We’re officially four months away from the Credit Card Holder’s Bill of Rights going into effect. And, if certain Democrats have their way, we’re only thirty days away. But, for the sake of argument let’s assume that the CARD Act provisions will wait until February 2010 to become enforceable law.
During these last few days of the credit card world’s version of the Wild Wild West we should continue to see credit card issuers behaving badly, very badly in fact. The mega-credit card issuers have a shrinking window of opportunity to finish remolding their cardholder base to look more like what they will finally deem as being to their liking. This means consumers will continue to suffer the at the hands of their credit card companies, that is of course unless they employ one or more of the following strategies.
1. Don’t Not Use Your Card – Ok, the poor grammar was intentional and corny but I think I’ve made my point. Credit card issuers are in busy to make money and make a profit. They can’t do either unless you are using your credit card. And, the best news is that you do not have to carry a balance from one month to the next in order to drop a few dimes in your credit card issuers pockets. Each time you use your credit card the merchant (aka the place you used the card) has to pay the bank a fee. This fee is called interchange. It technically comes out of your pocket because many retailers will build the assumed fee into the price of the merchandise but it sure doesn’t feel that way when we buy stuff with our credit cards. So, knock the dust off your cards and use them for modest purchases. Don’t revolve a balance and don’t get into a position where your balances spiral out of control and you’ll be fine.
2. Shut Up! – In the past a viable strategy to get fees waived and interest rates lowered was to call your credit card issuer and complain or otherwise plead your case. That’s still a decent strategy but beware. Your credit card issuer might turn the tables and start asking YOU questions in order to determine whether or not they still want to do business with you. If you call them and THEY start asking questions about your job status and salary then end the convo and hang up or you might just end up with a closed credit card.
3. Open Another Card, NOW – One of the worst strategies I see people employing today is the 1-card strategy. You should have MORE cards, not fewer cards. In the ideal mix of credit model – a consumer should have 3-5 credit cards (personally I endorse 4 or 5 cards). Clearly this is a credit score play as well since having more available and unused credit limits are always good for your credit scores. So, if you have one or two credit cards right now, think about opening at least one more. This gives you options in case one of your credit card issuers starts behaving badly towards you. Nothing is more empowering than saying “I’ll take my business elsewhere” and then actually doing it.
4. Don’t Hide Behind Great FICO Scores – FICO published a study earlier this year and the findings showed that the median FICO score for a consumer who has seen his or her credit limit reduced was 770. A 770 FICO score is fantastic in any lender’s book and especially in this credit environment where lenders are gravitating to stronger borrowers. What this means is that just because you have great FICOs it doesn’t fully shield you from adverse treatment from lenders.
5. Go Small and Go Local – I was speaking with John Ulzheimer, founder of credit dot com and a nationally recognized credit expert and he made an interesting point. He said that we, as consumers and watchdogs, tend to focus on the largest 5-10 banks and tend to forget about the thousands of lenders who are NOT treating their customers poorly. Credit unions are a great example of these lenders. If you are sick of how you’re being treated by your Manhattan bank then perhaps you need a local credit union or local bank on your side.
6. Don’t Exit The System – The blogs are on fire with angry consumers who are claiming to have sworn off credit for the foreseeable future because of how they are being treated by their lenders. “From now on if I can’t pay cash for it I won’t buy it.” Eh, that plays well on the big screen but it’s not realistic. Carrying around cash to pay for things is a bad idea. And good luck using debit cards for things like business travel and European vacations. Stay in the system, please.
7. If All Else Fails, Litigate – If you’re finding yourself saddled with a garbage credit report because of errors and you can’t the credit bureaus or lenders to correct your files then think about filing a lawsuit. You certainly wouldn’t be alone. There will be over 8,500 credit related lawsuits filed this year. Collections agencies are the targets in most of them but certainly the credit bureaus and lenders are in the cross hairs a fair amount too. Just be sure to hire a lawyer who knows what he’s doing.
So there you have it, seven solid strategies to hopefully minimize your chances of being treated poorly by your creditors. And while there are certainly no guarantees that you’ll exit this credit environment without a few scars, you can certainly make yourself as immune as possible by doing a few easy and inexpensive things.