Chase is ponying up $100 million to put to bed a class-action lawsuit that alleges the credit card issuer improperly raised minimum payments on cardholders to get higher fees. The issuer settled the three-year suit in a San Francisco court on Monday.
Cardholders said that, in 2008 and 2009, Chase boosted the minimum monthly payment to 5 percent of account balances from 2 percent on credit cards that lured consumers in with low fixed rates on balance transfers.
(For an idea of how much that can change a monthly payment, here's a quick example using Bankrate's minimum payment calculator: The minimum payment on a $5,000 balance at 2 percent is $100 a month. If the monthly payment percentage rises to 5 percent, the monthly payment equals $250 a month.)
The suit claimed the issuer pocketed extra money from penalty fees and a 29.99 percent penalty interest rate when cardholders couldn't make the new payments.
Chase defended its actions in court documents, saying it was a financially prudent move in the face of the economic tumult at the time.
The $100 million settlement represents less than half of the $220 million cardholders paid in fees on the credit card accounts. Still, lawyers for the cardholders call it an "excellent result."
Of course, Chase's actions happened before the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 went into effect. Could the same thing happen now?
Yes, but you will probably get a heads-up under the act's provisions.
"It's my understanding that the 45-day notice requirement is for adverse changes to your account. So, new fee, higher interest rate, stuff like that," says John Ulzheimer, president of SmartCredit.com. "If the change in how your minimum payment is calculated results in a higher monthly payment, I can see that requiring the notice."
That's not too much protection, really. Basically, you get a month and a half to prepare for higher minimum payments. You do have the option to close the card under the CARD Act. But that won't help you much either, because the act allows issuers to increase your monthly payment anyway.
The important lesson here is to charge only what you can pay off every month and do it on time to avoid unnecessary penalty fees or rates. For those of you who are digging out of credit card debt, make a habit of paying more than the minimum payment every month to reduce your balance faster.
What do you think of the Chase settlement?
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