Be careful with deferred-interest promotions

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October 29, 2013 2:12:11 PM PDT
Buy now, pay later options on big purchases sound great. But you need to be cautious so you don't find yourself buried under mountains of interest.

You can often get on-the-spot approval for a credit card or loan you don't have to pay off for months or years. But be careful. Miss a bill deadline by just one day or carry a balance past the no-interest promotion period, and you could get slammed with a nasty, very expensive surprise.

Doug Watts bought his TVs with a deferred-interest credit card from Best Buy, and was shocked when the three-year promotional period was up.

Watts explains, "They added $1,300 in interest on a balance of roughly 7 or 800 dollars."

The original receipt Watts signed did contain loan terms stating if Watts didn't pay everything off in three years, he'd be charged interest on the entire bill - even on the money he'd already paid.

Many big box retailers offer similar credit cards with deferred interest.

Christine Tetreault from Consumer Union tells us, "The disclosures on these cards are really not enough to help consumers understand what they're actually buying."

You'll also find solicitations for deferred-interest cards designed for health care expenses in doctors' offices, a setting where people struggling to pay for care could be most vulnerable.

"The very location of the solicitation within a doctor's or a veterinarian's office or a dentist's office is inherently exploitative," says Tetreault.

Consumers Union and other consumer groups have asked the new federal financial watchdog board to look into deferred-interest credit cards. And the Consumer Financial Protection Board says it will.


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