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 @

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New Credit Card Rules Going Into Effect On August 22, 2010

Federal Reserve Board: New Credit Card Rules Limiting Fees Going Into Effect on August 22, 2010If you've ever paid a really high late-payment fee, or if you've ever felt like a sucker after reading the terms and conditions associated with a new credit card and realized you accepted an unreasonable fee schedule, then you'll like today's news. On August 22, 2010, the nation's top banking regulator -- the Federal Reserve -- is set to put into place new rules that limit certain credit card fees. For example, credit card banks will no longer be able to charge more than $25 as a late payment fee, while a penalty fee can no longer exceed $20.

Here's a clip from yesterday's Federal Reserve press release:

  • "... Prohibits credit card issuers from charging a penalty fee of more than $25 for paying late or otherwise violating the account's terms unless the consumer has engaged in repeated violations or the issuer can show that a higher fee represents a reasonable proportion of the costs it incurs as a result of violations.
  • Prohibits credit card issuers from charging penalty fees that exceed the dollar amount associated with the consumer's violation. For example, card issuers will no longer be permitted to charge a $39 fee when a consumer is late making a $20 minimum payment. Instead, the fee cannot exceed $20.
  • Bans "inactivity" fees, such as fees based on the consumer's failure to use the account to make new purchases.
  • Prevents issuers from charging multiple penalty fees based on a single late payment or other violation of the account terms.
  • Requires issuers that have increased rates since January 1, 2009 to evaluate whether the reasons for the increase have changed and, if appropriate, to reduce the rate.

The final rule represents the third stage of the Federal Reserve's implementation of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, which was enacted in May 2009. The provisions of the Act addressed in this rule will generally go into effect on August 22, 2010..."

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

One More Reason to Read Those Credit Card Terms and Conditions Carefully

One More Reason to Read Those Credit Card Terms and Conditions CarefullyWe've all heard horror stories about it, and we all dread it. I'm talking about fine print. Many of us fail to read it, or even give it a cursory glance before we sign, or agree to something. I'll tell a story of how fine print can trip a person up, and end up costing them more than they expected.

A little over a year ago, my husband opened a credit account with Bank of America. He received the card in the mail, activated it, and began to use it. I advised him to read the terms and conditions carefully, but with the bravado that's so typical of him, he said that "he didn't have time for fine print". I shrugged, and went about my business, hoping that he wouldn't go too crazy with the credit card, and that we'd be able to pay the balance each month.

Oh, how wrong I was.

We managed to pay the balance for about six months, then he bit off more than he could chew by requesting a cash advance on the card. He found an incredible deal on a classic car that needed restoring, and the owner wanted $2500 for the vehicle. He got the cash, but not before I again told him that he should review the terms on the credit card agreement that referred to the interest rate charged on cash advances (If I recall correctly, the rate was 32%. Steep!). He was in such a rush to get the car that technicalities like that weren't important to him. They soon would become important, however.

The next month we couldn't afford to pay the entire balance, of course. The total owed on the card was $3,100, and after we paid all the necessary bills like rent, car insurance, water, phone, and utilities, we could barely manage to pay the minimum of $150. As times got rougher, we couldn't even bear to pay the minimum. After about five more months of not paying at all, the account went into default and collection efforts were started. My husband received several "courtesy notices" reminding him of the money he owed, and he foolishly continued to disregard them. Then, the efforts got decidedly less friendly.

My husband checked his online banking statement one morning, and he was more than $1,000 overdrawn. He'd written five other checks the week previously, but they didn't add up to what he'd had in the account, which was almost $4,000. Here's a breakdown of what the bounced checks were supposed to pay for.

  • Car insurance. He lost coverage that month, and had to borrow money from his parents to get it reinstated.-The phone bill. Our house was without phone and internet service for a week, until he was able to pay the bill, plus the returned check fee, in cash.
  • Our electricity bill. Luckily I was able to call and get an extension, to avoid having the lights cut off.
  • The water bill. As with the electric company, I was able to negotiate a payment arrangement to avoid losing the water service.
  • The trash collection bill. As that was the smallest bill of the lot, my husband was able to go to the hauling company's local office and pay in cash.

He called the customer service number for Bank of America, and after waiting ten minutes to speak to a representative, he found out why the account was so seriously in the red. Since he hadn't read the fine print on the credit card agreement, he hadn't known that his Bank of America card was linked to his Bank of America checking account- and that after the account went into default, the credit card company could go in and drain his bank account to pay the bill. He was angry and shocked, but it was really his mistake because he didn't bother to read the terms and conditions that went with the card.

After alternately pleading, feigning ignorance, and arguing with the Bank of America credit card customer service rep, he finally negotiated a deal where he'd be partially reimbursed for the money taken out of his checking account. He ended up losing $2,500- the amount of the cash advance he'd gotten. He was still irritated about that, but as I quite rightly pointed out, losing $2,500 is a lot better than losing nearly $4,000. I told him to let that whole experience serve as a lesson and a warning, which, thankfully, he has. He's much more diligent now about reading the fine print on everything.

Always, always read the terms and conditions on any credit card you're about to sign up for. The credit card companies LOVE it when people don't read the fine print, because that means they can slap them with all kinds of late fees, higher interest rates, and other miscellaneous charges. It may not be exactly fair, but it's perfectly legal.

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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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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Credit Card Consumers Are Fed Up with Abusive Terms

Credit cards are great. They allow us to quickly and easily buy the things we want and need in life. They offer excellent protection from fraudulent merchants, Internet scammers and other credit card criminals. Moreover, most credit cards in the American market offer very generous rewards programs, and all you have to do to take advantage is keep your credit score high so as to maximize the odds that your credit card application will be approved.

Besides, who wants to carry huge wads of cash around every day?

Of course, there's a dark side to the credit card industry. Certain banks try to take advantage of both credit worthy and not-so-credit worthy consumers with abusive terms and conditions. Policies like Universal Default, out-of-the-blue credit line decreases and interest rate increases, double-cycle billing and, with regard to balance transfer offers, applying payments to low interest credit card-debt first.

According to a recent press release, American credit card consumers are sick of unfair terms and conditions, and they're pushing the Fed to implement new rules sooner rather than later.

Since the Federal Reserve proposed rules to prohibit unfair practices regarding credit cards, the central bank has been flooded with consumer complaints related to the terms and conditions associated with their credit card accounts. Here's a clip from the release:

"Over 30,000 Consumers Flood the Federal Reserve Board With Complaints About Abusive Credit Card Practices...Huge Public Response Shows Need for Board to Adopt Strong Protections Quickly...

...Angry consumers have deluged the Federal Reserve Board’s public comment system with more than 12,000 personal pleas for reform since banking regulators invited comments on a proposed new rule to curb unfair and deceptive credit card charges. In addition, about 19,000 more Americans have sent form letters urging action since banking regulators proposed the rules on May 2, 2008. The deadline for public comments on the proposal is August 4, 2008.

'The massive response in favor of these reforms shows that Americans are fed up with the many traps and tricks that card companies use to drive up the amount of debt consumers owe,' said Travis B. Plunkett, legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America. 'We urge the Federal Reserve Board to take heed of this overwhelming public reaction by finalizing strong rules to curb credit card abuses by the end of the year.'

The proposed rules will curb a number of unfair practices, including:

• Costly and Unjustified Interest Rate Increases. Credit card companies could no longer charge higher interest rates on balances incurred before a rate increase went into effect, unless the cardholder is more than 30 days late in paying his or her credit card bill.

• Hidden Payment Allocation Methods that Cause Debt to Escalate. Card issuers would be required to more fairly apply the payments that cardholders make to balances with different interest rates. When consumers transfer balances with low, short-term 'teaser' rates (that have higher rates for new purchases), issuers would be required to apply payments first to higher rate debt.

• Interest Charges on Paid Debt. Companies could not use 'double cycle billing,' which requires cardholders to pay interest on debts paid off the previous month during the grace period. 'The time for Americans to act is now if they want their credit card company to treat them better,' said Plunkett. 'Consumers have about two weeks to make their voices heard.' Americans can write the Federal Reserve Board about the proposal by e-mailing directly to and mentioning Docket No. R-1314 in the subject line.

Some examples of recent comments to the Federal Reserve Board include:

'I support reform of credit card rules and regulations…The average consumer cannot afford to have their financial welfare in the hands of the credit card businesses.'
Mary, Borden, IN

'Credit card fees are out of control and the total of all of the penalty fees, plus interest rate increases, does nothing to support the recovery of the economy or of the individual consumers who are struggling in today's economic hard times.'
Kathleen, San Jose, CA

'[They] raised my rate from 6.99% to 15.99% in August 07, for no apparent reason other than they could. In my opinion that's legalized loan sharking. I was fortunate enough to be able to pay it off. Others, I'm sure, aren't so lucky.'
Pryor, Roswell GA

'I think it is abhorrent that I make timely, substantial payments to my credit cards and NOTHING gets put towards my higher interest rate.'
Elissa, Great Neck, NY

'...charging interest on amounts which have been paid during the month should be curtailed. It's ridiculous that paying off the majority of the bill, but leaving a few dollars owed, can cause full interest on the previous month's balance to be levied.'
Ingrid, Loma, CA..."

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