Sunday Savings Tip: The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009: What it Means for You

Additional financial regulations and changes stemming from Wall Street reform went into effect over the weekend. Credit card companies now have a longer list of rules they must follow, and you may have a longer list of loopholes to watch out for.
Here is a summary of the new credit card rules:
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  • Credit card bills must be delivered 21 days before payments are due, and payments must be due on the same day every month.
  • Credit card companies cannot raise your credit card rates without telling you why they are doing so. Additionally, they must reconsider rate increases that have been imposed since January 1, 2009.
  • Penalty fees for late payments are limited to $25 for most consumers. However, if you are late with a payment or are over your credit limit twice within six months, the credit card company can increase your fee to $35 or more.
  • Companies cannot charge a higher penalty fee than the action that resulted in the fee. This means if your monthly minimum payment is $20 and you are late with that payment, your penalty fee should be $20. Additionally, if you go over your credit limit by $5, your penalty fee should be $5.
  • Companies cannot charge you an inactivity fee if you don't use your credit card.
  • Companies must apply any payment above the minimum to the balance with the highest interest rate.
Stay alert for changes your credit card company might be making to counteract this loss of revenue, which could be as high as $390 million in the first year.
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  • Watch out for possible increases in annual fees and balance transfer fees. These fees are not covered under the legislation.
  • Companies could create new fees that aren't on the list of those now regulated. Make sure you read your statements and any other mail from your credit card company carefully. Don't allow yourself to be charged any new fees without knowing it.
  • Keep in mind that none of these new regulations cover interest rate increases, other than notifying the consumer of changes. So while you may pay lower penalties, those penalties are still likely to have an effect on your interest rates.
Many credit card companies began changing their rates while they were still allowed to do so in anticipation of these changes going into effect (since February, changes have not been allowed on accounts that were being paid on time). So make sure you know what your annual interest rates are now for any and all credit cards in your wallet and don't give your credit card company any reason to make a change.
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