Paying For Good Credit

You may be getting charged for not carrying a balance balance

It used to be that if you paid off your bills on time, you were an ideal credit card holder. But a growing trend in the industry could mean that prompt paying customers will be charged an extra fee for paying off their debts.

About one-third of all cardholders are convenience users, now considered “freeloaders,” according to Bankcard Holders of America, an organization that tracks the industry. Convenience users are customers who don’t rack up interest charges on unpaid balances.

To counteract these losses, credit card companies have begun charging annual fees, cutting back or eliminating grace periods, moving up late fees, and increasing interest rates.

Paying on time can now affect your credit status as well. Credit card companies are not only avoiding customers with risky payment habits, but people who pay off balances monthly. Those accounts probably won’t be as lucrative and they may deny the application. There are a few things, however, that consumers can do.

Longstanding good customers may get interest rates lowered by calling and threatening to dose an account, advises investment banker and financial consultant James Milken, author of How to Make a Million for African Americans (UK Press, $29.95). “But don’t bluff. Be prepared to take your money elsewhere if they don’t comply,” he says. “While card companies make money off of interest, they also make money from volume. They don’t want to lose accounts,” he says.

Request a copy of the disclosure statement from your credit card company. This will explain the company’s payment terms, grace periods and penalty charges. If you see an unfamiliar charge on your monthly statement, compare it with the disclosure statement. Call the company immediately if you notice any discrepancies.

Don’t throw away those “important notices of changes with your consumer agreement.” Read them. If you do not agree with any of the changes, call the company and complain. They may waive the new fee or roll back an interest rate increase.

Before getting a new card, closely check the company’s terms. Look at the “Schumer Box,” which details the firm’s interest rate, interest computation method, grace periods and other fees (all of which are required by law to appear on every printed credit card offer).

Find a company or credit union that does not charge customers who pay off their balances on time every month. Look for cards with rates as low as 5%-6%, says Milken.

If you occasionally carry a balance to finance a large purchase, look for a card that offers a substantial grace period for new purchases. If you have more than one card, stagger your billing dates. This will lengthen your grace periods. “If you have three cards, call each company and request different billing dates,” advises Milken. “Then when you make a purchase use the card you most recently received a bill from.”

If you tend to always carry a balance, pick a card with a low introductory rate followed by the lowest rate you can get when the introductory period ends. Then if you have balances on more than

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