When Americans open their credit card bills this month they will see a warning about how long it will take to pay off their bills if they only make minimum payments, a requirement of the Bankruptcy Reform Law. In addition, they may find that their minimum payment has been doubled.
Federal banking regulators have issued guidelines to credit card issuers requiring that minimum payments cover at least one percent of the balance, including finance fees, the Seattle Times reports. The result can be a minimum payment of three percent. Current minimums of approximately two percent cover only interest and other fees.
Major card companies, including MBNA, Citibank and Bank of America have already instituted double minimums and other companies are expected to follow, Knockout Debt, a debt reduction company, said in a press release. American Express will charge two percent of the outstanding balance plus finance charges or $15 whichever is greater. Capitol One does not break out the charges in their increase but will institute a minimum payment of three percent, Bankrate.com reports.
For the seven percent of Americans who make only the minimum payment, the change will help them get out of debt sooner, even if the initial payments are painful, Bankrate.com says. But credit card companies are prepared for losses from defaulting cardholders who may consider filing for bankruptcy protection, according to the Knockout Debt report. The new bankruptcy law has made this a more difficult process for most people.
Overall credit card debt is down 11.4 percent from 2004 according to a survey conducted by Myvesta, a nonprofit consumer education company. The average American carries $2,328 in debt, down from $2,627 last year. Steve Rhode, president of Myvesta, expressed caution about these results, warning that consumers could wipe out their progress in debt reduction during the holiday season.
The Myvesta survey found that males carry an average of $2,369 in debt on 2.8 cards and females have $2,289 on 3.1 cards. Married persons average $2,625 in credit card debt while single individuals average $1,744. Consumer debt is highest in the West and lowest in the Midwest.