credit & debt

More Credit-Card Fees Coming

Be on the lookout for these changes when you get your statement.

With the new credit-card regulations, will more card companies start charging annual fees?

Yes. Many card companies are already introducing annual fees to boost revenues in anticipation of the new credit-card laws.

The Credit CARD Act, most of which takes effect on February 22 (some of the law’s disclosure rules took effect in August), provides many valuable consumer protections. Card companies won’t be able to raise your rate on an existing balance unless your payment is at least 60 days late, introductory rates must last for at least six months, and card companies cannot impose an overlimit fee without your permission, among other changes. (See FAQs on the New Credit-Card Rules for details.)

However, card companies have been making some changes of their own, such as adding new fees and boosting existing fees, which aren’t limited by the new credit-card law. Nineteen percent of consumers surveyed in January by Credit.com said that their card companies had increased their fees over the past several months, and the trend is likely to continue. Here are some changes to watch out for when you get your statement and disclosure notices from your credit-card company (which will be easier to decipher, thanks to the new law):

New annual fees. Only about 20% of the credit cards in the U.S. currently charge an annual fee, according to LowCards.com, but the number is likely to increase in 2010. "Some card companies have started to test annual fees on a small percentage of cardholders or offer cards with annual fees that build customer loyalty," says Bill Hardekopf, chief executive of LowCards.com. Chase is using premium rewards to encourage customers to select or upgrade to cards with annual fees, he says. Its new Sapphire Preferred card charges an $85 annual fee and offers enhanced point-earning benefits (the $85 fee is waived for the first year).

Inactivity fees. Card companies are starting to slap on inactivity fees if you don’t use your card frequently. For example, Fifth Third Bancorp recently added a $19 inactivity fee on cards that aren’t used in a 12-month period, says Hardekopf.

Processing fees. Some retail cards are adding a $1 monthly processing fee if you request a paper credit-card statement every month.

Higher fees on balance transfers. Hardekopf has also seen a big increase in balance-transfer fees. A year ago, the standard balance-transfer fee was 3%. But some card companies have recently increased their fees to 4% or 5%. See Are Balance Transfers Still a Good Deal? for information about the impact of these fees on your decision to transfer a balance.

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