credit & debt

Help for Borrowers in Trouble

In over your head? Some banks are offering relief to credit-card holders.

Banks may be hiking interest rates, fees and penalties, but they're also eager to show that they aren't totally insensitive.

For some financially strapped customers, card issuers are reducing interest rates, suspending late and over-limit fees, and extending repayment terms. Bank of America, for example, says it has modified the terms for 1.8 million of its 70 million cardholders worldwide since the beginning of 2008.

One source of help is the new Web site Help With My Credit, which is sponsored by Visa, MasterCard, Bank of America, Capital One, Citi and Discover Card. If you call the toll-free number, 866-941-1030, you will be connected either to your credit-card company, where you will learn about your issuer's options, or to a credit counselor, who will offer you a free session. Chase and American Express, which are not participating, say cardholders should call the toll-free number on their cards for help.

Last fall, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, which represents nonprofit credit-counseling agencies, asked credit-card issuers to modify their debt-management plans to allow more consumers to benefit. The ten largest card issuers agreed to lower interest rates and minimum payments as well as to waive late and over-limit fees for participants. To join the program, you must be referred by a credit counselor. Call 800-388-2227 or visit www.debtadvice.org to find a credit-counseling agency near you to see whether you qualify.

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