Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jacked up rates: Reason #1 to pay off that credit card

When I decided to challenge you to get rid of all your credit card debt, I had no idea that the banks would hand all of us a built-in motivator. But they have: jacking your interest rates up sky high for no reason.

Months ago, a few stories warned that these kinds of rate hikes were coming but at that time I didn't know anyone it'd happened to. But now? Just this morning, I asked the question on Twitter and within three minutes, three of my followers said that their card issuers had jacked up their rates without warning and with little explanation.

That's not counting the real-life people I know: one whose rate was kicked up 14 percentage points though he's paid on time for four years; another with a FICO score above 800 who got a note saying her rate was climbing to a whopping 37 percent. Yes, 37.

I point all this out to answer the question I got from friend who wanted to know if he should pay off his $1,300 Citibank Visa balance. Though he recently lost his job, he and his wife have significant savings. Should he pay the balance off completely or pay half of it?

In most cases, I'd argue pay just the half: the balance isn't that high and being unemployed, you want to preserve cash. But with banks killing cardholders with rate hikes, keeping any credit card balance that you can otherwise pay off is too risky, especially if you have enough cash on hand to pay it off and still have significant savings left over. Since your wife is still working, cut back on other kinds of discretionary spending and make the single income work for as long as you can while looking for a job, but pay that balance off!

And that goes for the rest of you: this is NO time to be keeping a credit card balance. The banks have shown that their bottom line is the bottom line. They've taken all the bailout money we gave them from our taxes and paid us back by taxing us more via higher interest rates. They ain't playin', nor should you be.

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