Even though it may sometimes seem that credit card companies can do anything they way, there are credit card laws that regulate what they can and can’t do, as well as how they can and can’t go about it. Apart from when major changes are made, you don’t regularly hear about these laws. One of the reasons for this is that a lot of the laws are fairly basic, but there are some exceptions. In fact, some big changes just recently went into effect.
One of the big changes is that credit card companies can’t just simply change the terms of the agreement in any way they choose. The way it used to work was that they had to send you a notice spelling out the new terms; almost always written in undecipherable legalese, and in very small print. In theory, you could opt out of those changes, but only by paying off your balance and closing your account. To make it worse, you “accepted” the new terms, no matter how detrimental to you, through the continued use of your card.
Among the questionable practices, from the consumer’s point of view is the ability to change interest rates at any time, and it doesn’t matter if you have made every payment on time or not. Another is what is known as “universal default”. This is where you miss a payment with one card, and all of your other cards punish you by raising your rate, even though you have paid them without fail. Credit card laws allowed them to do this, and the argument was that you had become more of a risk to them.
However, under the new law says they have to give you at least 45 days notice and give you a chance to close your account. Granted, that may not be the best option, but it’s better than it used to be. In addition, the new law says that any increase in interest rates can only be applied to new balances. This is more fair as you should (in theory) always know what interest rate is being charged on any purchases, regardless of how old they are.
Prior to the new credit card laws, any amount you paid above the minimum payment could be applied in the way the credit card company saw fit. What this usually meant is that they would apply it to your balance with the lowest interest rate. This allowed them to collect even more from you by letting the higher interest balances bring in more money. Now the law states that they have to apply any extra to your highest rate balance first.
There are other provisions in the credit card laws that are meant to help the consumer. However, the law still largely favors the credit card companies so don’t think everything will work in your favor; it won’t. To put it another way, the laws are better than what they were, but they still have a long way to go.