How would you like it if your credit card rates were frozen so that your card issuer couldn't raise them for a few months? Most of you would love it, I'm sure, especially if you're taking the Zero Balance Challenge or if you're like the guy who wrote me last week about his credit card jacking up his rates:
I'm usually good about knowing how much interest I've accrued on a credit card in a given month. So when the balance of a card I've been furiously paying down was about $6 more than I expected, I wondered what was going on. It was too much for it to be simply that an introductory rate had disappeared.
Come to find out my APR had been increased. That one went from 15.40 to 21.74. According to HSBC, which holds the card: "Your interest rate structure is changing because everyone that has your current interest rate structure is being increased to the pricing terms listed below."
I can exercise my right to reject the changes before 12/09/09, but, as of my last statement, they're there.
I have another card that I've now been told had an introductory rate of 9.9, then went up to 16.99 after that intro rate was done. I don't keep a high balance, so I didn't really notice.
Then I put a big purchase on it. I figured what the hell, right?
Yeah, til I got like 35 bucks in interest added to my account. The new APR for that account is 23.74% The lady in India who answered my call -- this is a Chase account -- said I'd been sent a notice in the mail in late June-early July. I never got it as I was in the middle of moving.
Damn. there's a lot that bothers me about this story on both sides: someone who's carrying a balance on his credit cards absolutely needs to pay attention to the notices they get in the mail from the card issuer to avoid missing fine print about rate increases and other new fees and tricks the companies play. I'm also a little astonished that the writer would add a new, major purchase to a card that already had a balance on it with such a cavalier, "what the hell" attitude. That's simply ASKING for it from your credit card company. Whatever you bought, did you really need it that bad that you were willing to make installment payments on it at a high interest rate? So many people talk about going on debt diets when what we really need is debt rehab. Get off the card!
On the other hand, if what the writer is saying is true (and for the record, I haven't called HSBC or Chase for their take), the card issuers don't deserve any slack here, either. Since credit card reform was passed earlier this year, credit card issuers have been using any excuse (and sometimes none at all) to jack up customers' rates, add new fees and in some cases cancel cards altogether before the new law takes effect.
Which brings me back to the proposal in Washington of a moratorium on new rate hikes until credit card reform takes effect next year. The proposal, from Sen. Chris Dodd, isn't supposed to have much chance of passing.
How many of you think it's a good enough idea that you'd be willing to call your own Senator to make your voice heard?