U.S. credit-card debt has increased over 300% since 1990, estimated at almost $1 trillion, a record high. Most Americans carry four or more credit cards in their wallet and use them more than they should.
If today's looming debt crisis is not enough of a problem for the masses the limited regulation of the credit-card industry is rapidly pushing it over the edge for many Americans. Nationwide consumers are being burned by unfair and excessive fees, rapidly increasingly interest rates, and incomprehensible agreements that companies revise at will.
In 2007 credit-card companies collected $18.1 billion in penalty fees that accounted for almost half of the industry's profits.
Credit-card companies insist that with over 6000 card issuers consumers can shop around to avoid fees and penalties but consumer advocates maintain that companies often add new fees and change policies after you sign up and grandly inform you in impossible-to-understand, tiny print at the bottom of your statement.
If you use credit cards be CENTSable.
1) Make sure you're aware of changes in rates, rules and due dates. They can abruptly change from month to month.
2) Inform yourself on your cards policies to avoid extra charges and penalties including fees for balance transfers, cash advances, foreign currency conversion, near/over limit penatlies, paying off your balance by phone, and more.
3) If you decide/need to shop for a new card check your local bank and credit union and be leery of promotional introductory rates. They are usually just come-ons for balance transfers and if you make future purchases they will often accumulate at a higher rate and the payments you make will automatically apply to the lower interest transfer so the higher interest debt keeps building/compounding.
Meanwhile there is hope. Several bills now making their way through Congress are aimed at curbing deceptive card practices - write your congressman! until then, think twice before you whip out a card.