Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Credit Card Fees Surge

Have you checked your credit card statement lately? No, have you really examined it, looked at the Annual Percentage Rate {APR} and read the fine print on the back of the statement? If you have not, do so today, but be prepared: you may be in for the shock of your life.

Part of the problem Americans are having with debt is that many people are relying on credit cards to purchase every day items. This includes food, clothes, household items, etc. Some consumers -- in hopes of advancing their lifestyle -- purchase furniture, jewelry, artwork, and more with their cards. This reliance on credit cards to "raise their standard of living" is what causes problems for many.

Beyond that, there are insidious methods used by credit card companies that effectively keeps millions of consumers in debt for years. Let's examine these methods and how you can avoid them.

Late Payment Fees. Fees for a late payment are surging. What was once a $10 or $15 fee is now often a $29 or even a $39 charge. Add that to your balance! Always pay your bill as soon as it arrives. If you wait until a few days before the due date, you must take into consideration that the transit time between when your bill leaves your home and arrives at the credit card payment address [and, with the person who inputs your information as having been paid], can be longer than you expected. Do you pay your bills online? If so, it can still take several days for your account to be credited. If you know you are cutting it short, it would be better for you to call the credit card company directly and make your next payment over the phone. A "small" fee of $5 to $15 is typically charged.

Bumped up APR. Even one late payment can result in your APR being bumped up. Way up in some cases. That special 4.9% fixed rate you secured can soon be history. Check the provisions in your member agreement and you may learn that your new rate is suddenly 18.9% or more. Worse, if you are late 2 or 3 times in a year, your rate could jump to 29%, 35%, or higher! Yikes.

Other cards jump in. You may be late with only one card and pay your remaining creditors on time. However, if you are late with your payments to just one provider, this one creditor will notify the credit bureaus that you made a late payment. All of your other credit providers have access to your credit information and they may jack up their APRs even though you pay each of them on time. Sounds like they are piling it on, right? Yes, and it is perfectly legal too!

Always pay your creditors on time and examine your statements closely every month to make sure that no erroneous charges appear. Contact your creditors in writing if you suspect an error.

One misstep can cost you and it will have a ripple affect across your entire debt picture. All of these tactics employed by credit card companies are absolutely legal. Whether they are ethical or not is another matter, but the law is the law.

Work within the paramaters of the law and take charge of your finances before unreasonable fees and penalties are assessed against you.

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