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Don’t Get Played By the Credit Card Companies

Tricks and loopholes that you need to know about

Rules enacted as part of the recent Credit Card Act have made credit cards a little more customer friendly.  Caps on various fees, greater information sharing requirements, and protection from sudden interest rate hikes have, for the most part, been welcomed by the card-carrying public.  Even with these changes, loopholes and pitfalls are still a part of the credit card game.  That means that people need to keep their wits about them when combing the fine print of their card agreement and need to know what issues can still cause problems for them.

Get your credit in order

Don’t want to get played by your credit card company?  Here are some things that you still need to watch out for.

The Credit Card Act of 2009 says that card companies are required to give 45 day notice to customers when they are changing interest rates. However, the language of this rule is tricky.  The new interest will first appear on your statement 45 days after the notice is given.  Credit card companies can start charging you that increased interest rate at the beginning of the period which that statement covers.  Since most statement periods are one month, that means that the increased rates actually start just over two weeks (15 days) after the notice is given – NOT 45 days after it is given. This means that the new, higher rates will apply to any purchases made during the statement period that begins 15 days after the announcement of a rate change.

The number one rule of credit card usage is “don’t be late with your monthly payments.”  People who are more than two statement periods (60 days) late can be hit with higher interest rates.  That almost goes without saying; if you don’t take care of your accounts, you’ll get hit with a rate increase.  But this can be much more serious than it seems because the card company can retroactively charge you the higher “penalty rate” for all purchase that you made when your account was still in good standing.  Your entire remaining balance can be hit with the interest rate increase, which can double the overall amount that you have to pay in the long run.

Interest rate watchers have welcomed the lower rates that have been a side effect of the Credit Card Act.  However, interest rates and fees have not been lowered across the board.  Some unpleasant pitfalls still remain.  Anyone who gets a cash advance will quickly see that the Credit Card Act did not close every loophole.  Serious fees (sometimes a percentage of the amount withdrawn) and higher interest rates are still in place for cash advance transactions on almost all cards.

Credit card companies are not responsible for all the new pitfalls.  Credit card swipe fees are still relatively high.  This means that businesses have to pay a fee to the processing company (Visa or MasterCard, usually) every time that you use your card at their cash register..  Some businesses have  begun to pass this expense on to customers, charging them a “convenience fee” every time that they pay via credit card or debit card.  Certainly not all businesses doing this, but it is becoming more and more common.  You can avoid this by paying with cash when you know that such convenience fees are being charged.

Recent credit card laws have made it easier for people to manage their accounts without being hit by miscellaneous fees.  But loopholes still exist, and credit card users still have to keep their wits about them if they want to avoid any unpleasant surprises from their credit card company.  Of course, like everything else, the credit card market is a free market, so people who are unhappy with their current brand can take their business elsewhere.  Keeping a low balance on your accounts can make it easier to cancel a card (and give it the scissor treatment) and take your business elsewhere.

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About Josh Lew Josh Lew lives in the Midwestern US when he is not traveling. He is a columnist for Gadling and has contributed to Hackwriters and Skive Magazine.

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