In 1989, the United States Congress passed the Fair Credit and Charge Card Disclosure Act to force credit card companies to display all their terms and charges in easily readable tabular form so that consumers could be informed of the exact cost of aquiring a particular card before doing so. Even with this law in place, however, it can still be quite difficult to sort out the distinctions between the various charges and modes of calculating interest which credit cards use.
It is important to understand initially that interest charges and fees are the ways in which credit card companies make a profit. They cannot do this simply by issuing consumers credit and getting nothing in return. Before accepting a credit card, make sure to go through the table of fees and charges to make sure that the full cost of owning the credit card is understood.
The Annual Fee:
Many bank and T&E cards come with an annual fee of up to $50.00 or more. There are however, cards which charge no annual fee. They are usually reserved for customers with the best credit ratings. VISA®, MasterCard® and Discover® cards with no annual fees are obtainable, but finding these involves diligent searching by the prospective cardholder. At the other end of the spectrum, consumers with very poor credit ratings will find a number of companies willing to issue high risk credit cards but with very high annual fees as well as other charges. Very often, consumers needing to re-establish their credit are willing to pay these amounts.
Cash Advance Charges:
Cash advances are a great convenince to the consumer, but they come at a heavy price which can be deceptive. Not only is there a charge for the transaction of up to 3% of the amount of the advance, but interest charges may also be tagged on at rates of 20% per annum or higher. As a general rule, credit cards should not be used for cash advances except in cases of emergency.
Late Payment Fees:
Many credit card companies are now charging late payment fees of up to $25.00. The amount of grace period time you have from the payment due date until this fee is assessed varies from issuer to issuer. Since the date refers to the day of receipt of your check and not the date of postage, consumers who cut things close to deadline dates leave themselves open to such charges. What can be insidious about such fees is that some banks and credit card companies tag add these fee amounts to your outstanding balance and then charge you interest fees on the full amount.
One Time Fees:
These are particularly common with credit cards designed for consumers with poor credit. They are charged in addition to the annual fee. In many cases, consumers end up paying well over a hundred dollars in initial and membership fees simply to obtain these cards. It is much more sensible simply to opt for a secured credit card if you have poor credit. The initial amount deposited will have to be at least $200.00, but it is refundable and you earn interest on it.
Over The Limit Fees:
Most consumers who carry high credit balances do not pay their balances in full each month. This means that they are paying high credit card interest rates. When these interest charges accrue at compound rates, it is not that difficult to find oneself suddenly over their credit limit. Over the limit fees are steep, often as much as $25.00. If the over-limit status is carried on over different billing cycles, limit fees can be charged for each month.
The term sounds confusing, but this is actually the most obvious of the charges on a credit card account. It is the interest charge on your account balance based on the fixed annual rate.
These used to be more prevalent than they are now. They have become much more common with ATM cards than with credit cards. The issuing bank or company actually charges a fee (usually about 50¢) for every transaction you make with their card. This is a particularly costly and unnecessary charge and one which must be looked for before a particular credit card account is accepted.
Returned Check Fees:
Now also as high as $ 25.00, the consumer pays for this as well as the bounced check fees charged by their own bank. The cost of processing a returned check to credit card companies is nowhere near close to $ 25.00, but they are able to charge these amounts in cases where the consumer is clearly in the wrong and probably too embarassed to complain.