(continued from The Credit Card Act 101)…
New rules for fees, interest rates, and limits:
Leading up to the signing of the CARD Act, one of the biggest issues was credit card companies’ ability to raise interest rates on a whim, and without reason. We already know that they must tell you when an increase will occur, but there are more restrictions to rate increases. For one, a creditor cannot increase the rate for the first 12 months of an account. There are a few exceptions to this rule. You might have a variable index rate, which can fluctuate. You also may have an introductory rate, which must be in effect for at least 6 months. After that period, it will revert to a predetermined “go-to” rate. Otherwise, your rate will only increase if you are more than 60 days late on your payment, or if you miss a payment on a worked out agreement with your creditor.
When a rate hike does occur, it can only be applied to new charges. Any previous balance will have the previous interest rate.
Another new rule affects the application of over-the-limit fees. There are typically penalties for spending more than your allowed credit limit. Now you have the option to restrict any transaction exceeding the limit on your account, thus avoiding the possibility of a fee. If you choose to allow over-the-limit transactions to go through, then you will still be charged a fee when that occurs. You can change this option at any time, and creditors can only assess one over-the-limit fee per billing cycle.
If your card requires you to pay fees like annual fees and application fees, they cannot total more than 25% of your initial credit limit. For example, if your initial limit is $1,000, then your fees cannot exceed $250. This limit does not apply to penalties such as late payment fees.
Billing and payments:
The CARD Act has standardized credit card billing. Your credit card company must mail or deliver your bill at least 21 days before payment is due. Your due date will also be the same day each month. For example, your payment might always due on the 12th. If your due date falls on a weekend or holiday, then you will be allowed to pay on the following business day before 5:00 PM. The payment cut-off time cannot be earlier than 5:00 PM on any due date. When making a payment, there can be no fees based on the method in which you pay (phone, mail, electronic transfer, etc).
If you make more than the minimum payment, then the excess amount must be applied to the balance with the highest interest rate. There is also no two-cycle billing (double billing). This means that creditors can only impose interest charges on balances in the current billing cycle.
In conclusion, you are ultimately still responsible for managing your debts. A consumer’s mismanagement will still hurt them, and the creditors can still react with fees and rate hikes. It’s up to you to avoid them. The CARD Act is merely a means to help you be aware of your situation, and make better decisions.