Credit card customers fight back
off an angry letter. Hire an attorney. Refuse to use credit cards
These are ways Bankrate.com readers are striking
back against credit card companies. These folks are fed up with
paying late fees for on-time payments and being slammed with interest
rate hikes. And they're doing something about it.
Send it off in a letter
Cindy Rivera of Brooklyn, N.Y., put it in writing.
For five years, Rivera has been a Capital One
customer and for five years she had no problems.
All that changed this summer. For three straight
months she was charged late fees even though she paid her bills
"I'm the type of person, when I get the bill
I send it out right away," Rivera says.
To make matters worse, the late payments showed
up on her husband's credit report and the couple is planning to
buy a house. She tried calling Capital One but each time she called
she was told, "A supervisor will get back to you." Nobody ever called.
By the time month three rolled around, Rivera
had had enough. She was charged a $25 over-the-limit fee in addition
to a $25 late fee. The reason? The previous late fees had pushed
her over her credit limit. She wasn't too thrilled about paying
all that extra interest either.
"That's over $100 and I had no idea why," Rivera
says. "I was so fed up at them. So I wrote a letter. I was so angry."
She explained in detail how dissatisfied she
was with Capital One and why she wanted her account closed immediately.
Two weeks later she got a call from Capital
One. A customer service representative offered to wipe out the fees
and remove the late pay status from her husband's credit report.
"Everything is straightened out, finally. I
hope it won't happen again," Rivera says. "It's just crazy."
The Capital One rep even offered to increase
Rivera's credit line and lower her interest rate. Rivera took the
lower interest rate.
"She was being very nice and I thought, 'Finally,'
" Rivera recalls.
Her experience has left her wary.
"I'm going to see how it goes for the next
few months," Rivera says. "But if it starts up again I'll just close
Her advice for people who are having run-ins
with credit card companies over fees?
"Calling doesn't change anything. Write a letter
as soon as possible to avoid the hassle," Rivera says. "If you let
it wait, nothing's going to be solved."
Checking it once, checking
Michael Martin of Myrtle Creek, Ore., learned the hard way. Things
just kept getting worse and worse with his Visa card from MBNA America.
The card promised a 3.9 percent rate on balance
transfers that would last until the balance was paid off and a 3.9
percent teaser rate for purchases that would bump up to 9.9 percent
after a couple of months.
Martin received his first billing statement
in October 1999. By January 2000, he was being charged 5.99 percent
for balance transfers and 12.99 percent for purchases. In April,
the annual percentage rate for new purchases bumped up to 13.99
The real rate shocker came in July. The interest
rates on balance transfers and new purchases were raised to 19.98
"The interest rate went crazy," Martin says.
"At that point, I called them. When I asked them why they did it
they said it was because the Fed had raised interest rates."
MBNA offered to lower his interest rates on
balance transfers and purchases to 15.99 percent.
"As soon as I get my bill this month I will
pay off the balance. Needless to say I won't be dealing much with
them," Martin says.
"Then again, they don't care. They got what
While Martin hung on to his monthly statements,
he cannot find any notifications from MBNA about the jumps in interest
"That must have been the little thing inside
that everyone throws out because I definitely don't have it," Martin
says. "They've hidden it. You and I both know that's exactly what
they did. They hid it so they could raise interest rates without
anybody noticing it."
He now reads every single word of every piece
of correspondence sent to him by a credit card company and advises
others to do the same.
"The most important thing right now is to read
everything that you've received from a credit card company and save
it ... If you have questions, contact the credit card company.
"You just have to be careful. I can say that
100 times but how careful have I been? You would think at 50 years
old I would learn by now ... They just come up with new ways to
bite you in the a--."
Let the lawyers loose
Cory Fine of Jacksonville, Fla., decided to sic "pit bull" attorneys
on credit card issuers that kept charging him fees.
"I have found that the best credit card insurance
is a pre-paid legal service. For a small sum each month I can have
a group of pit bull lawyers send my credit card issuers a nasty,
threatening letter every time they try to illegally reap late fees
and over-the-limit fees," explains Fine in a recent e-mail to Bankrate.com.
Each time an issuer received such a letter
they would claim "inadvertent error" and drop the fee.
"We've used that a number of times with one
credit card in particular -- Cross Country Bank," Fine says.
He has had a credit card with Cross Country
Bank since 1997. While those nasty letters from attorneys got fees
waived, new fees were waiting the next month.
"It was every single month. It got to be ridiculous,"
Fine says. "These are games. It's incredible that they do these
It all came to a stop about a year ago when
Fine signed up for online bill pay with his bank -- Key Bank. The
next time Fine was charged a late fee, Key Bank stepped in. Key
Bank informed Cross Country Bank that it knew when Fine's payment
was sent and that it was going to initiate an investigation. Fine's
payments have been posted promptly ever since.
"All of the sudden the day they got it, it's
deposited," Fine says. "Last week I called them up and paid off
my balance and said, 'Forget it.'
"As long as banks and credit card companies
play these kinds of games they deserve to be sued."
Fine found some comfort in reading a recent
Bankrate.com article about fed-up credit card customers.
"It really hit home," Fine says. "In a way
it makes you feel good, in a perverse sort of way. You're not the
only one out there."
Never again, that's
After her experience with First USA, Lauri Kraus of Denver has
vowed to never use credit cards again.
"Never. Never. I was so stressed. It just isn't
worth it," Kraus says. "The best advice I can give is avoid them
at all costs."
In 1996, she moved from Minnesota to Colorado.
That's when the problems started. Some of her payments were tagged
as late even though she mailed them on time.
"I sent a letter saying I had moved and I thought
seven days was plenty of time to mail the payment," Kraus says.
First USA did not respond.
"Then I had the bad fortune to have someone
steal my identity out here," Kraus says.
In 1997, a thief opened a bank account with
her name and wrote all kinds of bad checks, damaging Kraus' credit.
"It's like you're helpless," she says of identity
theft. "The first one that came in was from Kentucky Fried Chicken
and I'm a vegetarian. I just went berserk."
Through all of this, Kraus continued to pay
$150 a month on her First USA card.
"It was extra so I could get it paid off,"
But the $150 did not even cover the minimum
payment once First USA jacked up her interest rate to 24 percent
about a year ago.
"When they raised the interest rate it was
impossible to keep up. It was so frustrating. I was so angry."
To her relief, she managed to pay off the card
in May 2000. She paid off the balance two weeks before the due date.
"The next month I got a bill for $29 for being
over-the-limit and my balance was zero," Kraus seethes.
Still, she is doing her best to put her experience
with First USA behind her.
"I'm getting less stressed about it as we go,"
A fresh wave of anger hit her when she read
about other people's battles with credit card companies in a Bankrate.com
"As I started reading about what happened to
other people it was like, 'These people are evil.'
"I think people need to find out they practically
give their lives over if they get into trouble with a credit card
company. You're just a number in the computer. They don't care."
Dana Horne of New Haverhill, N.H., has had
it with credit card companies.
"Even as I read the article relating to consumer
fraud with credit cards, my anger was boiling," Horne writes in
a recent e-mail to Bankrate.com. "As a consumer I am sick of being
taken advantage of by credit card companies. I am tired of having
to take my bill and scrutinize it, and spend valuable time on the
phone clearing up charges that should not have been applied in the
first place .... So, in my effort to fight back, I will not have
a credit card again."
Ten years ago, Horne, a single mom with three
children, cut up her credit cards. She had racked up almost $10,000
"You're enslaved to payments with interest,"
Horne says. "I got really irate thinking some guy was lining his
own pocket on my interest."
She has whittled down her credit card debt
to $1,500. She has not used credit cards in a decade. Instead, she
pays with debit cards and layaway plans.
"Do not under any circumstances apply for a
credit card. There are other ways of getting what you want," Horne
says. "If there's a material thing you really want, save up for
it. Buy it outright. Don't pay interest on it. It feels a whole
-- Posted: Sept. 8, 2000