Credit card debt has been growing in the nation by leaps and bounds. Over the years consumer credit debt has been growing at record levels to reach into the billions of dollars. The average household credit debt is approximately $9,000, and is still growing. Unlike in the past, credit card companies have been charging excessive fees and penalties, and interest rates to consumers. Congress has been slow to reform the credit card industry, as it has been lobbied hard by credit card companies who have vested interests in the status quo. But dont despair, here are a few things you can do to protect yourself against credit card fees and penalties.
1: Dont sign up cards with universal default
Universal default (UD) is a financial industry term used for a creditor that changes credit terms from the standard terms to the default terms (i.e. rates and terms provided to those who have missed loan payments) when that creditor is informed that their client has defaulted with another creditor, even though the client has not defaulted with the first creditor.
The UD phenomenon has its roots in financial services deregulation that occurred in the mid-1990s. Today, roughly half of the traditional banks that issue credit cards have universal default language in their account contracts. The controversial practice of UD by credit card companies allows them to raise card interest rates as high as 35 percent, for example, if you make a late car payment to another creditor/lender.
Recently, Citigroup voluntarily abandoned the universal default practice. Sometimes you cant discover which credit card companies have universal default clauses in their contracts. However, with some research you can find out if your card company includes such clauses.
You can review the “default pricing” section of your credit card contract and see if your card issuer has a universal default policy.
2: Avoid double-billing
This has become another insidious tool used by credit companies to exploit their customers. Double billing is the practice used by credit issuers to calculate interest on their customer’s average daily balance over two months. For example, you have a $100 credit card balance, and you pay $50 by the due date. During the next billing cycle, your interest would be based on the entire $100 instead of only the carried over $50 balance. Even respectable card companies like American Express have been accused of shady double billing practices. Consumers most vulnerable to this practice are customers who carry a balance on their cards.
In order to tackle double billing, make sure you examine your previous and current statement to see if you are being charged double. One clue is to look for the phrase “average daily balance” on your card agreement.
Recently, Chase announced that it would stop double billing its customers.
3: Work around late fees
Congress has only questioned the ethics of dubious late fees and penalties without really doing something about it. Yet, these exorbitant late fee and penalties continue unabated. You can end these fees by setting up automatic bill pay or even advance bill payment. In this manner you can avoid paying excessive fees. However, if you get caught up in an unending cycle of credit debt you might then require credit counseling, debt consolidation services, and/or credit repair.
Without proper federal oversight credit card companies have had a picnic on the backs of their customers. It is time to fight back, Congress wont do it. So with proper vigilance and more pro active actions you can avoid exorbitant fees and penalties.