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New Tricks of the Credit Card Trade

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Last year’s Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act was put into law to improve transparency between credit card companies and consumers, making card issuers not only provide their customers with more notice about increases in their interest rates, but also limiting below-board billing practices that inevitably left many in deep debt. But just months after this historic legislation was enacted to protect Americans, card companies have come up with all-new ways to con their customers.

According to The Wall Street Journal, major card providers from Discover to Citigroup to Chase are working to limit their lost income by working around the new rules—in ways that, in some cases, violate the new Credit Card Act directly—by replacing old, outmoded fees with new ones. As WSJ reporter Jessica Silver-Greenberg wrote this week in her article, “The New Credit Card Tricks,” “[T]he banks are getting aggressive. According to a July 22 report from Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonpartisan research group, the industry's median annual fee on bank credit cards jumped 18% to $59 between July 2009 and March 2010. At credit unions, annual fees soared 67% to $25. During the same period, the median cash-advance and balance-transfer fees jumped by 33%.”

All of these tactics are meant to wipe out a $390 million a year shortfall in card company fee revenue caused by the Credit Card Act, according to David Robertson, the publisher of industry newsletter Nilson Report.  But, as Silver-Greenberg reports, “some banks may be going too far. In a July 7 letter to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates many of the biggest U.S. banks, a coalition of consumer groups including the National Consumer Law Center, the Consumer Federation of America and Consumer Action flagged several "potential violations of the Credit Card Act.”

As a result, consumers must be ever more vigilant, in spite of new protections the Credit Card Act provides.  Things to look out for include:

Late Payment Fees for Sunday or Holiday Due Dates
The Card Act stipulates that late-payment fees shouldn't be triggered on a Sunday or holiday, when there is no mail delivery. This is so debtors won’t be hassled when they make a reasonable payment on the following business day. Unfortunately, card companies, especially ones who allow for online payments seven days a week, are using this as a loophole to charge excessive late fees when debtors don’t pay on the exact due date.

Rebate Card Offers
The Card Act also stipulates that card companies can’t hike rates on existing balances unless a cardholder is at least 60 days late. But, as The Wall Street Journal reports, “there is a creative maneuver around that: the so-called rebate card….Rebate-card offers to some of its customers last fall, offering to refund up to 70% of finance charges when customers pay on time. The problem: Rebate offers aren't governed by the Card Act, and an issuer can revoke them suddenly and hit cardholders with high charges.”

Shortened Billing Cycles
While the Card Act requires companies to provide a window of at least 21 days from when a statement is mailed and when payment is due, it pays to check your statement, as many are finding credit card issuers are being far from compliant, pushing up billing dates and surprising consumers.

In addition to these added credit card costs, the report finds that card companies are reinstating Inactivity Fees, raising Balance-Transfer Fees and pushing for more Minimum Finance Charges.

As everyone now knows, there’s normally a heavy price to pay for playing with plastic. If you too have been effected by the Credit Card Act “fallout” and are wondering how to reduce your credit card debt and get back on track, knowing a qualified bankruptcy attorney can also help you to conquer your creditors and face your financial fears, yielding the right kinds of support, information and insights—at a low cost— for a viable and secure future beyond our own “Great Recession.”  The bankruptcy experts at the Law Offices of John T. Orcutt offer a totally FREE debt consultation and now, more than ever, it’s time to take them up on their offer. Just call toll free to 1-888-234-4181, or during the off hours, you can make your own appointment right online at www.billsbills.com. Simply click on the yellow “FREE Consultation Now” button.

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