After receiving over 60,000 comments, federal banking regulators passed new rules late last year to curb harmful credit card industry practices. These new rules go into effect in 2010 and could provide relief to many debt-burdened consumers. Here are those practices, how the new regulations address them and what you need to know about these new rules.
1. Late Payments
Some credit card companies went to extraordinary lengths to cause cardholder payments to be late. For example, some companies set the date to August 5, but also set the cutoff time to 1:00 pm so that if they received the payment on August 5 at 1:05 pm, they could consider the payment late. Some companies mailed statements out to their cardholders just days before the payment due date so cardholders wouldn’t have enough time to mail in a payment. As soon as one of these tactics worked, the credit card company would slap the cardholder with a $35 late fee and hike their APR to the default interest rate. People saw their interest rates go from a reasonable 9.99 percent to as high as 39.99 percent overnight just because of these and similar tricks of the credit card trade.
The new rules state that credit card companies cannot consider a payment late for any reason “unless consumers have been provided a reasonable amount of time to make the payment.” They also state that credit companies can comply with this requirement by “adopting reasonable procedures designed to ensure that periodic statements are mailed or delivered at least 21 days before the payment due date.” However, credit card companies cannot set cutoff times earlier than 5 pm and if creditors set due dates that coincide with dates on which the US Postal Service does not deliver mail, the creditor must accept the payment as on-time if they receive it on the following business day.
This rule mostly impacts cardholders who often pay their bill on the due date instead of a little early. If you fall into this category, then you will want to pay close attention to the postmarked date on your credit card statements to make sure they were sent at least 21 days before the due date. Of course, you should still strive to make your payments on time, but you should also insist that credit card companies consider on-time payments as being on time. Furthermore, these rules do not go into effect until 2010, so be on the lookout for an increase in late-payment-inducing tricks during 2009.
2. Allocation of Payments
Did you know that your credit card account likely has more than one interest rate? Your statement only shows one balance, but the credit card companies divide your balance into different types of charges, such as balance transfers, purchases and cash advances.
Here’s an example: They lure you with a zero or low percent balance transfer for several months. After you get comfortable with your card, you charge a purchase or two and make all your payments on time. However, purchases are assessed an 18 percent APR, so that portion of your balance is costing you the most — and the credit card companies know it and are counting on it. So, when you send in your payment, they apply all of your payment to the zero or low percent portion of how to become a credit card processor your balance and let the higher interest portion sit there untouched, racking up interest charges until all of the balance transfer portion of the balance is paid off (and this could take a long time because balance transfers are typically larger than purchases because they consist of multiple, previous purchases). Essentially, the credit card companies were rigging their payment system to maximize its profits — all at the expense of your financial wellbeing.
The new rules state that the amount paid above the minimum monthly payment must be distributed across the different portions of the balance, not just to the lowest interest portion. This reduces the amount of interest charges cardholders pay by reducing higher-interest portions sooner. It may also reduce the amount of time it takes to pay off balances.
This rule will only affect cardholders who pay more than the minimum monthly payment. If you only make the minimum monthly payment, then you will still likely end up taking years, possibly decades, to pay off your balances. However, if you adopt a policy of always paying more than the minimum, then this new rule will directly benefit you. Of course, paying more than the minimum is always a good idea, so don’t wait until 2010 to start.
3. Universal Default
Universal default is one of the most controversial practices of the credit card industry. Universal default is when Bank A raises your credit card account’s APR when you are late paying Bank B, even if you’re not or have never been late paying Bank A. The practice gets more interesting when Bank A gives itself the right, through contractual disclosures, to increase your APR for any event impacting your credit worthiness. So, if your credit score lowers by one point, say “Goodbye” to your low, introductory APR. To make matters worse, this APR increase will be applied to your entire balance, not just on new purchases. So, that new pair of shoes you bought at 9.99 percent APR is now costing you 29.99 percent.