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5 Surprising Credit Card Landmines Revealed

5 Surprising Credit Card Landmines Revealed

Credit cards are an unbalanced risk. Play your cards right, and you’re a winner. Play them wrong, and you’ll owe the house money. All the rules, disclosures and fine print are set-up to help the house win. However, if you know the rules in advance, credit cards can be less of a gamble, and the cards will be stacked in your favor. Here’s a list of 5 lesser known tricks the credit card companies employ which you should be aware of.

1. 0% Rate Clawbacks

We all love 0% teaser rates. 0% balance transfers for 21 months, 0% cash advances, financing your TV at 0% for 12 months, etc… But there’s a catch. If you make one late payment, you not only lose your 0% rate, the lender may retroactively charge you the penalty rate from the first day of your loan!

So imagine you got that new sofa for $1,399 with sales financing of 0% for 12 months. You make 11 straight payments on time. You’re one day late on your last payment. You’re toast. You won’t owe 1 month’s payment with interest. The lender has the right, depending on your agreement, to charge you interest at the penalty rate, let’s say 24.99%, from months 1 through 12!

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To avoid this, always set-up pre-authorized debits equivalent to the minimum monthly payment where possible. This will take away the risk of making any late payments.

2. Point Annulments

This is a lesser known trick. Some issuers will annul your accrued points/rewards if you’re delinquent on a payment. So imagine, you spend the year using one card, and you’ve finally earned enough points for your free flight. But you forget to make a payment. Boom, say bye bye to your points.

Luckily, there is a fix. Once you’ve made your payment and your account is current, you can call your issuer and ask for your points to be reinstated. Most issuers just play the heavy hand to force you to make your payment. Once made, they’re glad to give you your points back, so don’t let them vanish.

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3. Penalty Rates

We all know that if we miss a payment or two, we could get hit with nasty penalty rates from 24% to 30%. But what’s worse, once you’ve made your payments and you’re current, your card issuer may maintain the penalty rates for another 6 to 12 months, until you prove worthy of the original purchase interest rate.

What some people don’t know, is that even if you make your payments on time, the issuer reserves the right to change your interest rate to the penalty rate at their discretion! They may do it because your credit score has changed, they may do it to improve their own profitability. The one good thing is, they’re required to notify you of any rate increase beforehand. The lesson, make sure to read your mail and the fine print.

4. Overlimit Fees

This one just makes no sense. Most credit cards come with a set credit limit. This limit is meant to protect you and the issuer from spending more than you want or have. However, did you know that some issuers will allow you to go over your credit limit? But when you do, they’ll charge you an over limit fee as high as $35! What’s the point of a limit, if it’s not really a limit?

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So imagine you buy a bottle of milk that brings you $1 over your credit limit. You’ll automatically get dinged $35, making it the most expensive bottle of milk you’ll ever buy. To avoid reaching your limit, get set-up for mobile alerts and your issuer will send you a notification when you come within a pre-determined range of your limit.

U.S. regulations have made it harder for credit card companies to pull this off, but the practice is still used on less diligent consumers. Some countries, like Canada, have no consumer protections related to over limit fees.

5. Grace Period Cancellation

One of the true benefits of credit cards, is that if you pay down your credit card bill every month, the bank essentially lends you money for free. You typically have 21-28 days after you receive your statement to pay your credit card bill. If you do so, you won’t pay any interest.

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However, if you’re late, you will lose the interest-free period on new purchases for that statement period. What most people don’t know, is that the issuer may also remove your grace period for the next 6-12 months! That means you’ll be charged credit card interest rates of 19%-21% from the time you make your purchase, even if you pay future bills on time.

If this happens to you, call your issuer, and ask them to re-instate your grace period. Kick and scream and threaten to leave if they don’t. Actually, leave and use another card if they don’t re-instate your grace period, otherwise, each purchase on your card will be a lot more expensive than the ticket price.

Hopefully shining a light on some of the tricks of the trade will make you a more informed cardholder and stack the deck in your favor once again.

Featured photo credit: Credit Cards / Sean MacEntee via flickr.com

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Marc Felgar

Marc Felgar is an aging, health & senior care expert focused on improving the lives of mature adults.

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Last Updated on March 4, 2019

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

Many people will suggest that the best thing to do with your credit cards during these tough economic times is to cut them up with a pair of scissors. Indeed, if you are already in huge debt, you probably should stop using them and begin a payback strategy immediately. However, if you are not currently in trouble with your credit cards, there are wise ways to use them.

I happen to really love my credit cards so I will share with you my approach to how I use mine without getting into deep financial trouble.

Ever since about 1983 when I got my first Visa card, I continue to charge as many of my purchases as possible on credit. Everything from gas, groceries and monthly payments for services like my cable and home security monitoring are charged on credit. Despite my heavy usage, I have maintained the joy of never paying any interest fees at all on any of my credit cards.

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Here are some tips on how best to use your credit cards without falling into the trap of paying those nasty double-digit interest fees.

Do Not Treat Credit Cards as Your Funding Sources

Too many people treat their credit cards as funding sources for major purchases. Do not do this if you want to stay out of trouble. I use my credit cards as convenient financial instruments so I do not have to carry around much cash. In fact, I hate carrying cash, especially coins. When you buy things on credit, the purchases are clean and you will not get annoying coins back as change.

I do not rely on my Visa, MasterCard or American Express to fund any of my purchases, large or small. This brings me to my golden rule when it comes to whether I will pull out any of my credit cards either at a retail or online store.

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I never purchase anything with my credit cards if I do not have the actual cash on hand in my bank account.

If I really cannot pay for the item or service with cash that I already have at the bank, then I simply will not make the purchase. Remember, my credit cards are not used as funding sources. They are just convenient alternatives to actual cash in my pocket.

Make Sure to Always Pay Off Balances in Full Each Month

The next very important part of my overall strategy is to make absolutely sure that I pay the balances in full each and every month no matter how large they are. This should never be a problem if the cash has been budgeted for my purchases and secured in the bank. I have always paid my full balances each month ever since my very first credit card and this is why I never pay interest charges.

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Using Credit Cards with Rewards

Most of my credit cards are of the “no annual fees” type, including one MasterCard on a separate account I keep at home as a spare in case I lose my wallet or incur any fraudulent charges. However, I do use a main Visa card which does have an annual fee because all purchases on that card reward me with airline frequent flyer points. For me, the annual fee is worth it since I do travel and I get enough points to redeem many free flights.

You have to decide for yourself if you will charge enough purchases on credit each year without paying interest charges to warrant a credit card that rewards you with airline points (or other rewards). In my case, the answer is “yes” but that might not be the case for you.

I occasionally use a MasterCard or American Express card on small purchases just to keep those accounts active. Also, I have been to the odd retailer that accepted only a certain type of credit card, so I find that having one from each major company is quite handy. Aside from my main Visa card which earns the airline points, the rest of my cards are of the “no annual fees” variety.

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So this is how I use my credit cards without getting into any financial trouble with them. This strategy is recommended only if you are not in debt, of course. In fact, it is worth keeping in mind once you’re out of debt so that you can keep your credit cards active and treat them responsibly.

What are your credit card usage strategies? Let me know in the comments — I’d love to hear what methods you use.

Featured photo credit: Artem Bali via unsplash.com

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