Credit card offers these days often come accompanied by pages and pages of fine print. Buried in this legalese are some common catches that could impact you in a major way. From universal default clauses to annual fees, here are the most common credit card traps you should avoid:
Annual Fees – An annual fee is a charge sometimes required by credit card companies for use of an account. These fees usually range between $35-$50 and are most common with subprime credit cards designed for borrowers with poor credit and rewards credit cards. You can see exactly what the annual fee on a credit card offer is by checking out the “Schumer Box” in the rates and terms section of the offer. With a rewards card, you should ensure that the benefits of the mileage or points program outweigh the cost of the annual fee.
Bill Payment Fees – Even with online banking becoming increasingly common, some credit card companies charge extra fees for paying your bills online or by phone. If this is the case with your card, be sure you pay your bill by mail as soon as the statement arrives. You don’t want to have to pay an extra $5 or $10 just to make your credit card payment on time each month.
Grace Period – Standard credit cards commonly have a 20 to 30 day grace period. This is the period of time when you can pay your credit card bill without being charged interest. It is important for borrowers who like to use their credit cards frequently and pay their bills in full each month to have a long grace period. If your credit card doesn’t have a grace period, interest is charged on your debt as soon as you make a purchase.
Introductory Rates – Most credit card offers these days include an introductory rate for the first few months. A 0% offer can be a great deal as long as you know what strings are attached. How long does the introductory rate last? Does it apply to new purchases and balance transfers? Creditors can usually cancel the introductory rate early if you make a late payment. In some cases, you may have to pay interest retroactively on a debt if you haven’t paid it off before the end of the introductory period.
Penalty Rate – If you make a late payment on your credit card, you may have to kiss your good interest rate goodbye for a while. About 75% of credit card providers include a penalty rate clause with their credit card offers. This clause states that your rates can increase dramatically if you make a late payment on the account. The average penalty rate on a credit card is around 23%, a costly increase for a credit card that normally has a 6-12% APR. After about six months of on-time payments, most creditors will consider lowering your APR again.
Universal Default Clause – This increasingly common policy allows creditors to increase your interest rates if you make a late payment on any account, not just on their accounts. For example, your credit card APR could increase to the penalty rate if you make a late payment on an unrelated loan. Your creditors track your payment history with other accounts by checking your credit report. You can avoid problems with this clause by paying all your bills on time each month.
Even with hidden catches, credit cards are one of the easiest and most affordable ways for you to borrow money. As long as you avoid these credit card traps and use your accounts responsibly, you can make the credit card system work for you. Luckily, Credit.com has taken the pain out of reading the fine print! Search for credit cards that meet your requirements online with Credit.com’s credit card chooser tool.
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