Credit Cards

Tips, news, reviews, caveats, trends, updates and analysis related to consumer and business credit cards, and prepaid debit cards. From the interest rate specialists @

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Twice The Victim of Fraud, In As Many Weeks

credit card fraudWhen it comes to my credit and debit cards, I'm very paranoid. I check my accounts daily; I scan for any charges I didn't make (I love Internet banking.) I've never been a victim of credit card fraud, until recently.

Last month, I noticed a charge on my Chase debit card for flowers which I never ordered. The charge was over $100 and the purchase was made at an online florist in Europe. As soon as I noticed the charge, I got on the phone with Chase to report it. I assumed that this type of claim was routine for a big bank like Chase; I also assumed that the process would be efficient and hassle-free. I was disappointed to learn that Chase would need to email me a claim form which I would have to fill out and fax back to Chase. Thankfully, the claim form was one page and it only took me a minute to complete, but I was still disappointed. Why was I being forced to use an inefficient technology that was hot back in the 1980's to make this claim? Why didn't Chase have a secure webpage I could visit to file my claim online?

Chase needed my signature on the form and that's why I needed to fax it. OK, I can understand that. Form completed, I scanned the document then fired up my fax software (Symantec's Winfax 10.0) and initiated the send. At the end of the send, Winfax indicated that the fax was successful, but it also returned an "unable to communicate with modem" error. I'd seen this error many times before and it never caused any problems, so I ignored it.

According to the instructions on the claim form, Chase would credit me the full amount of the disputed charge as soon as they received my signed claim form. Two business days passed and I still did not see a credit for the disputed amount in my account. I called Chase to ask them why they hadn't credited my account. They told me that they hadn't received my fax. I became irate at this point and demanded to speak to a supervisor. After waiting a few minutes, a supervisor came onto the line and told me that he had investigated my situation. He said that Chase had received my fax, but the portion of the document that contained the signature line was not transmitted, so the claim was not processed. Assuming that the error was their fault, I gave this guy a bit of a hard time, demanding that they process my claim immediately. He assured me that the problem was at my end and asked me to resend the fax. After taking a deep breath, I acquiesced.

I sent the fax two more times, and Winfax returned the same communication error despite simultaneously indicating that the fax was sent successfully. OK, so the problem could be my good old reliable Winfax 10.0. I really like Winfax, and you know how it is when you're in love: the object of your affection can't do wrong.

I conducted a quick Yahoo! search for "send fax free" and found Never used it before; never heard of it. FaxZero is free, intuitive and fast. The site is supported by ads. You can use the site to send and receive, though there are some restrictions if you choose not to pay anything. A few hours after I used FaxZero to send my claim form, I saw a credit in my Chase account for the disputed amount.

OK, so Chase wasn't at fault. It was stupid Winfax. The software had all the latest updates installed. Symantec wanted me to pay money to upgrade to a newer version of Winfax to get rid of this problem. No way, José. The software should not be telling me that a fax was sent successfully when in fact it wasn't. I deserved a free upgrade, but I wasn't going to get one. Bye-bye Winfax.

How was my account compromised? I have no idea. I use my debit card in both the online and offline worlds. Needless to say, I've modified the way I use my cards. Chase mailed me a new debit card within 3 business days of my initial phone call about the crime.

Two Weeks Later, My Chase Credit Card Is Compromised!

OK, so a little less than two weeks later, I get a call from Chase. They are calling to let me know that they detected a suspicious authorization on my Chase credit card. The charge was for less than $4, and the transaction was never captured.

Authorizing is when a merchant uses a credit card machine or software to tell your bank to set aside a certain amount against your account for a purchase. The merchant can then "capture" the charge later in the day in a batch process. Capturing is when the merchant tells the bank to process the authorized amount and complete the transaction. A merchant can authorize first then capture later, or the merchant can opt to do both at the same time. The merchant gets paid in step 3 of the credit card purchase process, when the transaction is "settled."

The 3 step process is all about security.

The folks at Chase have software that calculates the likelihood that a charge is legit, based on a cardholder's location, spending habits and other criteria. Red flags went up for this particular charge so Chase called me to ask if the charge was made by me. It was not. The Chase rep explained that criminals will often authorize a small amount first before attempting to rip off an account for a much larger amount.

The Chase rep told me that my credit card account number was no longer valid, and that I should destroy my credit card right away. A new card would be shipped to me within 5 business days. I explained to the rep that I had some important payments to make and I really wanted to use this particular Chase credit card (I'm in the middle of a 0% intro APR deal with this card, but I didn't tell that to the Chase rep.) She understood and offered to rush my replacement card to me; I would receive it within 2 days. I asked if I would be charged for the rush delivery and she said no, so -- a real no-brainer here -- I accepted the offer. Replacement card was delivered 2 days later, as promised.

Banks tend to be very frugal about things, so I was impressed that I was able to get my card in a hurry without being charged extra for the shipping upgrade. Kudos to Chase. I would expect the same from American Express, as they tend to go the extra mile to make sure that their customers are satisfied. I've read and heard good things about Discover as well, though I can't comment on the company since I've never had a Discover credit card account.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

So, Which Is The Best Gas Rewards Card Anyway?

If you look at our pages listing the best consumer gas rewards credit card and the best business gas rewards card, you will notice that we list a Chase and an American Express card for business, while on the consumer side we list a Discover card together with an American Express card. We do this because, for each category, these cards are tied for first place.

Reason for the tie on the business card side: American Express is a highly reputable bank which offers truly excellent customer service. The TrueEarnings® Business Card from Costco and American Express offers a generous 5% cash back on automobile gas purchases. However, with the Amex TrueEarnings card, you claim your earned rewards annually, which some cardholders find restrictive. Here's a snippet from the TrueEarnings terms and conditions:

"...Rebate is awarded annually in the form of an in-store coupon redeemable for cash or merchandise at any U.S. Costco Warehouse..."

With the Chase Business Rebate Card, you get 3% cash back on gas purchases, which is great. As a bonus, you can claim your rebate whenever you want. Once you've accumulated enough points, you can log onto Chase's rebate center website and browse their catalog. Among the items you can get with your rebate dollars is a statement credit, and a statement credit is as good as cash.

On the consumer side: The Discover® Open Road Card offers a 5% Cashback Bonus on gas and auto maintenance purchases. But there's a catch. From the terms and conditions:

"...Earn unlimited cash rewards on all purchases. Earn a full 5% Cashback Bonus on your first $100 in combined gas and auto maintenance purchases each billing period - up to $1,200 annually. In addition, earn a full 1% unlimited Cashback Bonus on all other purchases after your total annual purchases exceed $3,000; other purchases that are part of your first $1,500 earn .25% and other purchases that are part of your second $1,500 earn .50%. Combined gas and auto maintenance purchases in excess of $100 each billing period earn Cashback Bonus at the same rate as other purchases..."
We all know how pricey gas is these days. Getting 5% cashback on the first $100 in gas purchases each month is nice, but for folks who do a lot of driving, this may be a significant buzzkill.

With The TrueEarnings® Credit Card from Costco and American Express, which is a "personal" or "consumer" credit card, you get 3% cash back on gasoline purchases. You can also transfer a credit card balance at 1.99% intro APR for 6 months, and pay no balance transfer transaction fee.

With all other credit card categories in this site, there's a clear winner, and that' why we list only one card on these pages. As for the best consumer and business gas rewards credit card, we'll let you decide between the finalists.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

H.R. 5244: The Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act of 2008

Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act of 2008I had just about given up on Congress when they enacted the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act back in the spring of 2005 [1][2][3]. The bill gave the banks what they wanted, and made it harder for those in financial dire straits to declare bankruptcy, even poor folks who got into trouble due to high medical bills. The new law makes it more difficult for deadbeats to get away with not paying their bills -- and I have no problem with that -- but it also punishes those who deserve the kind of help that only bankruptcy can provide.

Now it seems that Congress is on its way back to representing the people instead of focusing on doing whatever the Corporate America-controlled lobbyists want.

Last week, the House Financial Services Committee passed by a vote of 39-27 the "Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act" (H.R. 5244.) If this bill is passed into law, things like double-cycle billing and universal default will become illegal. This bill still has a long way to go before becoming law, but it's a very good start. The bill was introduced by Democrat Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York on February 7TH, 2008, and still must go through debate, a vote in the House, a vote in the Senate and finally a signature by the President. Godspeed.

Don't get me wrong. I love credit cards, especially 0% cards that also feature generous cash back rewards. If this bill becomes law, much needed checks would be put into place to keep the credit-card banks from abusing their considerable power, and consumers would be able to spend with their plastic, secure in the knowledge that the credit-card playing field is reasonable and fair. Nothing wrong with that. That's the American way.

I wouldn't be surprised if passing H.R. 5244 into law boosted consumer spending; more spending is something the U.S. economy needs right now and for many months ahead[1][2]. In my humble opinion, I don't think the recent stimulus payments will do much to ward of a recession. I think most folks used the bulk of that money to pay down debt and/or shore up their savings. If we must endure a recession, let's hope that it's short and shallow. Amen.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

U.S. Prime Rate Likely To Remain at 5.00%

If you have a variable-rate credit card in your wallet or purse, chances are the annual percentage rate (APR) is indexed to the U.S. Prime Rate. The Fed will be meeting on interest rates on Tuesday, and, thankfully, it's likely that they will leave the Prime Rate where it is.

If you have a lot of credit card debt, and you're paying interest on it, then be careful. With inflation on the minds of just about everyone in America, it's quite possible the Fed will raise the Prime Rate at some point later this year. Stay tuned to Prime Rate forecasts here.

When the Fed cuts Prime, credit-card banks usually respond by lowering your Prime-indexed APR, but they tend take their time. On the other hand, when the Fed raises Prime, banks usually respond by raising Prime-indexed APR's quickly. Something to keep in mind as you make money-related plans and decisions now and during the rest of 2008.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Credit Card Debt: State Rankings

Credit Card Debt: State RankingsIf you've ever wondered how your state ranks in terms median credit card debt per borrower, then check out this page, brought to you by the good folks at Americans for Fairness in Lending.

Scroll down the same page at the website and you'll find a form that anyone can use to quickly and easily contact the Federal Reserve and share with them experiences dealing with credit-card banks. There are literally tens of thousands of letters. I think it's a safe bet that reform is on the way.

It's good to see that the Fed is on the credit card reform bandwagon.

FYI: If you decide to submit your story, it may be made public here, so don't send anything too sensitive or too personal, like your credit card number or social security number.

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