You May Be Getting Shortchanged on Your Credit Card Rewards

Collection of Visa and Mastercard credit cards

Devotees of rewards credit cards, take note: You may not be getting your full allotment of points for purchases made through third parties. Such transactions, which may include those made through mobile wallets, payment services such as PayPal (PYPL), mobile card readers, and sites such as Groupon (GRPN) and Expedia (EXPE), aren’t necessarily eligible for the extra points or cash-back awards on purchases in bonus categories (the 3 or 5 percent you might get on gas or groceries, for example, when you get a lesser percentage on everything else).

The reason? Merchant codes that card issuers use to classify purchases don’t always transfer. Apple Pay transactions should earn full rewards because of Apple Pay’s direct relationships with banks and card issuers, says Kari Luckett, content director for CompareCards.com. It remains to be seen whether Android Pay, a mobile tool replacing Google Wallet for in-store payments, will deliver full rewards.

Check the rewards breakdown on your statements to make sure you’re getting what you’re due. If you’ve been shortchanged, ask the issuer whether it will supply the extra rewards.

What You Need to Know First About Taking on New Credit

a young man in suit shopping online with a credit card via a tablet computer

NEW YORK — Hardly a day goes by that you don’t get offers for new credit in your mailbox. And while the offers can be attractive, with great perks, low introductory rates and free balance transfers, that doesn’t mean that you should jump at every offer of a new credit card. You might not just be setting yourself up for increasing amounts of debt. You can also negatively impact your credit.

Credit and Your Budget

“One of the first things you need to think about is how this will impact your budget,” says Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education with Credit.com. Each new line of credit is a new monthly payment. “How much will that payment be and how long will it last?” While you might be able to afford an extra $350 for a car payment today, will you be able to afford it three years down the line?

Detweiler points out that some changes in your financial situation are foreseeable. For example, you might know that you’re retiring in two years or that your kids are going off to college. Or you might have an adjustable rate home equity loan that is going to go into full repayment. That’s the kind of thing you need to anticipate and think about before you open up any new lines of credit.

Detweiler says that you should always ask if it will take more than three years to pay back any outstanding debt. “Usually, you want to pay off your debts in three years and certainly no more than five,” she says. If you can’t pay back what you’re borrowing in three to five years, you’re probably taking on more debt than you can realistically handle. “I bought a new car last year,” she says. “One of the things right in my mind is that my daughter is entering college in a few years. That’s the kind of thing you need to think about when taking on new debt.”

Credit and Your Credit Report

“Depending on the type of debt, new credit could help or it could hurt,” says Detweiler. Credit card accounts and revolving lines of credit will have an impact on your debt usage ratio, the second biggest factor after payment history on your credit. So if you open up a new credit card account, your overall utilization ratio (the percentage of available credit that you’re using) will go down, potentially giving you a bump in your credit score. On the other hand, if you open a new card and do a balance transfer of 80% of that available credit, you’re probably going to take a hit.

You also want to look at how many lines of credit you have open at any time. “Too many open lines of credit can paint a consumer as someone who relies upon borrowed money just to get by,” says Randy Padawer, a consumer education specialist with LexingtonLaw. “A boat load of credit cards can damage your FICO score, even if you pay them all off every month and never max them out.”

Padawer says that there’s no way of knowing precisely where that number is, but he says that most people will see a degradation in their credit score with five cards or more. “If you have ten or fifteen cards, you’ve probably damaged your credit,” he says. It gets worse, because closing accounts can also damage your credit through a shortened credit history and a higher utilization ratio. The best thing to do is to combine cards that are offered through the same bank.

“Remember that credit cards are just licenses to borrow money,” says Padawer.

He believes that people all too often confuse a new line of credit with more income. “People get a shiny new credit card with a $15,000 limit and spend it on things they’ve always wanted,” he says. “It’s a terrible mistake and it gets lots of people into a whole heap of financial trouble.”

Card Skimming at ATMs Jumps – Your Bank Balance Is at Risk

men hand businessman puts credit card into ATM
NEW YORK — The numbers are chilling: ATMs on bank property are under heavy and escalating attack by organized criminals who are ever smarter and slicker. What that means is that every time you stick a debit card into an ATM slot you just may be giving your information to a crook who has inserted a “skimmer” that gathers your card data. The crook then prints out a fake card with your data. Usually PINs are also collected via tiny pinhole cameras.

Credit reporting group FICO has reported that attacks on ATMs on bank property jumped 174 percent year on year in the first part of 2015. Attacks on non bank machines jumped 315 percent in the same period.

Matters are so grave that leading ATM-maker NCR on July 23 issued an alert to its customers that said, “NCR is tracking an increasing frequency of card skimming attacks in both the U.S. and in Mexico.”

An NCR spokesperson said that direct losses globally due to ATM skimming is $3 billion.

It gets worse. Until recently many skimmers were crude and attached directly on top of the ATM card slot. For them, the usual self defense prescription has been to shake the slot. If something comes off in your hand it’s probably a skimmer. No more. Owen Wild, an NCR expert, said that NCR is seeing more skimmers that are inserted down into the card slot and thus are invisible on the exterior. There also is a rising incidence of cases where a criminal drills a hole into an ATM, inserts a copying device, then covers the hole with a decal. Wild said many of these devices are slick enough that they defeat some anti-skimming technologies in use on ATMs.

By now you want to know what your liability is.

The news is mixed. On paper you have little to no liability. The Federal Trade Commission says losses are capped at $50 if the loss is reported within two days of learning of it. The cap is $500 if reported within 60 days. More than 60 and the losses are unlimited.

But it gets worse. Several victims of ATM fraud have told TheStreet that their bank refused to restore any monies, insisting the victim must have given the crook his card and PIN. Remember: the crook has a card with the right data and the PIN, so it looks like the accountholder is withdrawing cash. Who knows the real facts in these cases — just don’t assume all will be well with ATM theft because it isn’t always.

In just about all cases, too, there are delays — often short, occasionally long — in restoring money taken from an account. With a bogus credit card charge, it’s put in suspense the instant it is challenged. With a debit card, real money has to be restored to the account and while that is happening, rent checks may bounce, car payments may be late and more mayhem may befall the victim. It isn’t pretty.

The best defense: don’t become a victim.

So, why is ATM skimming sharply jumping? “The ability to buy pre-assembled or programmed skimmers have turned what was once a complicated scam, into something that the average Joe could do if he’s willing to pay for it,” said Luis A. Chapetti, software engineer and data scientist at Barracuda. Chapetti also provided a URL where many skimmers are for sale, generally at prices of $1,000 and up.

Snag just two or four cards and the skimmer paid for itself. The rest is gravy.

This availability of off-the-shelf skimmers is key to the epidemic. Before a crook needed some fabrication skills and tools. No more. Ready cash buys the gear, so any klutz can become an ATM crook. It won’t stop soon, either. Experts anticipate a sustained attack on ATMs, because they are where the money is.

How can consumers protect themselves?

“Shield the [ATM] pad from prying cameras as you enter your PIN, and regularly check your account for evidence of fraud,” said Steven Weisman, a lawyer in Amherst, Massachusetts, who frequently writes about scams. The first part is crucial: cover your actions with your other hand as you enter the PIN. That probably will thwart the crook’s attempt to grab the PIN and, by doing that, you have dramatically reduced — maybe eliminated — this card’s usefulness.

As for checking your account — and setting up account activity alerts — that’s key to minimizing your actual losses. The sooner you notify the bank, the lower your losses generally will be.

Do just those two things and, probably, you’ll be fine — even if the ATM crooks keep redoubling their efforts which is what some experts gloomily expect.

9 Ways You Can Avoid or Minimize Bank Fees

Man in kitchen looking at checkbook, resting on arm
If you think bank fees are getting higher and more numerous, you’re right. Astudy by WalletHub of 35 large banks found that the average consumer checking account has 25 different fees, and the average customer pays about $470 in fees every year.

“Bank fees are getting more expensive, and they’re getting harder to avoid,” says Richard Barrington, senior financial editor for MoneyRates.com, which found in a 2015 survey that monthly maintenance fees for checking accounts have risen 8.36 percent in the past three years, twice the rate of inflation, and that only 25 percent of checking accounts didn’t charge a monthly fee. “Checking is getting more expensive, and it’s getting harder to avoid the monthly maintenance fee,” he says.

Bank fees can include monthly maintenance fees, overdraft fees, online bill pay fees and returned check fees. You probably also will pay to send or receive wire transfers, get cashier’s checks or money orders, and you may have to pay for mailed delivery of statements, online access to old statements, downloading financial data into a program such as Quicken, copies of canceled checks and going into a bank and talking to a human. Accounts you rarely use can accrue dormant account fees or bad address fees.

While the number of fees is increasing, and the fees themselves are rising, it’s not always easy to know before you open an account exactly what fees will be included. “They’re not all disclosed, and they’re not all disclosed upfront,” says Jill Gonzalez, an analyst for WalletHub, which recently analyzed checking account offers from the 30 largest banks and five largest credit unions that offer online applications.

If you really want the ins and outs of these checking accounts, you’re going to have to get to a phone and hopefully talk to a human.

The large brick-and-mortar banks offered clearer disclosures than the online-only banks or credit unions, the study found, but it was impossible to do complete comparison shopping with the information disclosed online.

“If you really want the ins and outs of these checking accounts, you’re going to have to get to a phone and hopefully talk to a human,” Gonzalez says.

Consumer advocates are pushing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to require for checking accounts the equivalent of a “Schumer box,” the standard disclosure that is required for credit card fees and named for Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. So far, about 30 banks, including the 12 largest ones, have voluntarily adopted such a disclosure, says Susan Weinstock, director of the Pew Charitable Trust’s consumer banking project, which has advocated for better disclosures and more reasonable fees on consumer checking accounts.

“One of the things we would like to see is fees that are more upfront,” Weinstock says. “What we want to see is a competitive marketplace where the consumer could fully shop around.”

By far, the most lucrative channel for banks is the overdraft fee. Overdraft fees average $35 per occurrence. Each swipe of a debit card, for example, is an occurrence, meaning that if a check you deposit bounces and you spend $5 on coffee, $6 on a sandwich and $12 on a movie, you could be hit with more than $100 in overdraft fees.

Banks often reorder the transactions, putting through the highest one first so you go in the red faster, creating more overdrafts and therefore more fees. Several consumer advocacy groups are pushing to put an end to this practice. Pew found that 58 percent of large banks also charge what’s called an extended overdraft fee if you don’t pay the money back within a few days.

Here are nine ways consumers can avoid or minimize bank fees:

Choose no-fee checking and savings accounts. If you shop around, you can still find a free checking account, though you may be required to maintain a minimum balance, have other accounts at the same bank, agree to electronic statements or have your paycheck direct-deposited. Make sure you do what is required.

Opt out of overdraft protection. One way to avoid overdraft fees is to opt out of what the banks call overdraft protection. If you opt out, and you don’t have the money in your account, your transaction will be declined, so you won’t incur an overdraft fee. In 2010, the law changed to make opting out the default, but banks will push you to opt in by framing overdraft protection as a consumer service. “It’s just too expensive,” Barrington says. “It’s protection in the same way some underworld enforcer will offer you protection.”

Sign up for alerts. Most banks let you get alerts via text or email if your balance goes below a threshold you choose.

Avoid ATMs that are not part of your network. If you use an out-of-network ATM, you may be charged by both the ATM network and your bank. Take your ATM habits into account when you choose your bank or credit union, especially if you need to withdraw money in multiple cities. Know what ATMs are part of your network. Apps can help you track down in-network ATMs. Remember that you can often get cash back with no fee at grocery stores or other retailers.

Ask for accounts for older people or students. Many banks offer free or low-cost checking accounts to people over 50 or students. Some of these accounts may offer free checking with a lower minimum balance than what’s required in a regular account.

Keep more money in checking. While conventional wisdom says you should keep the bulk of your excess funds in a savings account, it might be more economical to keep additional money in checking to avoid a monthly fee. “Interest rates are so low right now that if you do the math … you’re probably better off taking some money out of savings,” Barrington says.

Shop around for accounts that fit your lifestyle. Some customers visit ATMs often, and others never use them. The same goes for debit cards, paper checks and online banking. Look for the banks that offer the services you need at the lowest cost. Check out large banks, online-only banks and credit unions to find the best fit. Remember that you won’t be able to do all this research online since the information needed to comparison shop isn’t available.

Negotiate. Branch managers sometimes have the discretion to waive fees, especially for good customers with high balances and multiple accounts. “You push back a little bit and threaten to pull your money, and sometimes you’ll get results,” Barrington says. This kind of negotiation is usually best done in-person, although telephone customer service can sometimes help you find better deals that aren’t advertised.

Banks Are Getting Rich Off of Your ATM Fees

a man receiving money from the...
NEW YORK — All those fees at the ATM really add up — making a steady stream of revenue for most major and local U.S. banks.

Banks have turned to charging non-customers fees at ATMs as another source of revenue. Major consumer banks netted $437.7 million dollars in revenue from ATMs fees in the first quarter of this year alone, according to a recent report released by SNL Financial.

Wells Fargo (WFC) and Bank of America (BAC) racked in $90 million and $87 million respectively in ATM fees during the first quarter of 2015, followed by Chase (JPM) with $56 million in ATM surcharges, according to the report.

Hikes in ATM fees are seen as a strategy by most banks to offset lost revenue from caps that are set on the amount they can charge retailers for debit-card transactions. The Federal Reserve imposed caps to banks on the amount they could charge retailers on debit card purchases in 2011.

On average, a typical banking customer forks over around $2.25 for an out-of-network ATM fee. But, that fee can be as high as $3 — a fee that Canada-based TD Bank (TD) charges its consumers for using an out-of-network machine.

Aside from some non-brick-and-mortar financial institutions, most banks do charge for customers for using out-of-network t machines. The nation’s largest banks — Bank of America, Citibank (C) and Wells Fargo — tack on a $2.50 for their out-of-network fee to their customers. ATM fees become even more expensive when your own bank gets into the act, sometimes charging you — its customer — a surcharge for using a competitor’s machine. Some out-of-network ATMs charge between $1.50 and $3, and this can be topped off with fee that your bank may charge you. Paying double at the ATM can cost you as much $4 or $5 in surcharges — the price of an expensive latte.

But, around 61 percent of Americans say they are able navigate around banking fees and pay zero in fees each month, according to a survey conducted by the American Bankers Association released on August 18.

“Today’s consumers have become adept at using the many options that may allow them to bank for free, whether it’s maintaining a minimum balance, opting for direct deposit or using ATMs owned by their bank,” said Nessa Feddis, vice president at ABA.

So, here are some ways to beat those unwanted ATM charges:

Mobile Apps

Sometimes your bank’s ATM is just around the corner. Most banks, such as Chase, Bank of America and TD Bank, to name just a few; have a feature within their mobile banking app to locate nearby branches or ATMs that won’t charge you a fee.

Go Big

Bigger banks often have more accessible ATMs as well as partnerships with popular retailers to place their branded ATMs in stores. Chase, for example, has ATMs located in Walgreens and Duane Reade stores, and Citibank has cash machines in 7-Eleven stores.

Switch to No ATM Fee Banks

Switch to a bank that refunds ATM fees. A handful of banks, mainly online-only and brokerages, waive ATM fees with certain guidelines. USAA Federal Savings Bank, Schwab Bank (SCHW), Ally Bank (ALLY) and EverBank (EVER), for example, all have free checking accounts that offer some form of ATM fee reimbursement.

Surcharge-free ATMs

These ATMs do exist and are usually surcharge-free if your financial institution is a member. Allpoint Network has 43,000 surcharge-free ATMs across the U.S. in retailers, such as Target (TGT) and Kroger (KR), and Star Network has 57,000 ATMs nationwide.

But, if your financial institution isn’t a member, then you’ll probably pay a fee — roughly between $1.50 and $2.50.

Should I Jump on a 0% Credit Card Offer?

a credit card on top of a fake...
If you live in America, have a decent credit score and can fog a mirror, you’ve probably received promotional offers for very low or zero percent credit cards. A zero percent credit line for a year or more can be mighty tempting, especially if you’re laboring under the burden of high-interest debt elsewhere. Which brings us to today’s reader question.

I would really appreciate some advice about whether it is a good idea for me to take advantage of the zero percent balance transfer promotion with one of my credit cards.

I recently came into some unexpected expenses and thought that maybe this might be an opportunity to limit the high interest I am currently experiencing with my credit card, which has more than $8,000 on it and an interest rate of 15.24 percent.

Sincerely — Struck by offer but don’t want to make it a financial mistake

The short answer to your question, Struck, is yes. If you can pay zero interest on all or part of an existing balance, you want to.

That being said, there are things you need to know about credit cards, especially the zero percent interest kind. Here are some things to know about zero percent balance transfer offers.

It’s possible you won’t get it. Zero percent card offers are normally made to those with good credit — scores of 700-plus. While card companies typically screen before making offers, if your credit score changes before you submit an application, they could turn you down.

Offers made by credit card companies are just that — offers. They aren’t guarantees.

Mess up once, and you could lose the zero percent rate. Be sure to read the fine print. Many cards will include conditions, such as paying on time, to retain the zero percent rate. Make a payment that’s one day late, and you could lose it.

You’ll probably pay a fee. This is the biggest drawback to transferring a balance to a zero percent card. The vast majority of issuers charge a fee ranging from 2 to 5 percent of the balance to transfer to their zero percent card.

For example, if you transfer $8,000 to a card that charges a 4 percent fee, you’ll be paying off $8,320.

Do the math. That’s why, before transferring any balance, you have to figure out how much it’s going to cost you. There are calculators that can help determine just how much you’ll save by transferring balances. For example, you can find one at CreditCards.com.

I used that calculator to find out what you’d save by transferring an $8,000 balance to a zero percent card for 18 months, after paying a 4 percent fee. It says you’ll save $1,509 in interest over the life of the 18-month promotional period, then $22 a month thereafter, assuming that you make only minimum payments. Not bad.

Granted, you may not be able to transfer the entire $8,000 balance, and we don’t know the transfer fee you’ll pay. So, although the math will probably work out to your benefit, you need to do it yourself.

Check the rate for purchases as well as transfers. Some cards offer a zero percent rate on balance transfers but charge a different rate on new purchases made on the card, as well as for cash advances. If the amount you’re transferring will devour your entire available credit line, this won’t be a concern, but if not, find out the terms.

Have you shopped it? Since applying for credit is a hassle, when you do it, make sure you’re getting the best bang for the buck.

Like many consumer sites, we have a full list of balance transfer credit cards. Some have longer zero percent interest promotional periods than others, and some have lower post-promotional rates, better rewards, lower fees, etc.

You obviously want a zero percent promotional rate, but decide on other features you’d like, then take the time to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

Are you using a Band-Aid when you need stitches? There’s an elephant in the room with any balance transfer, namely, the reason you’re juggling debt in the first place.

As justification for carrying a balance, Struck says, “I recently came into some unexpected expenses.” One-time, nonrecurring expenses are the perfect problem to solve with zero percent credit offers. But if you’re habitually living beyond your means, a zero percent card is simply postponing the inevitable day when you reach the end of your credit rope.

Obviously, whatever the source of your debt, paying less interest is better than paying more. But as you make these transfers, take some time to evaluate what got you here and what it’s going to take to get you out. Then, if you need help,get it.

Got a question you’d like answered?

A great way to get answers to just about any money-related question is to head toour Forums. It’s the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth and, most important, post questions and get answers. It’s also where I often look for questions to answer in this weekly column. You can also ask questions by replying to our daily emails. If you’re not getting them, fix that right now by subscribing here.

Bankrate Paying $15M to Settle SEC Charges on False Results

Bankrate.com website
WASHINGTON — Bankrate Inc., an online publisher of widely read consumer finance data, has agreed to pay a $15 million fine to settle federal regulators’ charges of manipulating its financial results to meet analyst expectations.

The Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday announced the settlement of civil charges of accounting fraud with Bankrate and a former vice president of finance. Bankrate, based in North Palm Beach, Florida, neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing. It has agreed to refrain from future violations of the securities laws.

The former vice president, Hyunjin Lerner, agreed to resolve allegations that he and two other Bankrate executives ran a scheme to inflate revenues and omit some expenses from reports to meet analyst estimates for the second quarter of 2012. Lerner is paying a $150,000 fine and making restitution of $30,045 that he allegedly gained from selling Bankrate (RATE) stock after the company announced the false results and the share price rose to $17.57 from $15.95.

Lerner also was barred for five years from serving as an officer or director of any public company, and for at least five years from working as an accountant for one.

The SEC is continuing the case against the two others who are contesting the charges, former chief financial officer Edward DiMaria and ex-accounting director Matthew Gamsey.

“We allege that at the highest levels of its accounting department, Bankrate improperly inflated its financial performance to avoid falling short of Wall Street’s expectations,” SEC Enforcement Director Andrew Ceresney said in a statement.

The company is best known for its Bankrate.com website, which lists current data on interest rates, credit cards, insurance, mortgages, auto loans and other areas. Bankrate also licenses content to news organizations including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today.

Bankrate said in a statement that it restated its earnings to resolve the allegedly false accounting. The company also said it previously set aside $15 million to cover the settlement amount.

8 Ways Your Savings Account May Be Costing You

Asian woman paying bills
A savings account is an essential tool of money management. It’ll enable you to save for emergencies and financial goals, and you might even get a little bit of interest income along the way. But not all savings accounts are the same. Some are extra-stingy on interest. Some have high fees. And some are just terrible all around.

Here’s a look at some ways your savings account may actually be making your financial situation worse, and how to find the best savings account for you.

1. Terrible interest rates. No bank has high rates these days. But some are offering practically no interest at all. Don’t hesitate to shop around for higher rates; it’s still possible to get rates higher than 1 percent, especially on the Internet. Online savings accounts such as Discover Bank and CapitalOne360offer some of the best rates around, so look there first. (See also: 5 Best Online Savings Accounts)

2. Fees. Many banks charge fees for a wide range of things, from low balances and overdrafts, to frequent deposits or withdrawals. You might even get dinged if you want a paper statement, or want to use an ATM from another bank. If your bank seems to be bleeding you dry with fees, find a different place to put your money. Many online savings accounts offer no fees or minimums.

3. You’re putting too much into it. Let’s be clear: There’s nothing wrong with saving. We love saving! But if you are placing virtually every dollar of surplus cash in a normal savings account, you’re hurting your future self financially. That’s because it’s also important to put as much money as you can retirement accounts, such as your 401(k) or Roth IRA. Putting some money in stocks and other investments will lead to higher returns and more cash in the long run, and these accounts have great tax advantages. Even taxable brokerage accounts are fine if you’re investing in things that generate a higher return than your savings account.

4. A lack of sub-accounts. A savings account is good, but when it’s just a pile of money without a designated purpose, it’s not as effective as it could be in helping you reach your goals. If you have the ability to open sub-accounts for specific purposes, such as a new car, home repairs or vacation, you’ll find that it’s much easier to be disciplined. If you have an account labeled “new car fund,” for example, you’ll be less tempted to dip into that account until absolutely necessary. Many online savings accounts offer sub-accounts free of charge, so take advantage of them if you can.

5. The online security stinks. It seems like every day, we’re hearing about a company suffering from a major data breach, potentially placing customers’ personal and financial information at risk. Credit card users are often the most vulnerable, but be aware if your bank has also had issues protecting the information of account holders. Be sure you’re comfortable with the security measures in place to prevent criminals from logging in to your accounts. Loyalty to a bank isn’t going to mean much if you spend thousands of dollars getting a case of identity theft resolved.

6. Poor access to good CDs. CDs offer terms of varying lengths; the longer the term, the better the rate. But not all banks allow you to easily move cash from a savings account to CDs. And many that do offer them don’t have a great selection. When researching a savings account, also research the CD offerings from the same bank.

7. A dearth of online and mobile services. In this day and age, you need a bank that allows you to save and manage your money in the same way you live your life. This means having access to online banking and mobile apps that let you check balances, pay bills, and move money around when necessary. It means mobile check cashing. It may even mean the ability to make payments to other people from your account, when necessary. If you are still relying on visits to physical banks and monthly paper statements, you’re wasting time and money.

8. It’s not even your account. Imagine having an account in which a bank takes your money and places it in its own savings account. Imagine having to ask the bank to transfer money back to you when you need it. Seems absurd, right? But that’s exactly what happens if you sign on with the online banking service known as Digit. The service is designed to move money from your checking account to savings when money is available, theoretically encouraging people to save. But the customer doesn’t actually own the savings account, and worst of all, Digit offers absolutely no interest to customers, but it makes money by generating interest on your savings. Get it? Me neither. Stay away from banks and services like this one.

4 Surprising Credit Card Fees and How to Avoid Them

Beautiful successful woman holding credit card, and shopping through laptop
Failing to read a credit card’s terms and conditions before you apply can cost you money. Plain and simple.

Sure, reading that document is about as exciting as watching paint dry, but the fact is that it contains information you need to know before you use the card. Now, it won’t tell you everything you need to know — for example, it may give you a range of possible APRs (say, 12.99 percent to 21.99 percent) rather than telling your exact rate — but it will give you a lot more information than you’d find in an ad.

Much of that information is about fees, including annual fees, late payment fees and balance transfer fees. However, those are far from the only ones.

A recent CreditCards.com survey of 100 popular credit cards showed that the average credit card comes with six different possible fees. Of those 100 cards, only one had no fees: the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Promise Visa card, which doesn’t even come with a fee for making a late payment. On the flip side, two cards from First Premier Bank — which markets to those with less than perfect credit — come with as many as 12 possible fees. Several other cards featured nine possible fees.

So what are these fees?

Here’s a look at some of the most unusual fees we found in our survey and how you can avoid them.

Credit Limit Increase Fees

Get your credit limit bumped up? That can cost you.

First Premier’s terms and conditions, for example, include the following: “Each time your credit account is eligible for and approved for an unsecured credit limit increase, a credit limit increase fee in the amount of 25 percent of the amount of the credit limit increase will be assessed to your credit account.”

So if you get a $100 credit increase, you’ll have to pay $25 in fees. Fortunately, First Premier cards typically feature low credit limits, so any increase likely would be small. However, it’s still something you’d rather avoid. Do that by notrequesting a credit limit increase on a card with that fee — and rejecting the increase if the issuer offers you one without you asking for it.

Pay-By-Phone Fees

If you frequently pick up the phone to pay off your credit card bill, you might want to reconsider. Nearly 1 out of every 10 cards surveyed included this fee, which typically cost $10 to $15. The good news: This fee is easy to avoid. Pay online or just send a check instead.

Account Reopening Fees

There’s more to closing a credit card account than calling the issuer and cutting up your card, and this fee can force people to learn that the hard way.

Automatic bill payments are most likely to trigger this fee. Say you just cancelled a credit card. If you don’t also cancel all of the automatic bill payments going to and from the card, it can lead to a card account being reopened, whether you want it to or not. These back-from-the-dead accounts are often called zombie accounts and can lead to you being hit with a fee of about $25. Nearly 1 in 10 credit cards surveyed included this fee.

How do you avoid it? Keep track of how many automatic bill payments you have set up for your credit cards, and be sure to account for each one of them when you close that card.

Paper Statement Copy Fees

It’s easy to get a copy of a recent credit card statement through your bank’s website these days. If you need your issuer to send you a paper copy of an older statement, expect to pay a bit. About 1 in 3 cards surveyed had some sort of fee for hard copies of statements. How much you pay, however, depends on how old the statement is. Some cards charge the fee only if the requested statement is 13 months or more old. Others charge a small fee for statements less than 25 months old and a slightly larger fee for those that are older.

Sometimes this fee will be unavoidable. If you need that statement and there’s no other way to get it, you might just have to pay it. However, it might be worth asking the issuer if they’d waive that fee for you. If you’ve been a good customer, they just might do it.

Remember: It never hurts to ask …

That last point is an important one that far too many people overlook. You have much more power with your credit card issuer than you realize. For example, a CreditCards.com survey last year of nearly 1,500 adults showed that only 28 percent of credit cardholders had ever asked to have a late payment waived, but a stunning 86 percent of those who asked were successful. That means many people are paying late fees that they probably don’t have to. The same survey showed that only 23 percent of people had asked for a lower credit card APR, but 65 percent of those who asked for one got one. And if that many people are successfully getting those requests granted, it’s reasonable to assume that your odds of getting more obscure fees waived is pretty good, too.

To make the request, call the toll-free number on the back of your card. Tell them, if it’s true, that you’ve been a loyal customer with a strong credit history, and you were hoping they could give you a break on this fee. Be polite but direct. Chances are that you’ll like the bank’s response.