No Saving Grace

Credit card companies give you less time to pay

Having a full-time career, visiting her mother, and spending time with her significant other, Sybil D. Jones of Waukegan, Illinois, has little time for much else — least of all, remembering to pay her credit card bill earlier than her other monthly accounts.

As credit card companies look to increase revenue because of stagnant interest income, many card issuers have reduced their grace period to 20 days, giving consumers less time to pay their bills without incurring additional late fees and mounting finance charges. Lucky for Jones, a Discover Card customer of 10 years, her company’s grace period has remained 25 days.

The grace period usually applies to purchases, not cash advances or balances. It is the time between the statement date and the due date in which a customer has to pay his or her bill in full before incurring any late charges. The statement date, however, is the date the bill is prepared, which could arrive by mail a week or two later.

“The 25-day grace period makes a big difference to me. Sometimes, I pay just a few days before it’s due, and with the mail, it could take a little more time. It’s important to me to have those five extra days because I am so busy. Those extra fees can really hurt,” says Jones.

According to Robert McKinley, CEO of CardWeb.com Inc. (www.cardweb.com), the leading online publisher of information regarding debit, smart, prepaid, loyalty, phone, and credit cards, the average late fee on a credit card is $29.84. Many issuers, however, now charge a $35 late fee. If your company has reduced your grace period, here’s what to do to avoid paying late fees. Consult the disclosure box (known as terms and conditions) on your credit card application or agreement to determine the length of your grace period. If it has been reduced, the only recourse is to switch card issuers says McKinley.

In 2001 American Express changed the grace period on most of its credit cards from 25 to 20 days. “Some credit card companies had already done so. We wanted to be consistent with current marketplace trends,” says Desiree Fish, spokesperson for American Express.

Check to see if your credit card company has reduced its grace period. To determine when your grace period begins and ends, read your statement closely. The grace period begins on the statement closing date and ends on the payment due date.

No matter what your grace period may be, pay attention to the terms of your contract. If you have questions, your credit card company has a toll free customer service number. Some companies, such as American Express, offer customer service 24 hours a day.

“We encourage consumers to pay their bills when they receive them. That way they can avoid paying any delinquent fee,” says Fish. Another option is to register to pay online

Companies Offering 25-Day Grace Period

Card

Phone Numbers

A.P.R.

Annual
Membership
Fee

Discover Platinum

800-347-2683

13.99%

None

Discover Gold

800-347-2683

13.99

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