Despite reforms, beware credit card "gotchas"

PHILADELPHIA - October 12, 2010

But Consumer Reports warns that despite the regulations, plastic can still be perilous.

A survey of Americans by the Consumer Reports National Research Center finds that the average credit-card balance is down to about $3,800, which is $1,100 lower than in 2009.

But that doesn't mean people are happier with credit-card companies. It's one of the lowest-rated services Consumer Reports has ever analyzed, right down there with computer tech support.

Federal reforms now require a mandatory 'minimum-payment warning' on all bills. It spells out the consequences of making only the minimum payment.

For example, a $4,000 debt will take 24 years to pay off and end up costing more than $8,000. Twenty-three percent of those surveyed said that information has encouraged them to pay off their balances quicker.

But Consumer Reports says there are still 'Credit-Card Gotchas' as banks try to make up for lost revenue. Interest rates are the highest they've been in almost 10 years, and fees have climbed.

First Premier Bank MasterCard is one of the worst offenders, charging as much as 59.9 percent interest. That's on top of a $75 annual fee and a processing fee that can be as high as $95.

But Consumer Reports has found two cards worth considering that don't charge any fees:

-The PenFed Promise Visa, which offers a 7.49 APR for three years.

-The Simmons First Visa Platinum, which offers a 7.25 variable APR.

If you feel you've been treated unfairly by your credit-card company, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

CLICK HERE for a link to the Federal Trade Commission

And if you want a card that offers a lower rate, Consumer Reports says you should call your card's customer-service department and ask for a lower rate before you switch cards. If you're turned down by the first person who takes your call, politely ask for a supervisor and try again.

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