Credit Cutbacks: Has Your Limit Been Slashed?
In an effort to minimize potential losses as a result of the new credit card laws that went into effect on August 20th, many credit card companies are slashing credit limits for customers who carry a balance from month to month. This can be true even if you’ve never missed a payment, and have been responsible in paying your other bills on time.
While changes in interest rates require a notice, these reductions to your credit limit can come without warning, leaving many uninformed about the reduced limits until they receive their monthly statement. Reductions of hundreds or thousands of dollars are not uncommon, and can really put a dent in your credit score, regardless of how responsible you are when it comes to making on-time payments each month. What’s worse, you may be hit with over-the-limit fees on newly reduced balances, when your original spending was well-within your old credit limit.
Many consumers are surprised to realize that unlike interest rate changes, changes made to the credit limit can be done at any time, without informing the consumer. This means that even if you have a $1000 credit limit today, there is nothing stopping the credit card company from lowering that limit to $800, or even $500 tomorrow. The only way to stay informed is to check your account information regularly. If your credit card company offers online access to your account, it may be helpful to check your credit limit in this way.
Another option is to set up an alert that will send you an email or text message when you are approaching your credit limit, but this may not be as helpful in terms of saving your credit. Why? The ratio of how much you spend on your cards, versus your available credit limit is a factor in calculating your credit scores. If you wait until you are only a few hundred dollars away from your limit to set an alert, the damage to your credit score may already be done. While you will avoid any sneaky over-limit fees, you won’t be able to prevent the hit to your credit score that comes from over-utilization of available credit.
If one credit card company reduces your balance, others may follow suit as your available-credit-to-debt ratios will now categorize you as a higher risk. While the logical option would seem to be avoiding the use of your credit cards altogether, this choice can backfire, as many credit card companies are actively closing accounts that do not have any activity after a few months. Your best option is to continue using your cards, and pay off the balances each month if at all possible. This will keep you from having an account closed for inactivity, and it will also keep you from being targeted for credit limit reductions due to carrying a balance each month.
While there is no law that requires your credit card company to keep you informed about your credit limit, you can remain informed by keeping a close eye on your balances, either online or via customer service. Don’t let surprise credit limit reductions derail your good credit – set up alerts, check your balance regularly, and pay off as much as you can to avoid unpleasant repercussions.