Don’t let them fool you. All those solicitations you receive in the mail for credit card applications are meant to reel you in and hook you. Big time. In addition, new bankruptcy laws in the US and higher monthly minimum payment requirements are in place to help stem defaults on loans and to force consumers to pay down debt quicker. All of this sounds great, but credit card companies want to keep you in debt as long as possible. Please read on for all the stimulating details.
If you have had problems in the past paying down debt, do not think for a moment that you will have it any easier in the future. Thanks to legislation introduced by Congress and signed by the president earlier in 2005, filing for bankruptcy to escape debt has become more difficult. Much more so. In addition, credit card companies have raised your monthly minimum payment levels, in some cases doubling the minimum amount you must pay. Consider this last step a side issue related to the new bankruptcy legislation; the credit card companies are not legally obligated to raise minimums but they were pressured into doing so in exchange for passage of the new bankruptcy law.
Do not even think for a moment that credit card companies want you to get out of debt.
For starters, credit card rates have been rising steadily for over two years. As the prime rate goes up, your credit card interest rate goes up. Unless, of course, you have a fixed rate and you have been paying your bills on time. However, one late payment and, uh oh, you are in big trouble.
If you are late making a payment, even just once, you will likely be hit with a one time late fee charge of $29 or $39. In addition, that “sweet rate” you negotiated last year may automatically disappear. Zero percent financing can quickly turn into an 18.9% interest rate in no time and enforced retroactively too. Even “lower rate” cards with annual percentage rates of 10%, 12%, or more, can suddenly reflect rates of 24.9%, 29%, 35%, or even higher!
This is all perfectly legal too!
Read your credit card disclosure agreement – as if anyone even bothers to do so – for all the boring details. Exceptions and rules are the name of the game; there is a trap laying wide open for you to step on.
The next area of socking it to you is an old one: annual fees. Yes, they are back; for years, credit card companies — in order to remain competitive — waived annual fees. Originally, it was one small way for them to extract some cash from you: you paid them something every year even if you paid off your card monthly.
If you are like me, the whole concept of charging someone to access credit is absurd. Companies make a mint off of high interest rates as it is; throwing another fee on top of things is both apparent and transparent! Now, annual fees are back. Oh, sure, credit card companies must notify you in writing of these changes before they are put in place, but they certainly hope you won’t cancel your account in response to the “new” fee or that you will forget the notice completely and simply pay the fee. Do they think that we are stupid? I believe so!
There are two other areas where credit card companies attempt to pull a fast one on consumers: your payment due date and payment mailing address.
Your payment due date, which may have been “static” for years, could suddenly have been moved up. This means that if you are used to paying off your Visa card on the 24th of the month, it may suddenly have been moved to the 16th the following month. Without notifying you of the change either!
The address where you send your money may have changed too. Is this a big deal? It certainly is if you mail your payments in. Let’s say that you live in New Jersey and your XYZ Bank card payment goes to a South Hackensack post office. If you mail your payment in five days before the due date, you probably allowed enough time for your payment to get to the bank. Warning: Watch out that their payment address hasn’t suddenly been moved to Ohio. Your next payment will likely end up being late.
Oh, so you pay online? Don’t think that the bank credits your money immediately either. I have seen it take five days for money to electronically leave my checking account and be wired to another bank’s account. The post office moves a live check faster than that!
A moved payment due date and a changed payment address are designed to make your payments late so that the credit card company can charge you a late fee and raise your rates.
This is perfectly legal as well. Is it ethical? Hey, we’re talking about the financial services industry. What else do you expect?
Financial institutions make money off of consumers through interest rates and fee services. Please do not think for a moment that any credit card company has your best interests at heart. They don’t; they are in business to please their shareholders. Get informed and take action when one of these “perfectly legal” practices is pulled on you. You can get fees canceled and have your credit card rate lowered if you complain; back it all up in writing in order to preserve your rights.
A savvy consumer is an informed consumer; learn what tricks credit card companies use and fight back. Annually order free credit reports from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax to make sure that unfavorable reports from creditors have not been unfairly tagged to your record.