New Credit Laws: Tactics the Credit Card Companies are Using to Charge You More
When the new credit card laws went into effect in late August, it was seen as a good first step to creating fair credit terms for all consumers. While this is still the case, many individuals may be facing higher payments than they were under the old laws. This is due to changes the credit card companies have made in an effort to reduce potential losses due to the new regulations. If you’ve been hit with any of the following tactics, there are a few things you can do to help improve or maintain your credit scores.
Last Minute Interest Rate Hikes – Many credit card companies sent out notifications detailing higher interest rates and other terms in advance of the new credit card laws. Some of these notifications may be confusing to consumers, due to the fact that the listed changes may not take effect for several months. Here’s the bottom line: if you received a notice of a change to your credit card’s terms before August 20th, you only have 15 days to opt out, even if the proposed changes don’t take effect until months later. Don’t wait to take action, and be sure to read the fine print in order to avoid having your account closed, or assessed additional fees.
Changes to Minimum Payments – Some credit card companies are also raising the amount you have to pay each month if you carry a balance – up to 5% from the typical 2-2.5% seen in years past. While you can’t always opt out of these changes, in some cases you may have the option to write in and retain your old rates. Be careful with this option, however, as some companies will close your account if you opt out of their new terms.
Increased Penalties for Late-fees and Over-limit Fees – While these types of penalties are easy to avoid if you pay your bills on time and stay within budget, credit card companies are also reducing consumers’ credit limits without providing any notice. Because the credit card companies aren’t required to inform you about changes to your credit limit, you could rack up over-the-limit fees without realizing it until your statement arrives in the mail. Your best defense against this is to sign up for alerts that will let you know when you are approaching your limit, coupled with regular vigilance through online access or customer service, so that you always know your limit before you go shopping.
Another way to avoid paying extra: Opt out of over-limit purchasing altogether. Companies are now required to allow you to do this, but you will have your credit card declined for any purchase if that purchase would take you over the limit. If you typically keep your balances low, but aren’t sure about your credit limit, this is one way to avoid getting hit with additional fees.
Most credit card companies allow for automatic payment of your bill, either in full or the minimum balance, monthly. By taking advantage of these programs, you can eliminate the chance that you’ll be charged a late-payment fee on your accounts as well. Just keep track of your due dates and be certain that you have the funds readily available to cover the automatic bank draft, or you could wind up paying just as much, or more, in overdraft fees from your bank.