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FDIC Consumer News
Special 10th Anniversary Edition - Fall 2003
Your Credit Card: Focusing on the Fine Print
Many people need help understanding the credit cards they already carry around or they find it difficult comparing one card with another, especially when they all boast low interest rates and fabulous features. FDIC Consumer News offers these tips:
Learn about the most important costs and rules of the card.
In general, if you expect to pay your credit card bill in full each month, the interest rate isn't your number one concern you're probably better off having a card with no annual fee and the kinds of features (including rebates and rewards) you expect to use.
If you expect to carry a balance on your card most months, you'll want to look for a card with a low Annual Percentage Rate, a "grace period" before you are charged interest on your new purchases, and the right mix of benefits to justify any fees.
Closely review your account statements and other mailings.
The sooner errors are detected, the easier it will be to get them corrected. If you don't act within prescribed time limits, you may not be covered by some federal consumer protection rules.
Also, card issuers generally are required to give you notice (typically at least 15 days) before increasing your interest rate, lowering your credit limit, adding fees and penalties, reducing or eliminating your grace period or cutting back on bonus programs. If you don't monitor your monthly billings or other mailings for notices of changes, you could pay more for a credit card that offers you less and not even realize it.
Hold on to the original card agreement and any later notices of account changes.
These documents could help you quickly answer questions on topics such as what to do if you charged something to your account that's defective.
Don't be afraid to complain or cancel a card if you think you're not being treated fairly.
You might be surprised at how far a card issuer will go to keep you as a customer. And if you're unhappy with your current cards, remember there are thousands of others being offered to the public.
Excerpted from "Your Credit Card: Why and How to Focus on the Fine Print," Fall 1999.
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