Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Consumers Are Dealt a New Hand in Credit Cards



The New York Times - At first glance, the sweeping credit card legislation that passed the Senate on Tuesday looks like a huge victory for consumers. The bill, after all, contains relief from penalty fees and certain interest rate spikes.

But for people who pay off their bills each month, and milk the card rewards programs for everything they’re worth, there is some cause for concern.

For months now, the card companies have been threatening to cut rewards programs sharply to make up for revenue lost because of the new restrictions.

My guess, however, is that this talk is just so much saber-rattling.

Card companies want to make money, and big spenders help them do it, even if those cardholders do not go into debt.

First, let’s lay out the things we know will change because of the new legislation. The bill is chock-full of new rules, which will take effect at various points in the year after President Obama signs the final legislation.

¶There are new restrictions on when card companies can increase the interest rate on balances you’ve already run up. The bill says that banks generally must wait until you’re 60 days late in making the minimum payment before applying a penalty interest rate to your existing debt.

¶Card companies will have to give 45 days’ notice before raising their interest rates. There’s also a notice requirement for any significant change to a card’s terms, which may keep companies from surprising customers who have been saving their loyalty points for years with huge alterations in rewards programs.

¶Banks must send out your bill no later than 21 days before the due date. They cannot send it with, say, 14 days to go, hoping that you won’t get a check to the bank in time to avoid a late fee.

¶If the card company gets your payment by 5 p.m. on the due date, it’s on time, according to the new rules. No more of this early morning deadline nonsense, which led to late fees for payments that arrived with the afternoon mail. Also, no more late fees if the due date is a Sunday or holiday and your payment doesn’t arrive until a day later.

¶Let’s say you’re paying different interest rates on the debt on a single card — one for a cash advance, another for a balance transfer and a third for new purchases. Now, when you make a payment over the minimum balance, banks will have to apply it to the highest-interest debt first. I bet you can guess how some banks used to handle this sort of situation.

¶Banks will need your permission before allowing you the “privilege” of spending more than your credit limit and paying a fat $39 fee for that privilege. The card companies should be ashamed that they needed a law to make this “opt in” requirement a reality.

¶If you’re a student, it will become harder to get a credit card. No one under 21 can have a card unless a parent, legal guardian or spouse is the primary cardholder. Students with their own income can submit proof and ask for an exception to the co-signer requirement. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/20/your-money/20money.html

Credit vs. Debit: http://topics.nytimes.com/your-money/credit/credit-and-debit-cards/index.html?scp=1-spot&sq=credit%20card&st=cse

Video:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/20/your-money/20money.html

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