CREDIT CARDS: Rules and Fees

Learn about the costs and rules of the card.
What is the annual fee and are there any costs in acquiring the credit card? What is the interest going to be after the initial 90-day teaser interest rate vanishes? What is your credit limit and what is the penalty if you go over the limit? How and when can your interest rate and credit limit be changed? All of this information is located in the fine print section of your credit card agreement and you have an obligation to pay these fees and costs if you accept and use your credit card. These terms and conditions come into effect as soon as you start to use the card. Below is a list of the different fees imposed by credit card companies.

The Annual Fee: Many bank and Travel & Entertainment Cards come with an annual fee of $50 or more. The borrower is charged this fee for the privilege of using this credit card. Some banks will waive this fee if you have outstanding credit or may charge more if your credit is marginal.

Cash Advance Charges: A bank will charge you up to 3% of the amount advanced and at the same time charge rates of up to 20% annually on the amount advanced. As a general rule, credit cards should not be used for cash advances except in the case of an emergency.

Late Payment Fees: Many credit card companies charge late payment fees. Since the date refers to the day of receipt of your check and not the date of postage, you must be certain to get your payment out in a timely fashion to avoid this fee. Remember, this fee will be added to your outstanding balance and interest will be charged on the total amount.

Over-the-Limit Fees: If you carry high credit balances each month and do not pay them, your high credit card interest charges will accrue and could push you over your pre-approved credit limit, prompting the creditor to charge an over-the-limit fee. These fees vary by issuer. Remember, these fees will automatically be added to your existing balance, which will be charged interest.

One Time Fees: These fees are usually assessed to consumers with poor credit and are charged in addition to the annual fee. These fees are charged at the time you apply for the card and can range from $25 to $100 depending on the issuer.

Transaction Fees: These fees are charged by the issuing bank. The charge is usually 50 cents for every transaction you make with their card.

Returned Check Fees: A credit card company will charge you a return check fee for checks that are returned for insufficient funds. You would also be liable to your bank for another fee for writing the bad check. Plan your finances accordingly to avoid these costly fees.

Transfer Fees: If you decide to transfer your existing balance to another credit card company, you may have to pay a transfer fee to your current credit card issuer before your balance can be transferred to the new account. These fees can range from a flat rate of up to $50 or a fixed percentage amount of the balance that is transferred. Understand these costs before you jump from one credit card to another just to get a low introductory credit card rate.

Minimum Finance Charges: Pay off your existing balances each month and, depending on your credit card issuer, you could be charged a fee for paying your balance in full.

Inactivity Fees: These are fees that are charged to your account for inactivity on your account. Not using your credit card could cost you money if this fee is in the contract you signed when you acquired this credit card.

Review your account statements and mailings from your credit card company.
Immediately review these statements and confirm the charges with the receipts for all of your purchases. You should do this to challenge any charges that are incorrect and to guarantee that there are no fraudulent charges being billed to your credit card. There are federal consumer protection rules that assist you in challenging charges with your creditor. To be fully covered by these laws you must send a letter to your creditor within 60 days of the date that the bill was sent to you and document the error on your statement. If such charges continue, stop using the card and close the account.

More importantly, if you have just applied for a credit card and have been approved, you should wait until all of the paperwork arrives from the company to make sure you are fully aware of all of the terms and conditions found in the fine print. If you do not understand all of the information provided to you, talk to the customer service department and get all of your questions answered to your satisfaction before you use the card. Once you use the card, it is implied that you have agreed to all of the rules and you are automatically responsible for any fees and charges.

Keep your original card agreement and any change notices to your account.
This paperwork is your contract, containing all of your terms and conditions for the use of the credit card. These are the only documents you can refer to that will help resolve a problem if a disagreement arises in the future. They will also answer the following procedural questions:
# How to notify your card company if you purchased a product with your card that is defective and the merchant is not be responsive to your needs?
# What is your liability if your card has been fraudulently used?
# How are cash back awards paid out if you cancel before the expiration date?

Considering a New Credit Card?
If you are considering opening a new account you should consider asking these questions while reviewing credit card offers or re-evaluating existing cards:

# Fees: Are there annual fees, late payment fees, overdraw fees for exceeding your credit limit, cash advance fees, or fees for paying off your credit card in full each month? Be aware of transfer fees. They can be costly if you decide to transfer a balance to a new credit card. Can one fee trigger another fee? (i.e. if you are charged an annual fee and it pushes you over your credit limit can the bank charge you the over-the-limit fee?)

# Interest Charges: What is the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) on the card? Is the advertised low introductory rate going to drastically change after several months? What interest rate will you pay on transferred amounts? How will your interest be calculated: average daily balance (most common) or another system that may cost you more? Is there a different interest rate for cash advances than for other uses of the card? Can the interest rate be changed without prior notice, and if so, under what circumstances? (i.e. if you are late on a payment.)

# Grace Periods: Does the lender give you time to send in a payment before interest is charged on your account balance? If so, how long is the grace period and does it apply to new purchases versus old purchases that are still on your account? How many days before the due date will the lender give you before imposing a fee for a late payment?

# Miscellaneous: What is your credit limit and what are the restrictions on the credit card freebies such as frequent flier miles, cash rebates or other bonuses? What is the company policy on sharing or selling information about you to other companies or charities that might want to contact you? Can you “opt out” if you do not want this information provided to anyone else?