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 @ FedPrimeRate.com

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Will 0% No Balance Transfer Fee Credit Cards Return?

Discover More Black CardAs you might have already guessed, American banks are not jumping for joy about the new the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, also known as the Credit Card Act. The new law, together with new rules imposed on banks by the Federal Reserve in August of 2010, place limits on fees and other charges and, in general, make having a credit card in your wallet a much better financial arrangement for you.

If you think that banks have responded to the new credit card rules by coming up with creative ways to generate revenue, then you're right on the money.

For example, banks are no longer permitted to charge inactivity fees. However, some banks have figured out a clever way around this rule: charge an annual fee that's waived if the cardholder spends a certain amount on his or her card each year.

So what about 0% credit cards that don't charge a balance transfer fee? These offers were extremely popular during the pre-financial-meltdown credit boom, but they disappeared as the shockwaves from the 2008 banking crisis rippled through the American economy. "No fee balance transfer" cards still exist, but current offers from reputable banks don't feature the added benefit of a zero percent introductory annual percentage rate (APR) on transferred balances.

When will zero percent intro APR no fee balance transfer cards return to the American market? Nobody can say for sure, but it's a pretty safe bet that they will return eventually. Banks need time to figure out how to make credit cards as profitable as possible without breaking any of the new credit card rules. That might take many months, or even years. Moreover, don't expect these specific offers to return until the American economy is expanding at a decent pace, and sustainably.

Credit cards are still extremely useful financial tools that offer great benefits like purchase protection and cashback rewards. What's true now has always been true about credit cards: pay attention to the terms and conditions before signing on the dotted line, and do your best to avoid finance charges. Competition in the credit card market is still very healthy, so if you don't like the deal your current bank is offering, you can always pass and signup for a card elsewhere.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Is the Discover More Card Still the Best Cash Back Rewards Card in the American Market

Summary: The Discover More card boasts discounts of up to 20% off through participating partners while earning unlimited rewards. Combined with their stellar customer service and built-in perks for being a Discover cardholder, it has never been easier to make your money work for you.

It seems that rewards cards are a dime a dozen these days, but all rewards cards are not created equal. The Discover More card blasts the competition with features like no annual fees, unlimited cash back reward earnings, and rewards that do not expire. Combined with the many different ways to earn and redeem rewards, the Discover More card is continually hailed as the best rewards card out there.

Discover More Card Basics

The fundamentals of the Discover More card look like this: there is absolutely no annual fee. Ever. Which means the money you earn stays in your pocket. In addition, you also get zero percent interest on all purchases for the first six months, and balance transfers for the first year. After the six month period and one year period, respectively, the rate jumps to as low as 11.9% for all purchases which is still below the average 14.9% of other cards. Discover cardholders also get to enjoy a 25-day grace period, five days more than any other card. You can also opt to have an additional card number for all of your online shopping; protecting your real card number in the event someone would get hold of it.

Reward Tiers

Rewards. Everyone loves them. And when you can earn unlimited rewards that do not expire, what could be better? With the Discover More card, you can do this and so much more. This card has a “tiered rebate system;” spend up to $1500 and get 0.25% back. Spending $1500-$3000 will get you 0.50% back, and once your annual expenditures are over $3000 you get a full 1% back on your purchases. There is also a program called “Get More Purchase” that gives you a 5% rebate on any purchase within the categories that rotate quarterly. You must sign up for each quarter’s program, but once you do simply use your card to start earning. This program does have a cap for the 5% reward, but anything over the cap will count toward the up to 1% reward you earn everyday by using your card.

Shop Discover

Built-in to the Discover More card is a shopping portal that can earn you up to a 20% rebate on your purchases with participating partners. Simply sign in and browse through their huge list of partners, such as Best Buy (5% rebate), Foot Locker (10% rebate), PetCo (15% rebate), and Restaurant.com (20% rebate) to earn your rewards. The amount of rewards that you can earn is unlimited, and you can even take the rebates earned and double their value by redeeming them for a gift certificate to over 100 partner stores.

Reward Redemption

Racking up the rewards is nice, but the real fun comes when you redeem them. The Discover More card gives you many different options for getting your rewards. You can redeem them for Discover gift cards or merchandise, or even make a charity donation in $20 increments. Or you can choose cash back via direct deposit or a Discover More account credit in $50 increments. You can always combine the different ways to redeem as long as each redemption type is above the minimum amount (either $20 or $50). It is important to note that although your rewards will never expire, if your account is inactive for 18 months or closed for any reason; your accumulated rewards will forever be lost. The same is true if you are late making two consecutive months payments; your rewards will be lost and reset to zero.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Slate: A New 0% Credit Card from Chase

Slate from Chase
Slate from Chase
The government continues to report positive macroeconomic news. Yesterday, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) released its Purchasing Manager's Index (PMI) for October 2009. The PMI came in at 55.7%, better than what Wall Street economists were expecting, and better than the September figure. For the PMI, any figure above 50% is a strong indication that the American manufacturing sector is expanding.

Though an economic recovery appears to be taking hold, too many Americans are still dealing with various forms of oppressive debt, a home mortgage balance that's higher than their home's value, and job insecurity. In fact, earlier today Johnson & Johnson, a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) and number 29 on the Fortune 500, announced that the company will be cutting 7,000 jobs (that's between 6% - 7% of its workforce.) National unemployment, already at 9.8%, will almost certainly rise during the fourth quarter and into Q1 2010. A jobless economic recovery? Yes: we're in it right now.

The whole world is relieved that the subprime debt-inspired credit crisis, which precipitated the worst recession since the early 1980's, and which brought the American financial system to its knees, has almost run its course. The liquidity maelstrom of 2008 and 2009 prompted the banks which survived the subprime debacle to cutback on all kinds of loans, including credit cards.

But financial markets are on the mend, as evidenced by low LIBOR rates, a healthy TED spread and the return of generous 0% intro APR credit cards.

Credit cards that offer a 0% intro APR period of at least 12 months all but disappeared from the market last year. But they're back. JPMorgan Chase Bank, commonly known simply as Chase, recently revealed a new credit card called Slate. Here are the vitals on Slate:

  • 0% introductory APR on purchases for 12 billing cycles
  • 0% introductory APR on transferred balances for 12 billing cycles
  • Balance transfer fee of 3% of each transaction, with a minimum of $5
  • NB: The 0% intro APR is reserved for those who qualify for "Elite" or "Premium" pricing. Those who can only qualify for "Standard" pricing cannot take advantage of any interest-free introductory period with this particular card.
  • For those who qualify for Elite pricing, the "goto" rate (also known as the ongoing rate) is 13.24% (the U.S. Prime Rate plus 9.99%); for Premium pricing it's 17.24% (Prime plus 13.99%.) For Standard pricing, the introductory and goto rate is 22.24% (Prime plus 18.99%.)

If you have a good FICO® credit score (above 700), you will probably qualify for either Elite or Premium pricing.

Slate is a very timely credit card: it has arrived in time for the fast approaching Christmas shopping season. With Slate, cardholders can do their holiday shopping and have plenty of time (12 billing cycles) to pay their credit card balance down to zero without having to worry about interest charges.

The goto rate with the Slate card, however, is relatively high when compared to consumer-friendly credit card offers that were available before the global credit crisis (likely a direct result of new rules included in the Credit Card Act of 2009.) For the consummate borrower who qualifies for Elite pricing, the rate charged on any balance remaining after the interest-free, introductory period ends is Prime (currently 3.25%) plus 9.99%, which translates to 13.24%.

But the U.S. Prime Rate is as low as it can possibly go. As the economy heats up, it will certainly rises, and it will likely do so at a relatively fast clip as the Fed works to contain future inflation. There is no way of knowing exactly how high the Prime Rate will be a year from now, but if we plug in the median U.S. Prime Rate -- 8.75% -- then we get a rate of 18.74%, which anyone would agree is not consumer-friendly. In fact, any rate above 15% would be too much of a financial burden for the typical credit card consumer.

That's why we recommend Slate for anyone who can pay their balance down to zero over 12 months or so, which shouldn't be that hard to do (no need to go crazy with the Christmas shopping!)

As always, your comments are welcome and appreciated.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mourning the Demise of Three American Express Credit Cards

Blue from American Express: No Longer AvailableAs a credit card bank, we like American Express a lot. Why? Because the company consistently offers excellent customer service, and their cards typically have very consumer-friendly terms and conditions associated with them (this report says it all.)

So we are sorry to report that three popular American Express cards are no longer available. The cards are:

  • Blue from American Express®

  • Blue Cash® from American Express

  • Blue Sky from American Express®

These cards were great, because they each offered 0% intro APR on new purchases for 12 months, and each featured a generous rewards program. Introductory balance transfers were not free (2.99% for 12 months) but, on the plus side, you didn't have to pay a balance transfer transaction fee.

These cards may return, but there's no way of knowing if or when.

There are still two Amex cards to which you can transfer a credit card balance and pay no balance transfer fee. These are:

  • The TrueEarnings® Credit Card from Costco and American Express, which offers:

    • An introductory balance transfer APR of 1.99% for the first 6 months of Cardmembership, as long as the transferred balances post to your account during the first 30 days of Cardmembership and

    • 0% Introductory APR for Purchases for the first 3 months of Cardmembership.

    • The TrueEarnings® Credit Card from Costco and American ExpressClick here




  • The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, which offers:

    • An introductory balance transfer APR of 2.9% for the first 6 months of Cardmembership, as long as the transferred balances post to your account during the first 30 days of Cardmembership and

    • 2.9% Introductory APR for Purchases for the first 3 months of Cardmembership.

    • Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American ExpressClick here

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bad Credit, No Credit - Big Problem

credit card“Bad credit, no credit - NO PROBLEM”. Have you ever heard that catch phrase on a TV commercial or seen it on a billboard? Used car salesmen and sub-prime mortgage lenders have practically burned that slogan into the psyche of working class and young America. Of course, we know that potential financiers use such tactics to woo customers into signing for what many would call bad loans, but the reality is that bad credit really is a problem. It can be extremely hard to make ends meet without any credit cushion at all, and the current state of the economy is only making matters worse. Although Congress agreed to a $700 billion bailout plan for America’s largest commercial banks, these lending institutions are actually lending less, not more. The reins have been pulled in tighter, and it is nearly impossible to get a decent loan these days, even for applicants with good credit.

So what do those with bad credit and no credit do?

If you search diligently enough, you can find credit cards designed for people with bad credit. The idea is to approve you for a very low credit limit to help you rebuild your credit. As you pay off your balances on time and develop a positive history, you can qualify for credit increases. It sounds like a good option for starting over - until you read the fine print. The following video highlights the terms and conditions on one of these cards and it will shock you to learn just how terrible a deal this is!



If that kind of card was your only credit option, you would be in pretty bad shape.

The good news is that such a poor deal isn’t your only option. If you have bad credit or no credit at all, consider applying for the Discover More credit card. Discover More offers 0% intro APR on balance transfers and new purchases, and a 5% cash back reward that tops just about all competitors. Because the credit card industry has trained consumers to believe that exclusivity is a sign of quality, many people have been led to believe that Discover is somehow a sub par credit option. The hit prime-time cartoon series Family Guy has even poked fun at Discover.


What’s not funny, however, is applying for credit from one of the more “exclusive” companies and being rejected. Rejection doesn’t just hurt your ego; it hurts your credit rating, too. So, although Peter Griffin had a good time delivering the bad news to that potential patron, it’s actually good news for you. If your credit rating declares you to be just “anybody”, then you may actually have a good way to help rebuild your credit with the Discover More card.

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Sunday, September 30, 2007

I Paid A Fee, Willingly, for Transferring A Credit-Card Balance

Balance Transfer Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
For obvious reasons, the most popular credit cards recommended at this site are those which offer a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for at least 6 months and don't charge a fee for transferring balances. So you may find it surprising that recently, I willingly paid a fee to transfer a balance, even though I could have easily qualified for a quality credit card that doesn't charge a fee for the privilege.

The reason I willingly paid a fee? Because, in my situation, it was worth it.

My business credit card debt was a bit high for my tastes (~$7,000) and, even though I could have paid the balance down to zero within 2 billing cycles, I wasn't interested in using up a large percentage of my free cash to clear the debt. The best solution, I thought, was to transfer the balance to a new business credit card with an attractive balance transfer offer and the best possible, fixed "goto" rate, then pay down the balance over 4 or 5 billing cycles.

I chose to transfer my business credit card balance to the Chase Premier Cash Rebate card, and I did so via an unsolicited offer I received in the mail! Critical offer details were:

  • 0% Intro APR on new purchases, balance transfers and balance transfer checks for 12 months.
  • Purchase APR (the "goto" rate) of 9.99% fixed.
  • Balance transfer fee: 3% of transaction, with a minimum of $5 and a maximum of $99.

Here's why I chose this card:

  • I've been yearning for a business credit card with a low and fixed interest rate (my idea of low is below 10% APR) for many years now. I like business credit cards because they afford me an attractive level of anonymity when I do business and shop online, and because they really do a great job of building the credit rating of my business. I applied for a similar Chase business credit card about 2 years ago, and that application was rejected even though my personal and business credit rating was good. I was disappointed, but not totally surprised by the rejection, because banks are very careful when it comes to business credit cards (unsecured debt) that have a very competitive interest rate.
  • Even though I really don't like the idea of responding to unsolicited mail (the idea is anathema to me, almost as bad as responding to a spam email message, in my opinion), I had to make an exception for this card. As soon as I received the latest iteration of this particular offer (I get unsolicited business credit card offer from Chase about once per month!) I scoured the Internet to see if I could find the same deal online. I failed. The lowest goto APR for a Chase business card I could find online was 11%, and that was variable. I already have a business credit card from both Citi and Bank of America. I used to have a Capital One Business credit card, but I canceled it long ago because the credit line was wimpy ($500) and they wouldn't increase it. The Advanta Platinum Business Card with Rewards Options card was very, very tempting, with a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 16 months, and a goto APR of Prime minus 0.26%, but the goto APR is variable, and there's no 0% intro APR for new purchases.

    Bottom line: big credit card companies often reserve the very best offers for the solicitations they send out to well-qualified, prescreened consumers.

    Actually, what I hate most about those wasteful credit card solicitations is the fact that they are the reason why identity theft is so prevalent these days. Many banks like to cast a very wide net so as to generate as much business as they can, but this tactic ends up making it easy for the crooks to get hold of our sensitive information. You can elect to opt out, of course, but I choose not to, because these offers are often the best deals around. So, yeah: I have a true love/hate relationship with unsolicited credit card offers. Of course, I have a very powerful and efficient shredder, so I can shred all the discarded offers 10 at a time.

    I sometimes wonder: if my mailbox was on the street and easy to access, would I be wrestling with a serious identity theft situation right now? It's the stuff of nightmares!
  • After years of taking advantage of 0% deals in my never-ending quest to pay as little interest as possible, I now find myself loaded up with more personal credit cards than I need, and I don't want to add another personal card to my collection. Furthermore, canceling one or more of them would likely cause my personal credit score to drop, and I don't want that. I've worked hard to eliminate my personal credit card debt and simultaneously get my credit score to a happy place (my TransUnion score is 813 now) and I don't want to do anything to mess it up (I'm planning on buying some property in the not-too-distant future.)

So, as of right now, and thanks to a recent credit line increase on my Citi® Business card, I have $40,000 of unsecured credit available to me for business spending. Furthermore, I now have a business card with a low, fixed APR that I can use for all my temporary financing needs. So I am quite pleased...for now. Depending on how things go, I may signup for that sexy Advanta card in the future.

If you like 0% offers, then check out those unsolicited snail-mail offers at least once in a while. And make sure you have a good shredder.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Balance Transfer First For Me: From One Business Credit Card to Another

A balance transfer first for me: I decided to take advantage of a 0% APR balance transfer offer to transfer my entire CitiBusiness® Platinum Select business credit card balance (about $4,000 ) to a new Bank of America Platinum Visa® business credit card.

After receiving the solicitation in the mail yesterday, I applied for the Bank of America card online, and I was approved for a $15,000 credit line--plenty of breathing room, so I don't have to worry about looking "maxed out" after transferring my Citibank balance.

What a great country: in a matters of seconds, I've eliminated interest charges on my entire business-related debt until December, 2006. Me likey'! And if all goes well, I may be able to pay off the entire transferred balance by December. Wish me luck!

Don't get the wrong idea here: I'm not transferring my CitiBusiness credit card balance because of problems with the card--no, I'm only doing it to save on interest charges, plain and simple. If you are in the market for a new business credit card, you should check out the CitiBusiness® Platinum Select credit card. I've had mine for years, and I've been very happy with it. And right now, you can get 0% APR on balance transfers for 12 months with the CitiBusiness® Platinum Select® card (of course, I'm not eligible to take advantage of this great offer since I already have a CitiBusiness® Platinum Select card in my wallet.)

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Latest Citibank Offer: 2.99% APR Until Transferred Balances Are Paid In Full!

Sometimes, this credit card balance transfer game can get very, very frustrating.

Today, I received balance transfer offer in the mail from Citibank: 2.99% APR until transferred balances are paid in full! A fantastic offer, considering the fact that the current U.S. prime rate is 7.25%, and will probably be going up next week. But I don't think I'll be able to take advantage of this offer, darn it (read on for the reason why.)

In the letter I received today, Citibank refers to itself as a "responsible lender," and to be perfectly honest I agree with that. The last time I took advantage of a Citibank balance transfer offer, the folks @ Citibank were gracious enough to raise my credit limit by a considerable amount, so that even when the transferred balance was added to my current account balance, the resulting balance was still less than half my credit limit, which looks great on a credit report (creditors don't like to see an account that's maxed out or close to being maxed out.)

OK, now for the bad news: I recently transferred a considerable amount to the very same credit card account that is associated with the above balance transfer offer. The deal was very similar to the above, except that the offered APR was 3.99% until the transferred balance is paid off. So now that I've transferred all the balances I wanted to transfer with the original 3.99% offer, I am now faced with a new offer that has an APR that is 1 percentage point lower.

Is the 1 percentage point a big deal? Sure it is! When you are dealing with many thousands of dollars, a single percentage point can translate to hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars in savings in the long term, no doubt!

So I guess I have 2 options:

  1. Call Citibank and see if they'll drop the APR on the balance I transferred from 3.99% to 2.99% (or maybe I should try for 1.99%! The worst that can happen is they'll say "no.")
  2. Transfers my current Citibank balance away from Citibank, wait a few weeks, then transfer it back with the superior 2.99% balance transfer offer.

Makes sense for me to try the phone call first, but I am not very optimistic about option 1's chances. Wish me luck!

Please feel free to post comments about your own credit card balance transfer triumphs, pitfalls, anecdotes, etc. Your comments are welcome and appreciated!

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Balance Transfer Alert: Washington Mutual Bank Merges with Providian National Bank

I received a letter today with the news: Washington Mutual (Wamu) is taking over Providian National Bank. This news has significance for anyone planning on taking advantage of a 0% balance transfer offer from either Washington Mutual or Providian, because, as you probably know from caveat #5 on the credit card balance transfer homepage, any balance transfer request made between two credit card brands that are owned by the same bank will almost certainly result in a rejection letter (and any type of credit card related rejection doesn't look good on your credit report.) So, in accordance with today's news, you shouldn't try to perform a balance transfer between any credit card owned by Providian and any card owned by Washington Mutual (and vice versa, of course.)

Earlier this year, Bank of America took control of MBNA, so you shouldn't try to transfer balances between credit cards owned by these two banks as well.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Read Those Balance Transfer Details Carefully: Not All Balance Transfer Deals Are The Same...

Over the past year or so, I've been coming across consumer complaints about the customer service provided by MBNA for their credit card account holders. Yesterday, I found a complaint on the complaints.com website, posted by a gentleman in Wyoming, about an MBNA credit card balance transfer deal that didn't go well. Basically, MBNA imposed a balance transfer fee of $75 on this gentleman's transferred balance, but, instead of posting the transfer fee after the interest-free period ends, MBNA posted the $75 charge to his account right away! I can understand why this gentleman was angry: charging a balance transfer fee to an account right away is not standard practice, and it can translate to some nasty fees being charged each and every month.

The situation described above can be particularly vexing because, as you might already know, many credit card companies will apply your monthly installment payments to your transferred balance(s) first. This means that any new purchases (which sometimes includes fees) will be subject to interest charges (unless you were able to secure a superior balance transfer offer that charges no interest on balance transfers, cash advances and new purchases.) So if, for example, you were to transfer $5,000 to a new credit card via a balance transfer deal, and the deal included a balance transfer fee of $75, then you may find yourself paying interest on that $75 right "off the bat." And because installment payments are applied to transferred balances first, the only way to stop those monthly interest charges from being charged as a result of that $75 fee would be to payoff the entire credit card balance in full--including the $5,000 you transferred! Credit card companies know that most folks can't afford to pay off their entire account balance whenever they please, so this is just another way for them to profit off of your debt.

I personally learned a hard lesson early in 2004, when I transferred a balance to a credit card account that had already been open for some time, but was offering an attractive 0% balance transfer deal (at that time, I owed nothing on that credit card, and the "go to" rate for this deal was a very reasonable 7.9%.) I transferred a relatively large balance, and everything was going great for the first 2 months, until I noticed that I was suddenly and unexpectedly being charged $1.50 in interest. You may be thinking that $1.50 is no big deal, but to me, a 0% deal should be just that: 0%! When I called my credit card company to find out why I was being charged interest, they told me that I had made a $35 purchase on my credit card that month, and that new purchases were subject to interest charges. This didn't make any sense to me, as I had avoided using this particular credit card for new purchases, knowing full well that I would get slammed with interest charges if I did. Well, I was in fact "in the wrong," as I later discovered that the $35 purchase was an automatic payment made to EZ Pass (EZ Pass is a system that gets you through highway tolls very quickly; instead of waiting in long lines to pay highway tolls by cash, you get to zip through tolls, paying with a EZ Pass electronic tag.) I had totally forgotten that I had used this particular credit card for automatic billing, and got snagged!

So, you balance transfer surfers: read those details thoroughly! Credit card companies are starting to get tired of losing profits with all the zero percent balance transfer offers they've been "forced" to offer ("forced" in order to remain competitive within the market.) Many are starting to charge balance transfer fees of around 2-3% with a ceiling of $75. Of course, even with a $75 fee, a balance transfer can still be a great deal for anyone carrying large credit card balances, but make sure you find out when and how those fees will be charged.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Business Owners Should Be Aware of Balance Transfer Scam

If you are a business owner, you need to know about a scam that uses a hard-to-resist balance transfer offer to get a hold of your business bank account number and siphon funds from your account. Details below:

The scammer calls a business on the phone and tries to obtain the business's checking account number. Sometimes, the scammer will pose as a "New Accounts Executive" for a phony bank credit card company and offer an unbelievable interest rate and repayment terms for any balance transfer from another credit card. And, being exceptionally helpful, the scammer just wants one minute of your time to verify some basic information over the phone to complete the "pre-approved" credit application.

Of course, one of the pieces of "basic information" that's needed is the business’s checking account number.

The object of this phone scam is to obtain your business's checking account number so the scammer can start writing "demand drafts" payable against your checking account. But no one but you can write a check against your own checking account, right? Wrong! Unfortunately, demand drafts don't require a signature, and when your bank receives the draft with a "valid" checking account number on it, it must honor the draft. You only discover the scam if you closely examine your monthly bank statement.

But that's not all! To avoid getting caught, most of the phony demand drafts are written for very small amounts of money, making it less likely that anyone will notice the monthly amount being withdrawn from the account. While being "nicked" for, say, $4.23 a month may not seem like a lot of money to some, $4.23 times hundreds or even thousands of business bank accounts can provide a very lucrative and illegal income to the scammer.

What to Do: Although it may take some time, be sure that you or your bookkeeper thoroughly review and reconcile each of your company's bank statements each month. If you find any unverifiable debits that can't be reconciled, immediately call and then notify your bank in writing of the suspicious charge

The above quoted text is part of a longer MSNBC story that you can read by clicking here.

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