Millions of Americans are signing up for "gold" credit cards that offer services most consumers don't need and at higher fees they could often avoid, the nation's largest bank-card consumer group said.

"For many, the cards will mean little more than higher rates and fees and more plastic profits for the banks that issue them," said a statement issued Wednesday by the Virginia-based Bankcard Holders of America.The 75,000-member non-profit group issued a 16-page consumer guide to the premium or gold credit cards, with the primary message that "consumers will pay much higher annual fees for most gold cards than for standard cards."

"Consumers are being inundated with gold card offers from virtually every major issuer of gold credit cards," said BHA executive director Elgie Holstein. Americans are currently holding 22.8 million gold Visas and MasterCards alone.

Holstein said one common reason people apply for gold cards is to obtain a higher line of credit, "but they can often get it from their regular credit card just by asking."

The annual fees for standard cards, Holstein said, range from free to $55 and average $17, while gold card annual fees range from free to $100 and average $36.

The BHA guide notes that many benefits, called "enhancements" in the industry, are poor buys because they are either offered by lower-cost standards cards (such as emergency cash), little used by most consumers or duplicate coverage cardholders may already have. Many homeowners' insurance policies, for instance, include the kind of purchase coverage offered by gold cards.

"Fewer than 5 percent of cardholders actually make use of the enhancements that come with gold cards," Holstein said. "Unless you really think you may someday need one of the benefits, save your money and stick with a standard card."