Earlier today, we spoke with Bill Hardekopf, CEO of credit card into site Lowcards.com on the subject of Citi (C) and its infatuation with raising interest rates and shutting down credit cards. Bill then shot us an email detailing why he thinks Citi is making its customers deal with 29.99% rate hikes and why you should use your credit card reward points before it’s too late:
In the past week, Citi has increased the interest rate on a number of their
cardholders to 29.99% and cancelled the accounts of customers holding
some of their gas partner co-branded cards. Bank of America notified
some of their cardholders that it will begin charging an annual fee
ranging from $29 to $99 on their cards beginning in February 2010.
These actions follow last week’s earnings reports that revealed that banks
and credit card issuers are still losing millions of dollars due to credit
card defaults and delinquencies. Issuers and analyst expect this to continue
into next year.
Credit card issuers are desperately trying to rebound after the collapse of
the economy and consumer lending, but unemployment, the CARD Act and the
possibility of new regulations are restricting traditional areas revenue.
Issuers must make changes, even if it angers Congress and their cardholders.
“Credit card issuers warned there would be changes if Congress passed new
rules regulating them. They have already proved many times that they were
not bluffing,” says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com and author of
The Credit Card Guidebook.
Here are the latest changes that have taken place and some consumer tips for
responding to the changes:
* Citi is notifying a number of cardholders of APR increases up to 29.99%.
To make matters worse, this is a variable rate that can escalate once the
prime rate increases.
“We are hearing from customers with good credit histories that their rate
has been increased to 29.99% for no apparent reason,” says Hardekopf.
“29.99% sends a message that Citi doesn’t want you to use that card. It is a
strong motivation to close your account.”
If your rate increases and you carry a balance, call and ask them to reduce
the rate. If that doesn’t work, you now have a right to opt out of the rate
increase by the deadline outlined in your notice. By opting-out, you can pay
off the balance at the current interest rate for up to five years, but you
cannot make any further charges on the account. Opt-out and pay off the
balance as soon as possible. But before you opt-out, redeem your rewards.
You may forfeit the rewards once you have opted-out.
This rate increase comes at the beginning of the holiday season. If your
rate is 29.99% and you keep the card, do not use this card during the
holiday season unless you are sure you can pay off the balance immediately.
* Last week, Citi cancelled a substantial number of their MasterCard
accounts, most of which were gas partner co-branded cards. Citi said that
these account closings include credit cards affiliated with Shell, Citgo,
ExxonMobil and Phillips 66-Conoco.
Some customers have complained that they did not receive notice of this. But
issuers do not have to give customers advance notice of an account
cancellation. Issuers have the right to close credit lines immediately, so
cancellation notices can be sent after the card is cancelled. Even the CARD
Act only requires that issuers give advance notice of rate increases.
Citi is also shutting down the Home Depot credit card effective at the end
of October. Rewards will be honored through February 2010.
Customers should use their accumulated rewards very soon or they could lose
them. If the cancelled card is a rewards card, the issuer may give a
deadline for redeeming the rewards. However, if you don’t see the
notification in the mail or forget the deadline, you lose your rewards. In
some cases, the rewards are lost when the account is closed, even if the
issuer is the one who closed it.
Cardholders should be on the lookout for changes and notices from their
issuers. This is a good time to use your reward points for holiday travel or
early holiday shopping.
* Last week, Bank of America notified a limited group of cardholders that it
will start charging an annual fee on their credit cards beginning in
February 2010. The fee will range from $29 to $99 and will be applied to the
selected accounts based on risk and profitability.
This action came only one week after Bank of America received attention and
praise for promising to put a freeze on credit card rates.
“Nearly 80% of the credit cards in America do not have annual fees,” said
Hardekopf. “You can certainly find a comparable card without an annual fee
if you shop around. Just make sure to analyse the terms and conditions of
each card and if they are similar, choose the one without this yearly fee.
“Actions like these are rarely singular events. One issuer takes a new step
and the others likely follow. Issuers are trying everything they can to
reduce risk and increase revenue, especially since regulations are limiting
their options,” says Hardekopf. “Consumers have to pay attention to their
bill and the notices they receive in the mail.”
Cardholders should take note that if they are in deliquency, their frequent flyer miles can be withheld by Citi:
Randy Petersen: One final note on cancelling your Citi card: The safety of your AAdvantage miles is dependent upon you making sure that the final balance is paid. Citi can and does withhold miles when an account becomes delinquent. Miles are also deducted if you choose to return a product that you charged with your Citi card. But if your balance is clear, and you are set on closing the card and willing to take a credit score hit, then go ahead and cancel.