With the protections of the Credit Card Act of 2009 in full effect, a nationally representative survey shows a slightly lower level of dissatisfaction among Americans with their credit cards than last year. However, credit cards remain one of the lowest-rated services Consumer Reports has ever analyzed; only 45 percent of respondents said they were completely or very satisfied with their cards.
The survey, conducted in July by the Consumer Reports National Research Center also shows that consumers are carrying less credit card debt, with median balances of $3,793— $1,100 lower than in 2009.
In addition some 23 percent of respondents said they were motivated to pay off their credit cards faster by the Minimum Payment W arning on their bills mandated by the Credit Card Act of 2009. The warning shows cardholders how long it would take to retire their debt and the total amount of interest they must pay if they made only the minimum payment each month.
Of the people who carried a balance, 23 percent owed more than $10,000 (down from 30 percent last year). Still, 18 percent said they wouldn't be able to handle their expenses for six months without credit cards; 19 percent said it would take longer than two years to pay off their balances; and 20 percent didn't know when they'd be able to.
Despite some positive changes, there is still plenty of peril out there. Among other reforms, the card act bars issuers from raising rates in the first year or on existing balances unless your payment is 60 days late. Banks can still impose annual fees, slash cardholder's borrowing limit, cancel their account without notice, and raise their minimum payment. In Consumer Reports' survey, 47 percent of respondents complained about such experiences.
Finding the Best and Worst Credit Cards:
The best card for consumers depends on whether they pay their balances in full each month, and, if so, what types of rewards they're looking for. Consumer Reports money experts surveyed the marketplace and found that none of these nationally available cards limit the amount of points, miles, or cash-back consumers can earn. None of these cards charge an annual fee in the first year. Cards are listed in alphabetical order.
CASH-BACK CARDS (Higher APRs make these rewards cards most suitable for people who pay off balances in full each month): Amazon.com Rewards Visa, American Express Blue Cash, American Express Costco TrueEarnings, Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards, Chase Freedom, Fidelity Rewards American Express, PenFed Visa Platinum Cashback Rewards.
TRAVEL CARDS (These cards offer the best deals for frequent travelers.): Capital One Venture Rewards, PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express.
LOW-INTEREST/FEES CARDS (For consumers who carry a balance or want to transfer a balance): Iberiabank Visa Classic, PenFed Promise Visa, Simmons First Visa Platinum.
Some of the worst cards with the highest-fees are aimed at people with a poor or limited credit history. The two cards below are particularly fee-laden and may be the worst options available:
First Premier Bank Mastercard: This card now advertises a $25 to $95 processing charge (which fluctuates by the minute, depending on when you click on the card's website). What's worse is that when Consumer Reports drilled deeper into the fine print, it found a $75 annual fee and an APR of 23.9 percent to 59.9 percent on purchases and cash advances (again, depending on when you visit the site).
So cardholders could face a minimum of $100 or a maximum f $170 in fees in the first year for a card with only a $300 initial credit limit. Other fees include an $11 charge for expediting bill payment over the phone and a credit-limit increase fee equal to 50 percent of the increase. So for every $100 that First Premier increases the cardholder's credit limit it charges them $50. Also, look out for copycats of this card. First Premier Bank markets very similar cards under the names Centennial and Aventium.
Platinum Zero Secured Visa from Applied Bank The Platinum Zero's marketing trades off its name—zero percent APR on purchases, zero application fee, zero annual fee. But Consumer Reports found the zero fees end about halfway through the terms and conditions with a $9.95 monthly "maintenance" fee that equates to $119.40 annually.
If cardholders are late paying their bill, they will get hit with a fee of up to $35. And though the card claims to charge zero percent APR on purchases, the agreement states, "There is no grace period for the account. Interest charges accrue on purchases, cash advances and our charges beginning on the date the transaction occurs or on the first day of the billing cycle in which the transaction is received by us or, at our option, the date the transaction is posted to your account."
For more helpful advice on how to select the right card, restructure your debt or a complete breakdown of APRs, terms and Rewards of the best credit cards for consumers, pick up a copy of Consumer Reports November issue on newsstands or visit www.ConsumerReports.org starting October 5, 2010.
Consumer Reports Credit Card Use survey is based on an online nationally representative sample of American adults, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. A total of 1,212 interviews were completed among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place between July 3 and July 22, 2010. The margin of error is +/- 3.5 points at a 95 % confidence level.