What the Credit Card Companies Don’t Want You To Know

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I’m not one of those people who thinks that credit card companies are inherently evil. Credit card companies are businesses, and their goal is to make a profit for their shareholders. Hey, that’s OK. It’s capitalism at work.

But to make a profit, they sometimes cross the line and get a little sneaky — especially when it comes to the fine print. It’s usually easy to find the big things, such as the annual percentage rate (APR) and the annual fee, and that’s as it should be.

But all the rest? It’s like putting together a bookcase you bought from IKEA without getting any directions at all. And that can be a difficult task even with the directions.

You’re the Boss!

You have more power than you know. Think of it this way: The credit card issuers work for you, not the other way around. And if you have an excellent credit score, then you’re truly in control of your credit destiny.

Don’t get sucked into thinking that you have to accept whatever rates or terms your credit card company dishes out. If your rate gets increased, get on the phone — pronto — and find out the reason. And then try to negotiate a lower rate.

Even if you don’t have a great credit score, you’re still in charge. You might not have as much negotiating power as someone with excellent credit, but you can still demand excellent customer service and prompt responses to any questions you have. If you’re unsatisfied, then that credit card company doesn’t deserve your business. Time to move on to a better credit card.

Everything’s Negotiable (Even Before You Apply for a Card)

You can ask for a lower APR, change your due date so it works better with your cash flow and even request that a late payment be removed from your issuer’s report to the credit bureaus. You don’t always get what you ask for, but it usually doesn’t hurt to ask.

When could it hurt? If you have a low credit score and you ask for a credit limit increase, the issuer might worry that you’re becoming a risk. This could result in a credit limit decrease. So be sure your credit score is in the good-to-excellent range before you try to get better terms.

If you get several credit card offers in the mail, you can play them against each other. Let’s say the offer for Card A carries a 12.99% APR on purchases and a $95 annual fee. And let’s say that the offer for Card B is a 15.99% APR with a $95 fee, but that fee is waived for the first year.

With both letters in hand, call the issuer for Card B and ask if you can get an APR that matches the offer from Card A, which gets your APR down to 12.99%. And while you’re at it, ask to have the annual fee waived for two years. You might not get all that you ask for, but you’re likely to walk away with a better credit card deal than either of the offers you received in the mail.

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That 45-Day Notice You Get When Your APR Goes Up Is Misleading

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 gave consumers some much-needed protection. If a credit card issuer makes a major change in terms, such as raising your APR, federal law now requires the company to give you 45 days’ notice.

Here’s what that actually means: You have 45 days before you have to pay the extra interest accrued at the higher rate. But your actually starts accruing interest at the new higher rate on any purchases you make just 14 days after the notice was mailed. So on the 15th day after the postmarked date, your account starts accruing interest at the new higher interest rate on new purchases. You just don’t have to pay it until 45 days has passed.

Is this legal? Yes, it is. But don’t count on getting this explained clearly. If you get notice of an APR increase, look at the postmark date so you know when the new rate takes effect — and consider any new purchases carefully since you now have a higher APR.

Grace Periods Aren’t Required by the Credit CARD Act of 2009

Just in case you aren’t familiar with the term, a grace period lets you pay your bill in full by the due date and avoid paying interest on your purchases. A grace period is usually between 21 and 25 days.

The CARD Act does not require credit card companies to have grace periods on their cards. But if the card issuer decides to offer a grace period, the CARD Act requires that it be at least 21 days. The lack of a grace period usually isn’t an issue with major credit cards, but you do need to look at the grace period on each of your cards and note how long it is.

If you have bad credit, be vigilant about reading the fine print and look for a grace period on credit cards you’re considering. If there isn’t one, you will start accruing interest on your purchases as soon as they’re posted to your account.

Credit Card Payment Protection Insurance Is Kind of Worthless

You’ve probably gotten phone calls or mail about this type of insurance. I’m all for insurance when it comes to my health, car, house and things like that. But the difference is that health insurance, for example, actually pays off when I need it, so I haven’t wasted money on premiums.

Credit card payment insurance supposedly allows you to stop making monthly payments on your balance for a period of time if something unfortunate happens like a job loss. But there are so many exclusions to these policies that it isn’t as valuable as your credit card company says it is.

And it isn’t cheap. You’ll pay around $0.89 per $100 of your monthly statement balance. Example: Your monthly balance is $1,800. Your insurance payment is $16.02. Over a year, if the balance stays around the same amount, you end up paying $192.24. And then if you need to use the insurance, it might not come through for you.

Cash Advances Are an Expensive Way To Borrow Money

The APR and transaction fees for cash advances are stated pretty clearly in the Schumer Box for each credit card. But you’ll have to read the fine print to find out that there’s no grace period for a cash advance.

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And it gets worse. You’ll usually pay a higher APR for a cash advance than you would for purchases, plus there’s usually a 3% to 5% transaction fee. The APRs can be 25% or more and the interest starts accruing right away. So that $2,000 you borrowed on your credit card could cost you 25% interest plus a $100 transaction fee!

Do you know who comes out ahead in this scenario? The credit card company wins hands down. Cash advances often lead to debt and then the issuer makes interest off your balance for a very long time. Just say “No!” to a cash advance.

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