Survey Finds Credit Card Companies Raising Fees

At a time when interest rates are low and personal bankruptcies are high, credit card companies have come up with new ways to boost revenues. Increasingly, customers are seeing new income-generating tactics, such as increased late fees and surcharges for overseas purchases. Some issuers are raising interest rates for existing customers who have poor credit, even if the customer hasn’t slipped up on payments with the credit card company.

Consumer Action (CA), a San Francisco, CA-based education and advocacy organization, recently released the results of its annual credit card survey, which examined the rates and terms of 143 cards from 47 banks.

CA found that in the last year, nine banks, including Bank of America and Bank One, had implemented a new late payment fee for some of their credit cards. The banks now use a tiered late payment system, which charges higher late fees to customers with higher balances. The organization also found that the number of banks charging a $35 late fee had doubled from last year with late fees ranging from $10 to $38 for an average of $27.

The survey also found that 39 percent of issuers will raise a customer’s interest rate if a credit report shows slipups with other creditors, a practice that Linda Sherry, CA’s editorial director, calls "grossly unfair." Two banks, Bank of America and Fidelity National Bank, say that they wouldn’t raise an existing customer’s rate because of a credit problem but they might lower the customer’s credit limit.

In addition, a growing number of Visa and MasterCard issuers are tacking on a currency conversion fee, of 1 or 2 percent, on foreign transactions. The fee comes on top of the existing 1 percent charge. Citibank started the practice in 1998 and USA Bank adopted the new fee structure last spring.

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