Credit companies changing terms

By Jamie Boll -  bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -  Teresa Brigham could hardly believe her eyes.

"Paid our bills on time, always paid more than the minimum," she said.

It didn't seem to matter.  Seemingly out of nowhere,  JP Morgan Chase changed the terms on her family's credit card.   Her minimum payment was pushed from 2% of the balance up to 5%.

It wasn't the only difference in her monthly bill.  Chase was also adding a monthly service fee.

"Ten dollars a month. Ding, ding, ding, hello what are you doing to us?" Brigham asked.

The answer is Chase is tightening up credit.  They are not alone.  Nearly all the big lenders are doing it.  They are attempting to limit their exposure to potential defaults, which rose to a 20-year-high in March.

As a result of those losses customers in good standing are starting to feel the impact.

Not only are minimum payments being raised and service fees added, but others are seeing their credit lines slashed which can negatively impact credit scores.

The Federal Reserve approved changes to credit card rules in December.   They are designed to better protect card users from certain unfair acts or practices, including the unexpected raising of interest rates.  The rules, however, don't go into effect until July 2010.

"Until then credit card companies kind of have the right to do whatever they need to do," said Credit Counselor Tina Webb-Bouttry of Clearpoint Financial Solutions.   She says now more than ever you need to read the fine print that comes with each bill statement.

"What makes me most angry is that just because they have the right to do it, doesn't make it right," said Brigham.

Congress tried to pass a "Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights" late last year.  It would move up the start date for the new rules, but it died in the U.S. Senate after passing the House of Representatives.

Until those rules go into effect experts say the best advice is to maintain as high a credit score as possible.

The best way to do that is to make on-time payments, make few requests for new credit and keep long-standing accounts in good standing active.

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