Punishing the Penalizers
Credit Card Management (10/00) Vol. 13, No. 7 p.20; Punch, Linda

Card issuers have a long road to travel to regain the trust of their cardholders. After abruptly deciding to raise penalty fees, issuers were called to the mat by cardholders and legislators, who responded to the public's outcry with new legislation to monitor the credit card industry's penalty-fee practices. Credit card companies initiated the hike as a way to compensate for revenue they lost after competition forced issuers to drop annual fees and slash interest rates. But industry experts like Tanya Azarchs, managing director at Standard & Poor's, say that the consumer revolt was not about card issuers raising penalty fees as much as it was about their policy changes for imposing those fees. Says Azarchs, "Where [consumers] go to lawsuits is where they say 'you charged me all this and I know I paid on time.'" Ken McEldowney, executive director of Consumer Action, believes that it is a matter of perception for consumers, who he says read the situation as issuers "basically changing the rules of the game so that more people are hit with late fees and penalty fees." Also upsetting to consumers is the reduction in the grace period companies used to extend. Myvesta.org President Steve Rhode notes that customers used to have 30 days to get the payment in, and if the payment was a little late, there was no fear of a penalty. Now consumers have 20 days to get the payment in on time, or risk being charged a $29 late fee.

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