is some momentum in Congress, however, to lift the trade embargo.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., backs a bipartisan bill in the Senate to lift the embargo, which she said must be done for the U.S. to avoid losing investment opportunities that will come with loosening of travel restrictions to the island.

“Once millions of American tourists are going, they will need places to stay and they will need food to eat. … So when they come, they are going to be starting to sleep in Spanish hotels and eat German foods because those countries will be able to supply what they need in the tourism industry, not to mention the computers and Wi-Fi and everything else,” Klobuchar said in an interview.

She predicted the legislation, which has 20 co-sponsors so far, would pass, although maybe not this year. “I know there are some people who have long been opposed to this,” she said.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey thinks the Obama administration’s work to restore relations is an attempt to validate the Castro regime’s “brutal behavior.”

“I remain deeply concerned with ongoing human rights violations in Cuba,” Menendez said Monday. “There have been over 2,800 political arrests on the island this year alone.”

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,004 adults was conducted online July 9 to July 13, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.



AP-GfK Poll: