Know Your Rights: The Credit Card Consumer Protections Guide

You take that credit card out of your wallet…and hesitate. Does using it put you at the mercy of unscrupulous lending practices or hidden fees? Will you become a victim of fraud, ruining your credit rating for years to come? Although credit cards come with concerns, the good news is that there are laws to protect you as a cardholder; these regulations guard against unfair lending practices, misleading offers and agreements, and fraud.

In order to receive the protection you deserve, get to know the legislation that affects you. This guide to the major laws regarding credit cards can help you stay informed, prevent abuse by card issuers, and take action if you suspect abuse has occurred. Know the laws, and understand your rights.

Truth in Lending Act

The Truth in Lending Act (TILA), which went into effect in 1968, starts protecting you before you even apply for a credit card.

Here are the key provisions:

  • Credit card companies must provide easy-to-understand information about terms, fees, interest rates, finance charge calculations, and other lending practices.
  • Offers advertising low rates or special terms must be real offers available to qualified applicants.
  • Consumers have three days to back out of a loan agreement without losing money (this applies to other types of loans as well, besides credit cards).
  • Credit card companies and other lenders are prohibited from using high-pressure, misleading sales tactics.
  • Credit card issuers are required to provide standardized information in plain language so you can easily compare offers.

Fair Credit Billing Act

The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) was passed in 1975, and protects you from paying erroneous charges on your credit card bill. Under FCBA, your liability is limited to $50 for items you ordered but did not receive, merchandise or services that you didn’t accept, or duplicated or wrong charges. Other key points about FCBA include:

  • You have 60 days from the statement date to report an error you find on your bill. In turn, the creditor must notify you if you received an inquiry within 60 days.
  • You must notify the card issuer of an error in writing, and include your name and account number, as well as specific information about the error.
  • The creditor is required to either remove the erroneous charge from your account or conduct an investigation into the charge.
  • The credit card company can’t try to collect the amount you are disputing while the matter is being investigated.
  • The creditor must inform you, in writing, of the outcome of its investigation and explain what further actions will be taken.
  • If  the error is valid, the card issuer must correct it and credit you the disputed amount, as well as any financial charges related to it.

Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) ensures the information kept on file by consumer reporting agencies is correct, fair, and kept private. Credit card companies access your credit report when you apply for a card, in addition to reporting your card activity to the credit bureaus. The FCRA was first enacted in 1970, and was amended as part of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003. FCRA provides the following protections:

  • You have the right to dispute inaccurate or incomplete information you find on your credit report. You can contact the credit reporting bureau directly, which then must investigate your claim within 30 days.
  • Disputed information will be marked as such on your credit report.
  • Wrong information will be taken off your report or corrected. The credit reporting agency must do so within 30 days.
  • If you are denied a credit card, then you can ask which credit report the card issuer referred to and obtain a free copy to double-check the information on it.
  • Information that harms your credit, in most cases, will be removed from your credit report after a specified amount of time has passed. Credit reporting agencies are not allowed to report outdated information.
  • Only specific entities can access your credit rating and history, such as creditors, insurers, and employers.

Remember, you can get one free copy of your credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. To obtain your free reports, visit AnnualCreditReport.com; this is the only site that provides official credit reports. You can also ask for a credit report anytime you are denied credit or suspect fraud or identity theft.

Fair Debt Protection Practices Act

This credit law prohibits third-party bill collection agencies from certain practices. The following stipulations are covered by the FDPPA:

  • Bill collectors cannot call you multiple times a day. They also are not allowed to call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • Collection agencies are not allowed to call you at work if you tell them your workplace does not allow personal incoming calls.
  • Bill collectors must respect your privacy. They may not discuss the reason for their call with anyone other than your spouse without your permission. If they communicate by mail, the reason for the mailing must not be marked on the outside of the envelope.
  • Bill collectors may not threaten, intimidate, or harass you, and the same goes for your family or household members.
  • Collection agencies can’t give an assumed name or a false purpose for calling, such as saying they are a member of law enforcement agency or an attorney.
  • Your name, address, and other personal information can’t be published on a “bad debt” list or made public in any way by the collection agency.

Credit CARD Act

President Obama signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act into effect in 2009, enacting sweeping changes to the credit card industry:

  • The credit card company must notify you 45 days in advance of changing the terms of your agreement, such as interest rates and fees. You must have the chance to cancel the card before changes go into effect.
  • Your credit card bill is due on the same date every month, and payments must be accepted until 5 p.m. on that date.
  • Your statement must include clear information about how long it will take you to pay off your balance if you only make minimum payments, and what monthly payments are required to pay off the balance within three years.
  • The card issuer can’t increase your interest rate during the first year of card activity, nor can they increase the rate of payments that are fewer than 60 days late. Raising these rates after you’ve made late payments to other creditors is also prohibited.
  • Promotional APRs must last at least six months.
  • Excess payments must be applied to the highest interest balance first.
  • Credit card issuers can no longer use last month’s balance to calculate this month’s interest, a process known as “double-cycle billing.”
  • The card’s grace period, the amount of time you have to pay off new purchases before incurring interest, must be at least 21 days.
  • The company can raise your APR for new purchases only.
  • Credit card companies can no longer charge overlimit fees.
  • Students under 21 years of age need a cosigner to apply for a credit card, or are required to provide evidence that they have an income and can afford monthly payments.

You can use your credit card with more confidence, despite headlines you may have seen about fraud and deceptive lending practices. Learn all you can about the laws that are put in place for your benefit so you can rest easy knowing your rights as a consumer are protected.

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