It's 2010, the year we take charge, so to speak, of our credit cards. In only a couple of months, credit card companies will have to fully abide by the provisions of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act (CARD). Some components of the act have already been in action.
Nevertheless, consumer advocates are expecting a slew of new credit card company tactics to increase, damage and elevate our debt, credit reports and heart rates. This is especially frustrating for those trying to re-establish a sound credit rating after bankruptcy. If more fees and restrictions come into play, it will take that much longer to use a credit card as a reputable credit source. (Remember though, this may not be a bad thing. Charge cards are a good way to use plastic and remain on top of your balance.)
We've discussed several times on the blog how credit issuers have started to counteract the measures by pushing interest rates just enough to not warrant any additional legislation yet get as much as possible from those Americans who already carry a significant monthly balance. For those with solid credit who manage a small balance over multiple cards, lenders have seized credit limits, decreasing what's available and consequently creating marks on credit reports.
(It should be noted that action is underway to prevent those specific initiatives from harming a credit rating.)
Here are a few new methods by which credit card companies will be able to gouge their customers.
- Expect many cards to start charging annual fees. Currently, 80 percent of the available credit cards in the marketplace do not charge an annual fee. For those carrying solid credit ratings, annual charges are rare. Reports are coming in nationwide about some banks delivering notices about annual fees, which can in some cases climb to around $100. Other banks will only charge if you fall below a specific balance, which encourages card holders to not pay off a balance in order to avoid additional costs.
- Your one-time fixed rate card may suddenly shift to a variable rate, leaving you open to rapid jumps in balance. This is actually a byproduct of the law that prevents surprise interest rate hikes. Lenders bypassed it by simply creating credit cards with interest rates that will vary on their own. In other words, your card company isn't deliberately increasing your rate, the market is doing it. Granted, that means your rate can sometimes go down, too. However, take a look at the markets. The Prime Rate is already as low as its been in a long, long time. It's only going up from here.
- While the CARD act will prevent sudden rate hikes on existing cards, it does not address rate limits on new cards. Clearly, you don't have to apply to a high rate card but the practice will make it much more difficult for people to obtain cards and also limit consumer choice.
- Scaring consumer advocates the most is the expected new fee strategy. It is believed that the credit card industry will start assigning fees for an array of membership services and card ownership privileges. You may also see vague charges on your statement, not unlike what's found on most phone bills. For example, keep an eye out for inactivity or minimum balance fees.
Thankfully, consumers' use of credit cards is at its lowest point in more than two decades. And it looks as if it may stay that way.