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Credit card companies claim the amount of interest and fees they charge are based on the level of risk they take when extending credit to an individual. Risk is determined by an individual’s credit history and credit score. According to a study conducted by the Center for Responsible Lending, late fees applied by credit card companies seem to have more to do with the card issuer itself than a cardholders risk of defaulting.
The study showed there are generally two factors that impact the amount of late fees charged by a credit card issuer: the type of credit card issuer and the level of aggressiveness the company uses.
Type of Credit Card Issuer: The study indicates that the type of institution extending credit plays a large role in the amount charged for late fees. Credit union late fees are generally about half the amount charged by banks, with credit unions charging $20 for a late payment compared to a standard credit cards’ $39 late fee.
Aggressiveness Level of Company: the most aggressive credit card lenders charge higher late fees than less-aggressive lenders. If a bank is sending you notice after notice about their promotional offers are the same credit card issuers that will charge the highest late fees and use more aggressive collection practices.
Choosing a Credit Card
If you’re looking for a credit card but want to avoid high late fees in the event you make a payment late every now and then, you’ll want to take a look at how the credit card issuer you’re considering solicits customers. The more aggressive they are, the more likely they are to charge excessive late fees. Compare the credit card policies of various cards before choosing a card.
The following tips are provided by Western Union‘s Steve Kramer. Steve has more than 20 years of payment experience, is currently the Vice President of Electronic Payment at Western Union, and offers results-focused, actionable tips that enable consumers to improve their credit scores and get their financial lives back on track.
Here’s what you can do to increase your credit score over the next 12 months, according to Steve Kramer:
1. Think before you buy: If an item is on sale but takes two years with interest to pay it off, it is a ‘deal’ worth passing on.
2. Do not max out credit cards: Credit scores take into account just how much credit you have available, so it’s important not to max out your credit card balances; make an effort to keep balances low.
3. Pay bills on time: This is crucial to maintaining good credit for the long-term. Take advantage of a same-day payment option to ensure just-in-time payments to billers and creditors.
4. Do not apply for new credit cards: It’s tempting to open up a new credit card while out shopping but avoid it. New open credit may decrease your credit score. Also, every credit inquiry from a finance company decreases your score by points.
5. Thaw your frozen cards every spring: Many people put their credit cards in the freezer to keep from using them all the time. Don’t forget about those old credit cards. When you stop using a card, issuers may stop updating the account with credit bureaus, or worse, close down the account altogether. It’s good to use those accounts, at least occasionally, for a small necessary purchase – then they go back in the freezer for another year.
6. Check your credit report: Check your report regularly and take steps, immediately, to dispute discrepancies. Make corrections a top priority. Consumers are entitled to one free report a year, under federal law, at AnnualCreditReport.com. Don’t sign up for a credit monitoring service.
7. Stay knowledgeable: knowledge is your credit power. Stay informed about the interest rates on your cards and remember the key components you control that influence your credit score, including – number of open credit accounts, balances on those accounts, timely payment record, how many cards are ‘maxed out’, whether you rent or own your home, how long you have been using credit.
When you use a debit card to shop, should you pay the debit card fees or should it be left to the merchant? There is a provision in a Senate financial regulatory reform bill which would put limitations on the amount of debit card fees that merchants are required to pay. Lobbyists are defending the current system, and the average consumer doesn’t have a clue which team to root for.
Retailers asked for an amendment of interchange fee regulation. They said the increasing costs of fees associated with customer debit-card use makes it necessary. A supermarket trade group claims Visa’s debit card transaction fees for debit card use in grocery stores increased 30% in April.
Illinois Senator Richard Durbin created an amendment that would result in interchange fees having to be “reasonable and proportional to the actual cost incurred by the issuer or payment card network with respect to the transaction”, and would be regulated by the Federal Reserve. The fate of this amendment lies with the House-Senate committee with the financial regulatory bill.
People who are not in support of Durbin’s amendment feel consumers would be hurt through this change. Banks would offer smaller rewards programs, or end up charging higher fees to consumers for using their debit cards.
If you’re finding it difficult to keep up with your credit card payments, you should know most of the credit card companies are willing to work with cardholders. Each company has it’s own method of modifying your credit card payment plan, but here are some examples of what you might be able to do if you talk with your credit card companies:
Lower Interest Rates and No Late Fees
Many credit cards will temporarily offer you a lower interest rate with no late fees to help you get back on your feet. This will allow more of your monthly payment to go toward principal balance and less toward interest. To avoid late fees, the credit card company will likely require that the payments are made automatically through your checking or savings account.
Lower Minimum Payment and No Late Fees
Some cards will temporarily offer a lower minimum payment. Usually, if you send less than the minimum payment you’ll get hit with finance charges and late fees because it’s considered unpaid. On an alternate repayment plan, you can send a lower minimum payment without fear of getting socked with fees. The temporary lower payment is good for six months or twelve months, depending on the company who sets it up for you. If you get this option, they may also require that your payments are made automatically through your checking or savings account.
Credit Card Settlement
In some cases, people with high credit card debt might want to consider settling the debt. Credit card companies will often accept an amount of money that is smaller than the total balance owed to close the account and considered it paid off, if they feel you are in danger of bankruptcy. If you file bankruptcy, often the credit card companies won’t get anything from you at all, so it’s in their best interest to agree to settle the account. In order to settle though, you usually need to have the money available up front to pay it off as soon as they agree to your settlement amount. You can no longer make payments – you just have to pay the amount in full to close the credit card account. This option has a negative affect on your credit score usually, although some people find that simply removing large amounts of debts from their credit report through settlements ends up helping their credit scores.
With an economy in turmoil, a large percentage of people are no longer qualifying for traditional credit cards. Even those who can qualify are trying to stay away from more traditional credit cards to reduce their personal expenses and debts. Rather than throw your hands up in the air and say there’s nothing you can do, here’s a look at a few alternatives to credit cards that may help you get back on your feet financially.
Credit Union Credit Cards
Studies have shown that credit cards issued through credit unions are far less likely to charge high fees and penalties often charged by banks. They have lower annual fees and longer grace periods to pay your monthly bill than a regular credit card, too.
Not everyone can qualify for a credit union membership or for a credit union issued credit card, but it’s definitely something to consider before signing on the dotted line of a regular credit card.
To find a credit union near you, go to creditunion.coop. The Credit Union National Association can help you find a credit union by calling (800) 358-5710.
Prepaid Credit Cards
On a prepaid card, you deposit the money onto the card and use it until you’ve run out. It’s much like a debit card. There are no interest charges on purchases since you’ve pre-paid for them and you won’t receive any billing statements in the mail.
Prepaid credit cards are not without fees, however. When you first set up the card, you may pay about $10 to open the account. Some prepaid cards charge monthly maintenance fees, transaction fees and then fees each time you put additional money on the card. Most prepaid cards do not report use to the credit reporting agencies, so it’s not even going to help rebuild your credit score.
Prepaid cards are a decent option for someone who needs a card with a Visa or Mastercard logo on it to make a purchase online, by phone, or to rent a car for example – but they’re probably not your best financial option for an all-the-time card.
Secured Credit Cards
To get a secured credit card, you make a deposit to the bank issuing the card – typically between $500 and $1000. Secured cards offer limited credit lines, but they do report your payments to credit reporting agencies which means they will help you re-establish your credit score.
If you have a credit card, there’s a good chance you’ve been asked if you would like to add credit card insurance. Sometimes it’s offered when you first sign up for the credit card, sometimes it’s when you call the number on the card or visit the website to activate the card, or sometimes it’s by a telemarketer. Most of the time, the insurance coverage is offered for a free trial, for 30 or 60 days, which will continue unless you cancel it.
Credit card insurance is meant to cover your monthly minimum payment in case you lose income from illness or job loss, or to pay your balance in full if you should die. Credit card insurance coverage sounds good in theory, but there have been many people who have reported trying to put a claim in for insurance coverage when they’ve lost their job who discovered their job loss wasn’t eligible for coverage. Others tried obtaining insurance coverage when they became too ill to work, and discovered their illness wasn’t covered. If you are considering card protection insurance coverage – first make sure it covers what you think it covers! Additionally, most insurance plans will not cover job loss for self-employed individuals, so if you are self-employed – better check on this before purchasing.
Most people have disability insurance and/or life insurance which will cover your credit card payments, which makes having a separate credit card protection insurance policy unnecessary. If you don’t have a disability insurance or life insurance policy – you may want to look at these options prior to signing up for credit card insurance, as you may find you get more coverage for your money through those options.
Credit card protection insurance only covers you for one credit card – so if you have multiple cards you would need to sign up and pay for it on each card. The typical price is around $0.89 per $100 you spent each month. It may not sound like a lot, but can add up to thousands of dollars over the years.
If you already have protection insurance and you want to cancel, be prepared to speak with a pushy sales person. They will try to convince you that the product offers so many benefits that you are crazy to cancel, but if you’ve made your decision to cancel simply be firm and demand that they stop billing your account immediately and cancel the coverage. Most people aren’t even aware they have insurance protection, but you can see it listed on your statement if you’re being charged for it.
The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure act, which passed in May 2009, was supposed to protect the general public from high interest rates and irresponsible acts made within the credit industry – as well as allow the government to better regulate this side of banking.
We have seen many positive things come from the legislation, but only a year later many card issuers have found loop holes to pass their higher costs on to customers, according to an article on the Wall Street Journal.
The main protection the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act provides the public is from credit card companies raising interest rates on existing accounts, and on accounts that are in their first year of being opened.
Some examples of loop holes being used by credit card issuers:
JP Morgan’s Chase raises the minimum payments from 2% to 5% of the balance. The law affects how much they can raise interest rates, but there is no such provision to protect the minimum payments.
First Premier Bank charges $95 dollars for processing fees, before the account is even opened. First Premier Bank offers credit to individuals with less than perfect credit scores and histories.
Citibank increased some of their customers’ interest rates before they made a late payment, and then offered a partial refund of finance charges if the customer paid their bill on time. This gets Citibank around the law of not being able to raise customer’s interest rates due to making late payments.
Another popular ploy is to charge high processing or annual fees when opening a new card. For instance many cards will offer you a $300 spending limit, and a $75 annual fee. Again the law doesn’t specifically protect you from this action, because it does not affect the interest rate. Many banks are using this method to pass some of the costs to you.
In August, it is expected that the Federal Reserve will release a new set of rules affecting the credit card industry that address a provision that would require card penalties to be proportional to a company’s actual costs, as well as require that card companies evaluate interest rates for customers who previous saw interest rate increases every six months.
Credit card companies are on the hunt again, looking for new customers and using tantalizing cash back reward programs as bait. In this rough economy anything laced with money seems like a good idea. With careful consideration, planning and acknowledgment of the new rules that come with the new cash back, you can use this system to your advantage.
Basically speaking, when credit card companies are talking about cash back rewards, they are saying that they will give you back a percentage of what you spend on certain things. For instance, Discovery card gives a 5% cash back reward on fashion shopping. Lets say you make a $400 purchase: At 5% you get $20 back for buying things you were going to buy anyway. Typically speaking Discovery card actually rotates what goods are available for rewards, but generally rotates between gas, fashion items, and amusement park tickets.
Many credit cards are making new rules to tie with these cash rewards, so be aware. If you pay late even once, you risk any and all rewards you accrued up until that point in time, though some will offer reinstatement fees to get you back into the rewards program. Many have annuals charges, or spending caps that make you eligible, for instance they may require a certain amount spent before its eligible for cash back. Some companies are even limiting what stores qualify for rewards. So if you’re applying for a card with cash back rewards make sure you understand all the terms and conditions, and any penalties that may come up.
There are some things you can do to kind of get an edge on these programs. First and foremost, understand your contract, including penalties for late payments and spending requirements to remain eligible for rewards. Pay on time every month to stay eligible. Try not to keep a balance you can’t pay off in a month, especially since the interest rates are high in the double digits now. Keep in mind that many cards have a maximum they will pay out, so spend what you would need to be eligible for rewards, but then not any higher as there is no added incentive to do so. Lastly watch out for expiration dates and changes half way through your program, as changes can happen with out any prior notice, and most companies have a history of doing so.
A bill approved by the U.S. Senate on May 13th will allow merchants to set minimum and maximum transaction amounts for debit card purchases. Previously, you could buy anything with a debit card, regardless of the amount, and for store owners – if the purchase was small, like a pack of gum, it meant paying more in debit card service fees than the profits made on the purchase. With this bill, merchants will be able to set limits to ensure their profitability on debit card purchases.
MasterCard and Visa have been concerned over credit and debit card regulation for a long time. They are credit and debit card processing networks, and don’t receive all of the interchange fees directly, but their revenues do depend on how much people spend on their cards. If merchants restrict purchases, they fear they will experience large drops in revenues as people will be less likely to use their cards.
MasterCard is determined to fight this bill until it is finalized into law. While the bill isn’t restricting the amount Visa or MasterCard can charge in interchange fees to merchants on credit card purchases, they’re concerned that the regulation on debit transactions will open the door to more regulation in the future.
“MasterCard U.S President McWilton said in a speech earlier on Sunday that MasterCard was “very concerned” about the amendment and “working very hard to make sure” that it would not be attached to the final financial regulation bill.”
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