2010 Credit Card Guide
Credit card guide: World globe and credit card on bright blue credit card composition
credit cards
5 tips for the new credit card era

Also make sure you know when a promotional rate ends, and plan monthly payments so that the debt is paid off before the regular APR applies. Promotional rates must last at least six months under the CARD Act.

3. Weigh the pros and cons of opting out.

Along with any required advance notice of a change in terms, issuers must include an opt-out disclosure. Opting out closes the account, but can't constitute a default of the account or require immediate repayment of the balance. In fact, issuers must provide a repayment method "no less beneficial" than either a payment plan that spans at least five years, or a new minimum payment percentage that is no more than twice the previous percentage.

Opt out if you can afford a possible score hit from the account closure, but not the new fee or interest rate. Learn how account closures can ding your credit score.

4. Permission needed to go overlimit.

Under the CARD Act, a purchase that exceeds the credit limit can't trigger an overlimit fee unless the cardholder has opted in to allow overlimit transactions. The consumer must be informed of the overlimit fee they will incur if they surpass their account limit. Consenting consumers can only incur one overlimit fee per billing cycle during which their balance breaches the limit.

The only reason to opt in to overlimit transactions is if you know your balance will exceed the limit and want to ensure that the charge goes through. The law doesn't prohibit approval of overlimit charges when the customer hasn't given permission for them, but does leave room for denial.

If you need to go overlimit for whatever reason, you can switch on your overlimit privileges at any time, by making the request in writing, orally or over the Internet.

5. Watch for annual fees.

As the law was debated and passed, some experts speculated that annual fees could return. So far, their reappearance has been slow. The volume of mailed credit card offers carrying annual fees increased to 28 percent in the second quarter of 2009, up 1 percentage point since the first three months of the year, according to Synovate Mail Monitor, a global market research firm.

In addition, only eight out of 39 credit cards in the Consumer Action study charged annual fees.

Consumers shouldn't take any comfort from the lack of annual fees. Issuers only have to provide 45 days' advance notice before implementing an annual fee.

When shopping for a new card, avoid annual fees if possible. For rewards cards with annual fees, first do the math to see if the benefits offset the fee, based on your typical monthly spending.

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