Credit Card
Personal Debt Issues

Banks tightening squeeze on consumers

(1/18/2012) - HSBC offers a zero-interest rate, GM affiliated credit card and after 15 months the rate only jumps to 9.99 percent -- provided you don't hit a financial bump in the road.

Make one late payment and your rate will soar to 30 percent -- for as long as you use the card.

The rate is just about what it costs for some payday loans, but you ain't seen nothing yet.

Consumers may have been able to beat back certain debit card fees, but banks are hard at work coming up with new ways to take you to the cleaners.

The cover story in Consumer Reports' (CR) February 2012 issue "Fight Back Against Your Bank" explains what you can expect. Here's a sample.

• Closing fees. Some banks will ding you if you close an account soon after opening it. Consumer Reports says U.S. Bank and PNC charge $25 if certain accounts are closed within 180 days. Chase levied a similar penalty for accounts closed sooner -- within just 90 days, but dropped the charge late last year. Read the small print that comes with new cards.

• Higher fees for using debit cards at out-of-network ATMs. The average fee banks charge non-customers using their ATMs rose from $2.33 in 2010 to $2.40 in 2011, a record high, according to CR. When your bank also charges you for tapping another bank's ATM, the total average fee climbs to $3.81.

• Higher penalty fees. The average insufficient funds fee hit a record $30.83 last year, up from $30.47 in 2010, CR reported. Regularly balancing your checkbook or otherwise knowing your true balance can prevent the fees.

• Shorter grace periods. Some credit cards won't charge interest if you pay the balance off within a grace period of about 25 days. CR says banks are likely to shorten that period to 20 days. Some could eliminate the grace period and even if you pay off your bill every month you could still get dinged for interest. Again, read the small print for new accounts and disclosures your bank sends you.

• Higher interest rates. Expect higher interest rates, especially those hidden behind initial teaser rates, like HSBC's zero-interest rate GM credit card. Also expect higher rates on unsecured loans and auto loans.

• Higher loan fees. You could be charged an application fee when you apply for a car loan or other loan. Fewer banks likely will drop mortgage loan origination fees.

For the full story, online or in print, the required subscription is worth the price of admission.

"Fight Bank Against Your Bank," details bank fees you can expect, it explains why banks are squeezing you harder and offers options to help you keep fees to a minimum.




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