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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 September 2005, 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK
Credit card costs increase
By Louise Greenwood
BBC Radio 4's Money Box

Many credit card companies are now setting aside more money to cover bad debts, and customers who fall foul of the small print or miss a payment may find they are facing new and unexpected bills.

A past due stamp
Late charges "need to be reduced", OFT has said recently

In July, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) announced its findings following an investigation into late payment charges imposed by card companies.

The OFT was acting after complaints from consumer groups, and it concluded that the charges - usually around 20 to 30 - were excessive.

OFT Operations Manager Steve Wood told BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme the card companies are now being asked to justify their charges.

"We believe that overall they are seeking to recover more than they would be entitled to under the law," he said.

The card companies have until the end of October to respond to the OFT's findings.

'Unreasonable'

Money Box listener Charlotte from Leeds borrowed 13,000 at 0% on her MBNA credit card.

Credit card
MBNA customers who miss a payment face invalidating their deal
She missed a minimum payment for five pounds in May when she failed to receive her statement, but refused to pay the 25 late payment charge.

"I feel it was really unreasonable to be charged 25 for not paying five pounds," she said.

However, MBNA told her it was withdrawing her 0% deal and she would have to pay interest on her whole balance at the card's standard rate.

"They told me... I was now liable to pay something in the region of nearly 400 interest at 15.9%, and obviously the 0% interest was the whole reason I signed up to the card."

When she complained, MBNA refused to reinstate her 0% deal, but as a goodwill gesture reduced her interest to 3.9%, still leaving her with a large, unexpected bill every month.

MBNA has confirmed to Money Box that any customer missing a single payment faces invalidating their 0% balance transfer.

Hidden costs

Nick White, head of personal finance at the price comparison website uSwitch, said not only are the card companies imposing late payment charges more rigorously, but services that were free until recently are now costing money.

"We are seeing more and more balance transfer fees introduced. Virgin is the latest," he said.

"This effectively means that instead of facing no charge for the service you will have to pay a fee. That is capped at 50 in most cases, but it still does add considerably to the cost of moving a balance from one card to another."

The amount you spend is left on the card and will accrue interest at that higher rate
Nick White, uSwitch
Meanwhile, Mr White said there are other ploys to try to tempt customers who take 0% balance transfers into spending on their cards.

"Many credit cards now are actually offering other incentives such as vouchers to spend in various stores. You earn points, you earn air miles," he said.

"It is an absolute no-no, because when you make repayments [they] firstly come off your 0% balance, and the amount you spend is left on the card and will accrue interest at that higher rate."

Customers wanting to avoid a late payment charge are advised to set up a direct debit to their bank account each month to clear at least the minimum payment.

BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 3 September, 2005 at 1204 BST.

The programme was repeated on Sunday, 4 September, 2005 at 2102 BST.

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SEE ALSO:
Late credit card fees 'too high'
26 Jul 05 |  Business
Life gets harder for 'rate tarts'
17 Aug 05 |  Business
Changing credit cards
01 Sep 03 |  Business
Q&A: Dealing with debt
29 Jul 04 |  Business


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