credit cards

Credit card fees and penalties FAQs

If you can't qualify for a new card, then credit counseling may be your best solution. A credit counselor can negotiate a repayment plan with your creditors and may be able to reduce the interest rate on your debt. They will definitely be able to stop the over-the-limit fees.

Most agencies are nonprofit, but that doesn't mean that they won't charge you a fee to put together a budget and repayment plan.

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling can help you find a credit counselor in your area or even counsel you online. The FTC has a list of questions to ask when meeting with a credit counselor. If you choose to go this route, you should interview two or three credit counseling agencies before signing with one.

4. A company has offered to help me get a low-rate card for a high fee. Is this my only option for a low-rate card?

No, you don't have to pay to get a low-interest credit card. You don't need a middleman to get your foot in the door with a national bank. (Paige Kroger's story on credit card wise guys underscores this point of view.) 

Your credit history is what it is. You can correct errors in your credit report and rebuild your credit over time, but paying someone a high fee for the privilege of having them find you a credit card is wasted money. Put that money toward your credit card bills.

People who are choking on their credit card interest rates should review their credit reports, and correct any errors in the report by using the dispute process established under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Do that first, so you know that you're putting your best foot forward when applying for a new credit card.

Then you can go shopping for a new card using Bankrate's credit card search feature. Only apply for one card, and see what happens. Multiple credit card applications make you look desperate, and firms hate to lend to desperate people.

Meanwhile, keep paying down those balances, and use the Bankrate calculator to help you find your next credit card.

5. I did a balance transfer from one credit card to another. My new credit card company sent me a check to pay off my old account but started charging me interest immediately. Is it fair to pay interest on money I've not received yet? 

Balance transfers are typically treated as cash advances, and interest will accrue from the day the check was issued. There's nothing improper about the credit card company charging you interest from the time they cut the check.

If there was a several-day delay between the time you made the request and the date they cut the check, and they charged you interest from the day you made the request, then you have a reason to be upset, and you should talk to a customer service manager.

If that doesn't get results, you could file a complaint with the Federal Reserve Board or the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency if the credit card company is a national bank.

Credit card companies aren't above earning interest on the float from the delay between when the check was cut and when the check clears. It's their float to invest.

I don't understand why they weren't able to wire the funds to your bank or send the check via overnight delivery, but the cost to you for those services would likely outstrip what you paid in interest on the money.

Make sure you're not making a mountain out of a molehill. If you are transferring a balance of $10,000 at 5 percent, a week's worth of interest is about $10. Think about the money you'll be saving in interest expense during the introductory period, and how you're going to use that interest rate break as an opportunity to pay down your outstanding balances.

Worry more about making the payments on time to avoid late charges and providing an excuse for the credit card company to end the introductory period and raise your interest rate. 

6. I'm looking for a credit card that I plan to use on special occasions and pay off the balance monthly. What card is the best choice for avoiding hidden fees and clauses? 

If you're planning to pay off the balance every month, you should be less concerned about the interest rate and more concerned about the grace period before they start charging you interest on your purchases.

Credit card agreements aren't written in stone. Variable rates fluctuate with changes in the Fed Funds rate, but so can rates on a fixed-rate card. The card companies will change terms as needed to remain competitive with other credit card issuers. If you don't like how a credit card issuer has changed the terms on your card, vote with your feet and find a new card to carry. You can shop for a new card on this site. Good luck!

7. How does two-cycle credit card billing affect the cost of credit? 

With two-cycle billing, the average daily balance used to calculate interest charges is calculated from two billing cycles rather than one. This approach to calculating interest effectively wipes out the grace period for customers who carry a balance. Two-cycle billing is expensive for people who only sometimes carry balances.

You'll be paying interest on the average of the two cycles. Let's say you transfer $5,000 to the two-cycle card and plan to pay down your outstanding balance by $500 a month. Your average balance for the first cycle is $5,000 and you owe $15.95 in interest, so you pay $515.95 and have a $4,500 outstanding balance.

At the end of the second billing cycle, the credit card issuer calculates interest due based on the average balance for the two periods, or $4,750, and your interest payment is $15.15. You've paid $31.10 in interest.

With a one-cycle card at 4.9 percent APR, you pay $19.95 in interest the first month and $17.96 in the second month, for a total of $37.91. The two-cycle card has saved you $6.81 over the two periods.

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Product Rate Change Last week
Balance Transfer Cards 15.73%  0.02 15.75%
Cash Back Cards 16.43%  0.02 16.45%
Low Interest Cards 10.98%  0.02 10.96%
 
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