DEFINITION of 'Direct Mail'

A credit card offer targeted at a specific consumer and sent through the mail. Direct mail credit card marketing tends to become more popular when the economy is performing well and credit is readily available, and less popular when the economy is performing poorly and issuers are reluctant to offer new credit.

BREAKING DOWN 'Direct Mail'

Consumers should scrutinize direct mail offers just like any other credit card offer. What is the annual percentage rate, and how does it compare to other cards you might apply for? Is there an annual fee? Does the credit card offer a rewards program that is competitive with other offers?

Direct mail offers are often “preapproved,” meaning that the credit card company has used information in your credit report to determine that you meet the minimum requirements to be approved for the card. However, receiving one of these offers isn’t a guarantee of approval. The credit card issuer will still require you to fill out an application and make its decision on whether to extend credit to you based on the information in your application and on your most recent credit file data. If your income isn’t high enough or if your credit score has dropped since the prescreened offer was mailed, your application might be declined. Companies use the term “preapproved” to increase consumers’ response rate to these offers, not to indicate that anyone who replies to the offer is guaranteed to be approved.

One problem with direct mail is that it puts consumers at risk of fraud. A criminal could use a direct mail credit card offer stolen out of a mailbox or trash can to commit identity theft. While an identity theft victim is not liable for fraudulent transactions, if they lead to unpaid credit card bills that harm the victim’s credit score before he or she notices the fraud, the aftermath can be a headache to clean up and make it hard to get new loans and credit cards.

Consumers should shred unwanted direct mail credit card offers to limit their risk. To avoid receiving these offers altogether, they can request to be removed from credit card companies’ mailing lists for five years or permanently through OptOutPrescreen.com. The service also lets consumers opt back in later if they wish.

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