A Credit Card You Want to Toss - Part 2

An Unjustified, For-Profit Move

Analysts also say they are surprised by the magnitude of the rate raises Bank of America is imposing on affected cardholders. Michael Jordan, 25, a software developer who lives in Higganum, Conn., says he received a letter from Bank of America in late January advising him that his card rate would rise from 9.99% to 24.99%. The software developer, who earns $80,000 per year, says he was "shocked" because his payments had been on time and his credit score hadn't changed in the last year. In fact, Jordan says, he has only $4,500 in overall outstanding credit-card debt on two cards and that, on the Bank of America card in question, he had paid down his balance to $3,000 from $3,700 last August. "His rate increase seems unjustified based on his credit profile," says David Robertson, publisher of The Nilson Report, a credit-card industry trade publication.

When Jordan called Bank of America about the higher rate, he says, the bank representative couldn't explain why his rate was going up. On a second call, he adds, the individual told him the reason for the increase was that he hadn't been paying down his balance fast enough, though he had lowered it by 19% in the last six months and was only now utilizing 54% of his $5,500 credit limit. Riess, the Bank of America spokeswoman, declined to discuss individual rate increases or to list all the criteria the bank was using as reasons to raise rates on existing cardholders.

Analysts say the bank's move is obviously aimed at shoring up profits. On Jan. 22 Bank of America reported a 95% decrease in fourth-quarter earnings due mostly to increases in loan-loss reserves for consumer credit, including rising card charge-offs and write-downs in mortgage-related securities. Bank of America faces another profit sinkhole with its pending acquisition of troubled Countrywide Financial (CFC). Portales' Ryan notes that boosting rates on existing credit-card holders is one of the quickest levers a bank can pull to try to boost earnings.

Anticipating Charge-Offs

Bank of America hasn't made it easy for consumers to reject the new rates. The letters require that consumers write Bank of America to agree to no longer use the card and pay off the existing balance at the old rate—they can't telephone to do so, nor does Bank of America provide a form or a return envelope. Moreover, consumers don't have much time to respond. Cardholders say they got the letters in the latter half of January: four of the letters obtained by BusinessWeek require a written response by Feb. 19, while the fifth requires a response by Feb. 29. If the company doesn't get a response by those dates, rates automatically rise. A response, of course, assumes consumers read the letter from Bank of America as they sort junk mail. "It's a reasonable assumption that most don't," says Karen Gross, a legal scholar on consumer credit and president of Southern Vermont College.

Bank of America also benefits from consumers who do write in an agreement to pay off balances at the old rate and not use the card again, says Nathan Powell, a credit analyst at New York-based research firm RiskMetrics Group. The bank, he says, is clearly trying to protect itself from worsening credit-card charge-offs ahead, something analysts widely expect in the card industry as the economy deteriorates. Powell says the bank must have identified a list of other credit criteria besides FICO that it is using to screen cardholders and determine it's no longer worth new business if they don't accept the higher rate. So far, Bank of America's charge-off rates have risen in line with the credit-card industry, up to 5.08% of receivables at the end of the fourth quarter from 4.57% a year ago. "The bank doesn't want to get behind the curve," Powell says.

"Unacceptable" Hikes

Bank of America is trying to get ahead of Amanda Pennington, 29, of Euless, Texas. She says the bank raised her credit limit three months ago from $5,000 to $8,000 because of her strong payment history. Then she got the letter from the bank in mid-January notifying that her rate would rise from 15.74% to 25.99%. When she called, she says, the bank told her it was raising her rate because her balance was now too high, though it was still under the higher new limit the bank had previously granted. After paying tuition for a community college course, transferring another balance, and paying for daily expenses, Pennington's Bank of America debt now stands at $7,500. Bank of America declined to comment on individual customers.

Adam Levin, CEO of Credit.com and former head of New Jersey's Division of Consumer Affairs, says he is surprised Bank of America would risk bad public relations with its rate increases, given the congressional hearings in December. The bank risks alienating new customers and existing ones by being so brazen, he says, adding, "Either Bank of America has more financial troubles than it is willing to admit or it has a level of institutional arrogance that is unacceptable."

P/S: Credit Card Model

A Credit Card You Want to Toss - Part 1

Credit-card issuers have drawn fire for jacking up interest rates on cardholders who aren't behind on payments, but whose credit score has fallen for another reason. Now, some consumers complain, Bank of America (BAC) is hiking rates based on no apparent deterioration in their credit scores at all.

The major credit-card lender in mid-January sent letters notifying some responsible cardholders that it would more than double their rates to as high as 28%, without giving an explanation for the increase, according to copies of five letters obtained by BusinessWeek. Fine print at the end of the letter—headed "Important Amendment to Your Credit Card Agreement"—advised calling an 800-number for the reason, but consumers who called say they were unable to get a clear answer. "No one could give me an explanation," says Eric Fresch, a Huron (Ohio) engineer who is on time with his Bank of America card payments and knows of no decline in the status of his overall credit.

Bank of America spokeswoman Betty Riess confirms some bank cardholders could be receiving rate increases for reasons other than declines in credit scores, such as running higher balances with their Bank of America cards or with other creditors. She says the increases are part of a "periodic review" that assesses customers' credit risk. She declined to say if the Charlotte (N.C.) bank had changed its credit standards thereby bumping some consumers' rates or how many cardholders were being affected by the review. Bank of America has 40 million U.S. credit-card accounts.

Buzz about the letters is building on the Internet. Since mid-January Credit.com, a credit-card information site, has received 40 complaints from consumers Bank of America had notified of sharp rate increases, even though they were current on their bills, says Emily Davidson, a Credit.com researcher. Complaint sites My3cents.com and BankofAmericaBadforAmerica.org say they have also received similar complaints.

The so-called "opt-out" letters give borrowers the option of no longer using their card and paying off the balance at the old rate. But they must write Bank of America by later this month if they plan to do so—otherwise their rates on existing and new balances automatically rise.

Arbitrary Criteria

What's striking is how arbitrary the Bank of America rate increases appear, credit industry experts say. In recent years, many card companies have turned to a practice called "risk-based pricing," where they will raise a regular paying consumer's rate because of a decline in the person's FICO score. FICO is a credit-risk score developed by Fair Isaac (FIC) that includes a number of risk metrics the Minneapolis company doesn't disclose. Credit reporting bureaus supply creditors with FICO scores along with other data, such as late payments and debts owed.

In a December congressional hearing spearheaded by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), lawmakers slammed big card companies for using such pricing with customers who pay on time. By law, credit-card lenders can change terms as long as they notify borrowers. Even so, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Citigroup (C) announced ahead of Levin's hearing that they would stop the practice of raising card rates based solely on FICO scores.

But Bank of America appears to be taking an even more aggressive stance because, beyond credit scores, it is using internal criteria that aren't available to consumers. That makes the reason for the rate increase even more opaque. "Congress has faulted credit-card companies for lack of transparency in raising rates," says William Ryan, a financial industry analyst at Portales Partners, a New York-based research firm. "Bank of America is bringing it to a new level."

P/S: Credit Card Model

Video - Father been Rip Off

Father Rip Off by son

Credit Card Information Sent Over AOL Instant Messenger

I had just bought $10.80 worth of Magic: The Gathering cards at the local gaming store. I asked if I could use a card to pay for it. The clerk said that would be okay, but he would have to 'add me to the computer.'

"Will that put me on the mailing list?', I asked.

"Sure. Name?"

"David Johnson", I replied. He began typing.


I gave him my street, city, state and zip. He typed in each response, followed by a solid hit on the enter key.

"Phone Number?"

I gave him my phone number.

"And what card will you be using?"

I handed him my card. He looked it over.

"I can't swipe the card, but I'll enter the information manually."

This had happened to me before. The magnetic stripe wears out, no biggie. I told him to go for it.


I thought it was unfortunate that he was saying the card number out loud as he typed, because there were other people in the store. They seemed pretty involved in their games.

"Okay, have to put in the expiration date..."

Sure, sure.

"Would you mind reviewing the information that I have entered?"

He turned the monitor towards me. I expected to see a Point-Of-Sale screen. I expected to see a nice piece of software for managing the store.

Instead I saw the familiar window of an AOL Instant Message. My heart sank. Did he really just send my name, address, phone number, credit card and expiration date UNENCRYPTED through an INSTANT MESSAGE SESSION?

"Does it look right?"

"My information looks fine! I just can't..."

At that moment, a reply popped up on the next line...

"It's good."

"Oh, crap", I thought, "Not only did he just give up the credit card, he just announced that it was good."

"We don't have a credit card machine at this location, but we have one at the other so we just use that one," he explained.

"That is really not cool," I said. I know the guy at the other location is the owner and I would be seeing him in a couple days. I made a mental note to explain to him what a terrible practice it was to send credit card information unencrypted over the Internet.

"Do you want a receipt?", the clerk asked.

Thinking that this was not going to end here. I asked him to please give me a receipt.

"We also don't have receipt paper so I will have to write it out."

"Great." In my head, I was thinking of the 800 number to cancel my credit card. I would at least give a call to find out if the bank thought I should cancel it.

"Here you go. I didn't want anyone to be able to see your credit card number so I put XXX's for some of the numbers." the clerk explained.

At this point, my jaw is hanging thinking of what a pain in the butt it will be to cancel the card, and total disbelief that this is even happening.

The 'receipt' put it over the top. All I could do was laugh at this point. I left the store with this in hand:

When I called the bank, the guy on the phone was laughing hilariously.

"Yes, Mr. Johnson, I recommend you cancel this card. We'll send you a new one immediately. Try to be more careful."

It's been almost two years since this occured. I scanned the receipt the next day. I have no remorse for the clerk or the store, which is why I waited to share.

Submitted by - David Johnson at http://www.davidj.org/stories/222/Credit_Card_Information_Sent_Over_AOL_Instant_Messenger.html

Tax payments by plastic rewarding

By Jay MacDonald • Bankrate.com

Nobody enjoys paying taxes, but several credit card issuers hope to lessen the pain by offering reward points or airline miles for cardholders who pay their federal income tax with plastic. Some credit card issuers like American Express and Discover offer cash back when you use their plastic to pay off Uncle Sam.

American Express offers one Membership Rewards point for nearly every dollar you charge for your taxes. Charge your taxes on a Chase United Mileage Plus Visa and you'll rack up more points and miles. But not everyone is happy with the "convenience" of paying taxes with plastic.

Beware the convenience fee
Bear in mind that if you charge your tax bill on these cards, you will be charged a convenience fee
-- usually 2.49 percent of the tax amount paid -- by either Official Payments Corp. or Link2Gov, the two third-party processors licensed by the federal government to accept credit card payments.

There are ways to save on the convenience fee, though. Link2Gov has a flat rate of $2.95 when you charge your taxes on a bank-issued debit card with the MasterCard or Visa logo. This even beats writing a check and mailing it, when you consider the U.S. Postal Service price of $4.50 for Certified Mail, with a Return Receipt. Debit cards eligible for use at incometaxpayment.com must participate in at least one of the following payment networks: NYCE, Star or PULSE. You can tell if your debit card is eligible by looking for the network logo on the back of a check, debit or ATM card.

American Express won't rebate your convenience fee, but it will allow you to redeem Membership Reward points to pay for it. Figure on cashing in 200 reward points for every dollar you're charged for the convenience of paying your tax bill with plastic, according to spokeswoman Monica Beaupre.

Cards overtake EFTs
Credit or debit card payments to the IRS have grown steadily since Uncle Sam first began accepting plastic in 1999 and now outnumber electronic funds transfers, or EFTs. That number is expected to grow considerably in 2008 when businesses will be allowed to pay by card as well. The advent of electronic filing and the proliferation of tax software programs, many of which offer their own rebate incentives for paying online, are driving the trend. There's also the simple convenience of telling the taxman to charge it.

Debit Card

A debit card is a plastic card which provides an alternative payment method to cash when making purchases. Physically the card is an ISO 7810 card like a credit card; however, its functionality is more similar to writing a cheque as the funds are withdrawn directly from either the cardholder's bank account (often referred to as a check card), or from the remaining balance on a gift card.

Depending on the store or merchant, the customer may swipe or insert their card into the terminal, or they may hand it to the merchant who will do so. The transaction is authorized and processed and the customer verifies the transaction either by entering a PIN or, occasionally, by signing a sales receipt.

In some countries the debit card is multipurpose, acting as the ATM card for withdrawing cash and as a check guarantee card. Merchants can also offer "cashback"/"cashout" facilities to customers, where a customer can withdraw cash along with their purchase.

The use of debit cards has become wide-spread in many countries and has overtaken the check, and in some instances cash transactions by volume. Like credit cards, debit cards are used widely for telephone and Internet purchases. This[citation needed] may cause inconvenient delays at peak shopping times (e.g. the last shopping day before Christmas), caused when the volume of transactions overloads the bank networks.

How Credit Cards Work

Have you ever stood behind someone in line at the store and watched him shuffle through a stack of what must be at least 10 credit cards? Consumers with this many cards are still in the minority, but experts say that the majority of U.S. citizens have at least one credit card -- and usually two or three. It's true that credit cards have become important sources of identification -- if you want to rent a car, for example, you really need a major credit card. And used wisely, a credit card can provide convenience and allow you to make purchases with nearly a month to pay for them before finance charges kick in.

That sounds good, in theory. But in reality, many consumers are unable to take advantage of these benefits because they carry a balance on their credit card from month to month, paying finance charges that can go up to a whopping 23 percent. Many find it hard to resist using the old "plastic" for impulse purchases or buying things they really can't afford. The numbers are striking: In 1999, American consumers charged about $1.2 trillion on their general-purpose credit cards.

In this article we'll look at the credit card -- how it works both financially and technically -- and we'll offer tips on how to shop for a credit card. (Experts say this should be a project on the scale of shopping for a car loan or mortgage!) We'll also describe the different credit-card plans available, talk about your credit history and how that might affect your card options, and discuss how to avoid credit-card fraud -- both online and in the real world.

Let's start at the beginning. A credit card is a thin plastic card, usually 3-1/8 inches by 2-1/8 inches in size, that contains identification information such as a signature or picture, and authorizes the person named on it to charge purchases or services to his account -- charges for which he will be billed periodically. Today, the information on the card is read by automated teller machines (ATMs), store readers, and bank and Internet computers.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the use of credit cards originated in the United States during the 1920s, when individual companies, such as hotel chains and oil companies, began issuing them to customers for purchases made at those businesses. This use increased significantly after World War II.

The first universal credit card -- one that could be used at a variety of stores and businesses -- was introduced by Diners Club, Inc., in 1950. With this system, the credit-card company charged cardholders an annual fee and billed them on a monthly or yearly basis. Another major universal card -- "Don't leave home without it!" -- was established in 1958 by the American Express company.

Later came the bank credit-card system. Under this plan, the bank credits the account of the merchant as sales slips are received (this means merchants are paid quickly -- something they love!) and assembles charges to be billed to the cardholder at the end of the billing period. The cardholder, in turn, pays the bank either the entire balance or in monthly installments with interest (sometimes called carrying charges).

The first national bank plan was BankAmericard, which was started on a statewide basis in 1959 by the Bank of America in California. This system was licensed in other states starting in 1966, and was renamed Visa in 1976.

Other major bank cards followed, including MasterCard, formerly Master Charge. In order to offer expanded services, such as meals and lodging, many smaller banks that earlier offered credit cards on a local or regional basis formed relationships with large national or international banks.

American Express

NYSE: AXP), sometimes known as "AmEx" or "Amex", is a diversified global financial services company, headquartered in New York City. The company is best known for its credit card, charge card and traveler's cheque businesses.

The company's common stock trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbolDow Jones Industrial Average and is ranked as the 74th largest company by Fortune. In 2007, BusinessWeek and Interbrand ranked American Express as the 15th most valuable brand in the world, estimating the brand to be worth US$20.87 billion.[1] "AXP." It is one of the 30 stocks that comprise the

The current CEO is Kenneth Chenault, who took over in 2001.

Early history

American Express was founded in 1850, in Buffalo, New York, as a joint stock corporation that was a merger of the express mail companies owned by Henry Wells (Wells & Company), William Fargo (Livingston, Fargo & Company), and John Butterfield (Butterfield, Wasson & Company), as an express business.[citation needed] American Express first established its headquarters in a building at the intersection of Jay Street and Hudson Street in the TriBeCa section of Manhattan, and enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the movement of express shipments (Goods, Securities, Currency, etc.) throughout New York State. In 1874, American Express moved its headquarters to 65 Broadway in what was becoming the Financial District of Manhattan, a location it was to retain through two buildings[2].