Monday, February 2, 2009

Consolidating credit cards

Credit card consolidation is a popular solution for those with significant credit card debt, usually distributed on three or four different cards. Basically, this means putting all your debts together on a single card, like transferring it all to one loan. Of course, the goal is to pick a card that offers better conditions than what you already have, in order not only to simplify, but also to reduce your payments.

Since there are so many offers out there, and lenders fight over your business, you can sometimes find solutions that can save you thousands of dollars per year. If you consolidate your debt to a credit card with low interest and 0% balance transfer, you can save considerably, and pay off your credit sooner (which, of course, is the main goal when dealing with credit card debt).

The most serious mistake people do when consolidating is to go though the entire process just to simplify their accounting, and they don't pay enough attention to how much they could save. Another mistake is to close your zero balance accounts when consolidating. This practically means you close some of your credit options, which is never a good idea.

When you plan to consolidate, call your banks and explain the situation. They want your business, and you'll be surprised how flexible and willing to negotiate they can be, once you explain to them that you have various options available to take your business someplace else.

There are many web sites offering solutions for debt consolidation. However, keep in mind that, while this is a comfortable and fast solution, you don't have the options to negotiate directly with the banks. Also, most often the best offers come from banks that want to keep your business, so make sure you give a change to the banks you've had a long-term relation with. If you're not pleased with the results, take your money elsewhere quickly.

Consolidation is often a necessity for students, new graduates, or people who have filed for bankruptcy some time ago. If you've handled your payments well and managed to clear up your record to a certain degree, there is no need to continue paying more than it's worth for your credit cards. Sit down and go through the numbers carefully, and think analyze the problem realistically. Don't forget to check your credit report and your credit rating before you start anything - it will help you plan and plead your case. Also, if your credit request gets rejected, don't forget to ask for your free copy of the credit report.

Of course, credit card consolidation is not a miracle solution for all your financial problems. On the contrary, you may find that it requires a lot of financial discipline to make the payment on time and to straighten things up. However, it is less confusing than having several small credits, and so it is easier to keep things under control.

There is also the option of getting credit counseling, if things get really confusing. A successful plan will make sure you make the payments on time and regularly, without putting a strain on other aspects of your life. Of course, it's a lengthy process, usually taking one or two years - but it's worth the trouble.

Sometimes, you can lower costs by consolidating your debt through a second mortgage - but be really careful about the hidden costs and problems - you may want to consult with a specialist or two before taking this step. Usually, this means that your home will become collateral, and you may lose it if things go wrong. Also, costs add up quickly and you may end up paying more than you initially thought.

What You Should Know About Switching Credit Cards

With U.S. credit card debt at an all time high, many savvy consumers and investors are renewing their commitments to rid themselves of this burdensome and in most cases, unnecessary debt. In doing so they are constantly searching for the next best credit card with higher credit limits, lower annual percentage rates (APRs), and zero balance transfer offers. In fact switching credit cards has become as common as changing the battery in the fire alarm for some people and it has actually worked. So if you are amongst the thousands of Americans who are thinking of making a switch to improve your financial picture, before you do there are a few things that you should consider. They include how multiple inquiries for credit will affect your credit score and if the APR that applies to balance transfers after the introductory grace period still makes it a good deal. In addition to these two things you should also, as with everything you do, conduct your own research to find the best solution to meet your needs.

It makes sound economical sense to switch credit cards to save money in interest charges and fees. Especially when you consider the fact that for most credit cards the minimum monthly payment is so low that it barely covers the interest charges reducing your outstanding balance by just a few measly dollars from month to month. Its no wonder then that we jump at any new offer that comes our way. When deciding whether to switch cards though, you should keep in mind that every time you apply for a new credit card an inquiry from that particular creditor goes on to your credit file whether you receive the credit or not. Additionally, multiple inquires by different creditors negatively impacts your credit score and any account whether closed or unused remains on your credit file for at least seven years. Last thing, switching cards and closing accounts immediately after the switch also impacts your credit score.

When considering whether to take advantage of a 0% balance transfer offer, you should consider the amount of time that you’ll have before the “normal” APR applies to that balance and whether you’ll be able to pay that in full before the grace period is over. Additionally, in the event that you aren’t able to pay off the balance prior to expiration of the grace period, you should consider if the new APR that kicks in will be a significant savings from the card that you are considering transferring balances from and whether interest will be charged on just the remaining balance or the entire amount that you initially transferred.

To ensure that you are getting the best deal, you should do a thorough search of available credit cards before making a final decision on which institution to submit a new application for credit to. By doing so you will know upfront exactly what you are getting and whether there are cost savings to be realized, leaving very little room for surprises.

Switching credit cards is a smart choice for consumers who are trying to manage and conquer their debt. For the disciplined person, this is a very effective strategy to help you reduce your debt load. If you find yourself in the situation where you are presented with an opportunity to switch credit cards, please keep in mind the negative effect that multiple inquiries will have on your credit score as well as the opening of new accounts while simultaneously closing others. When done wisely, after conducting a thorough search of available options, switching credit cards can definitely help you to achieve your financial goals.

Transferring a Credit Card Balance

Are you staring at that attractive advertisement for switching credit card companies by transferring your balance from one card to another? While many of these offers are truly great deals, balance transfers and card-switching is not something to jump into, eager as you may be. You need to do your homework first: Do enough research and investigating in order to determine whether it in fact is worth it or a good idea to make the transfer.

First, find out if it is in fact worth it. Generally speaking, these attractive advertisements and super credit card deals advertise very low introductory rates if you transfer your current balance from an existing credit card onto this new one. You can stumble upon these offers anywhere—online, in the mail, on a flyer or via a telephone call from credit card company salespersons—and you need to determine how great these deals really are, or if you’ll just end up paying much more in fees and interest in the long run.

Read the fine print. Read everything. Read it through several times so that you make sure you understand what it is saying. It may appear to be a bunch of financial jargon that you might not think is very important, but the truth is, this information is valuable and critical to your decision in whether or not you make the big switch. Call the credit card company and ask any questions you might have. If the deal is solid and they want to make a sale, generally they should be able to help you out in any way.

What do you need to find out about the deal? Here is an example. Let’s say that the advertised introductory rate is 6% (a low rate) on credit card B if you transfer your balance from credit card A, where you currently rack up an APR of 18% (a standard rate). You come across another offer, showcasing credit card C with an introductory rate of 9%. At first glance you may think, “Well, let’s go with credit card B—it’s the obvious choice here.” However, after reading the fine print, you discover credit card B’s special rate only last six months, and afterward the APR is 20%, whereas credit card C’s higher rate lasts for a year and the interest rate after that is 18%, the same as yours on credit card A.

In other words, you have to factor in a lot of variables when making the decision to switch your balance from one credit card to another. Besides comparing the introductory rates being offered, the length of the offer and what the regular interest rate is, you’ll also need to take into account balance transfer fees, annual fees, late fees and other fees, as well as whether the teaser rate applies to balance transfers only or also purchases, among other considerations.

Something else to keep in mind is that you may not actually qualify for the special rate being offered, depending on your credit history and credit rating. Before you make the big plunge, make sure you know exactly what you, yourself, will be getting. There may also be other conditions. For example, some credit card companies may penalize you for one late payment and take you off the introductory rate onto their regular rate, which may be higher than your current card’s rate.

However, many credit cards with these introductory rates offer great deals for people interested in switching credit cards and transferring their balance over and can be more than worth it. The important thing is to do your research, read the fine print and ask questions to determine which credit card and deal is the right one for you.

Once you’ve selected the right credit card offer, the next step is to fill out the balance transfer application form completely and accurately. Next, make the minimum payment on your original credit card while you wait for the balance transfer to go through. When it has gone through, the new company should send you a notice, after which you’ll need to verify the transfer with your old company so they can send you a zero-balanced billing statement. Finally, cancel your old card since you don’t need it anymore—it will also save you some temptation.

Avoid These Common Credit Card Balance Transfer Mistakes

That offer to transfer your credit card balances sounds like a pretty good deal, doesn’t it? And it is, until you take out your magnifying glass and start reading all the fine print that goes along with the offer. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the lender making such an unbelievable offer wouldn’t be doing so if there wasn’t some way to benefit financially. These lenders actually feel safe in assuming that most people transferring balances won’t pay attention to the potentially costly details that accompany the offer.

Transferring balances from a high-interest rate credit card to one with no or a lower interest rate can save you a substantial amount of money if you don’t fall victim to these common mistakes.

1. Balance transfer fees

Rare is the balance transfer offer that doesn’t come with some sort of balance transfer fee. It might be a flat rate like $50 or $75 but it’s usually a percentage of the total amount of each balance transferred. Maybe 3% doesn’t sound like much but if you’re transferring several thousands of dollars, that fee can be hundreds of dollars!

Although you may know by now to look for such fees, there’s something else you need to look for: whether or not there’s a cap on how high the balance transfer fee can go. Avoid those without caps. Before taking advantage of an offer, always do the math. If the balance transfer fee ends up being more than you would have paid in interest had you not done the transfer, then don’t transfer!

2. Other interest rates

While there might be low or no interest on balance transfers, you’re still getting a new credit card which means you’ll still be able to use it to make purchases. Purchases though, normally aren’t part of the no or low interest deal. In fact, you can expect the interest rate on purchases or cash advances to be just as high as or higher than the credit cards you’re already using to make purchases. If you’re serious about chipping away at your debt, which is really the best reason to take advantage of balance transfer offers, then you really should stop accruing credit card debt!

3. Payment allocation

If you do transfer balances to the new account, and you do make purchases on this new credit account, you may be surprised to find that your payments are not allocated the way you thought (assumed) they would be. Say you transferred $1,000 and during the last month you made new purchases totaling $200. You make a payment of $300 thinking you’ll clear away the new charges and start chipping away at the balance transfer amount.

Next billing cycle you get your statement and find that the $200 in new purchases is still there – plus the couple of new charges you made since then. And all those purchases are compounding interest at a rate of 16, 19, 22% or more! What happened? Well, as stated in the fine print, the credit card company allocated your entire payment to the zero interest balance because – well it’s not making any money on that amount. But it certainly is on those new purchases!

4. Interest rate after intro rate expires

That low or zero interest rate won’t last forever and you need to know how much it’ll increase when the stated period expires. That’s because any balance remaining afterwards is likely to be whacked with a much higher rate. To keep this from happening – which negates any savings benefits you’ve reaped so far – make sure you have a plan for paying off whatever balance you transfer before the rate increases. Also make sure you don’t miss a payment or make payments late. If you do you might find – without warning – that your zero percent no longer applies and you’re paying more in interest than you were before.

Balance Transfer Checks- Opportunities to Save

Tis' the season for credit card offers! In particular, it seems that from November through February marks an increase in marketing from credit cards you already have- particularly if you haven't been using them in awhile. Credit card companies spend quite a bit of money on marketing to attract new customers-and it's always cheaper to keep customers they have rather than trying to find new customers.

What you may find waiting for you in your mailbox is a balance transfer offer from one of the credit cards you already have. The very best balance transfer offers are in the form of checks that offer 0% interest, but there are a number of other offers you might receive with 3.99% interest or 6% interest and no balance transfer fees. All of these offers may actually offer you a good deal depending on what you decide to do with them.

For example, if you were to use a balance transfer check with 3.99% interest and a fee of 3% of your total amount to pay off a credit card or loan with 11% interest- as long as the dollar amount you borow from the balance transfer check is high enough, you're going to be saving enough money to make that a worthwhile fee to pay. You'll also be able to pay off the balance much sooner with the lower interest rate even by making the same amount of payments each month- since more of your payment goes to principal

What many people don't realize is that they can actually get a balance transfer check from one of these low or no interest offers, and deposit the check into their own, personal checking accounts. Once you've deposited the money, you can use it to pay off a variety of debts that you owe that are costing you more than 3.99% interest (or whatever the interest rate is on the balance transfer check offer you've received); and save quite a bit of money!

There have been people who purchase cars using a balance transfer check offer. If you're lucky enough to receive an offer for 0% interest on the life of the balance transferred (with checks); you can buy and pay for a car without any cash up front and without paying any interest. How great is that?!

Other uses for the low or no interest balance transfer check offers: a buy now, pay later holiday shopping season! If you deposit the check from the balance transfer offer into your own account, you could use that money to finance your holiday shopping. This is a good idea if you get a 0% interest offer; or if you were planning to use a higher interest credit card to make your purchases. By using the balance transfer checks in your own checking account, you save on interest and have more time to pay for the purchases which means you aren't hurting your wallet too much.

Home improvement is another good candidate for using balance transfer checks. Once again, just deposit the balance transfer check that you write to yourself into your own account, and then hit the home improvement store for the items you need to make the repairs or complete your latest project.

As long as you make your monthly payments on time, you'll be able to keep your 0% or low interest offer on the balance transfer. Making even one payment late can be grounds for a rate increase, as well as late fees, and the financial gains of using the offer will be wiped out!

Are 0% Balance Transfer Offers Really Free?

Paying off credit card debt with 0% interest is a dream come true – which is exactly why a large number of credit card companies offer the promotions. They know it will attract new customers who have debt with other credit card companies to transfer that debt to their cards. But where is the value to the company offer the credit card balance transfer offer; if they let you repay that debt with 0% interest?

Whenever you see credit card promotions that sound like they're going to be a good deal for you, it's best to look into them closely and make sure you read all of the “fine print”. A 0% balance transfer is typically good for a specific length of time, six months or twelve months are the most common terms. If you have several thousand dollars of debt on a higher interest credit card and take advantage of a 0% balance transfer offer for twelve months, the credit card company is betting on you still having a balance once the promotional period ends. When the six or twelve months of no interest repayments end, the balance will start being repaid with interest.

A common mistake many people make when transferring balances under the six or twelve month 0% promotional offers, is not checking what the interest rate will be after the promotion ends. If you're moving a balance that you are currently paying 9% interest to a card with an interest rate of 19% after the promotional period ends - unless you are able to pay it off completely during the 0% interest period, you are not likely to benefit financially over the long term. You would have to start looking for another 0% balance transfer offer, or pay the higher interest until the balance is paid off.

The other often overlooked factor of balance transfer offers with 0% interest is that most of them charge a transfer fee. The fee can range from 1% to 5% of the amount transferred. This fee can add up, depending on how much money you are transferring. There are some instances when the amount you pay for the balance transfer fee will result in more money paid than if you had just kept your balance on the card it was on and paid interest. To ensure you're actually getting a good deal, you'll want to play with the numbers and determine how much you'll spend for the life of the balance if you keep it on the card it's currently on, or if you move it to the new card with the 0% balance transfer offer, and don't forget to factor in a transfer fee if you have to pay one, and what the interest rate will be at the end of the promotional offer.

Interest free balance transfer offers are also only good as long as you make your payments on time. This is important to keep in mind if you sometimes have difficulty keeping up with your payments, because if you send one a few days late you can lose your 0% interest rate and start paying a much higher interest rate.

In order to make balance transfer fees work for you financially, it's actually better to find a low interest balance transfer offer that is fixed for the length of the balance. If you can transfer a few thousand dollars from a credit card with 9% interest or higher, to a card with 1.99% or 3.99% fixed interest on the balance transfer for the life of that balance, you will save hundreds of dollars in interest and actually make out better than the 0% offers (provided you know you can't pay off the entire balance before the 0% offer ends).

How Balance Transfers Affect Your Credit Score

Transferring balances with high interest rates to a credit card with a lower interest rate (or a 0% interest balance transfer offer) is a great way to pay your debt off faster and save money in the process. It's not as cut and dry as transferring the money from one place to another though, there are some other considerations to work out before you rush into the next balance transfer offer you qualify for: primarily, how does a balance transfer affect your credit score?

Balance Transfers and Credit Scores – What's the Connection?

Due to the formula used to calculate an individual's credit score, moving money from one credit card to another can actually cause some negative issues with your credit score that you may not have even realized.

Credit scores are calculated with a top-secret formula, but we do know how much weight each component of our credit carries in the calculation:

  • Payment History – 35%
  • Outstanding Debt – 30%
  • Established Credit – 15%
  • New Credit – 10%
  • Type of Credit - 10%

  • As you can see, the two biggest factors contributing to your credit score calculation involve how well you make your payments and how much debt you currently have. When considering balance transfers and how it will affect your credit score, first you should realize that most people mistakenly close out the old credit card once the balance has been moved to the new card – this is bad because it lowers the average age of your accounts and this accounts for 15% of your credit score. If most of your credit is recent, and you close your old account(s) as you transfer balances, you've suddenly decreased the average length of time you've had credit and your credit score will decrease as a result.

    In addition, if you close out your old credit card account after transferring the balance, you've lowered your debt to credit ratio, which accounts for a whopping 30% of your credit score. Closing the account gives you less credit available to you, which means you are suddenly using more of your available credit even though you haven't spent any more money.

    It's also true that opening a credit card account – like the one you want to transfer your higher interest balances to, will result in a lower credit score. New accounts make up 10% of your FICO credit score, so it's possible that opening the new account will take a hit on your account, but since it's only 10% of your overall score calculation, it shouldn't be as big of a factor as closing out the older account.

    If you transfer a balance to a new card, and leave the old card open – it will actually appear as if you owe less money because you have a higher available credit amount. You may experience a bit of a credit score increase from this which can counteract the decrease from opening a new account.

    Goals for Balance Transfers

    Your goal is to have less than 30% of your available credit (all cards included) utilized. You should always look to transfer balances to cards that give you the best rates, and leave your old accounts open. In the meantime, don't charge any more money until your total balance is well below the 30% utilization, and you'll soon see your credit score affected positively for these responsible financial decisions.

    In order to get a better understanding of where you stand with your credit score, don't forget you're entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies annually. With the report, you can see how much credit you're using, and whether or not looking for a new balance transfer offer might help you raise your score and save money on interest.

    Easy Guide To Transferring a Credit Card Balance To a Better Credit Card

    Transferring a high interest credit card balance to one with a better interest rate and/or better overall terms and features is usually a good way to reduce the amount of money you pay back on your existing debt. Depending on the “better” credit card you select, you may also be able to benefit from a rewards program or gain other features you didn't already have – including travel accident insurance coverage or an extended warranty program for new purchases made with the card. There are a few instances when a balance transfer is not the great deal it appears at first glance though, so it's important to do your research before moving your accounts around.

    If you want to take advantage of a balance transfer offer, use this guide for a smooth transition from one card to the other, and avoid costly or time consuming mistakes:

    Step One: Find a better credit card with a balance transfer offer.

    There is no point moving money from one credit card to another unless you are going to benefit from it in some way. Sometimes people are mislead by the introductory rates and promotional offers – so it is important that you dig a little beneath the surface to see what sort of rates you'll be charged once the promotional period ends.

    When looking at possible cards to replace your existing credit card, make sure you find out the following information in order to make an accurate comparison between your existing card and the new card:

    What is the introductory rate and when does it end? Does the introductory rate apply to new purchases only? Does it apply to balance transfers? What is the cards APR (annual percentage rate) once the introductory offer is over? Does the card have an annual fee? How much is it?

    This is an important consideration when looking at a card to move your existing balances to - What does the card charge for a balance transfer fee? Many cards charge 3-4% fees for transferring balances. If you've got a $4,000 balance on your card that you're moving to a new card, you're looking at a fee between $120 and $160 just to move the balance. If you're going to pay a balance transfer fee, you're going to need to save a whole lot of money in interest over the life of the balance on the new card in order to make that fee worth it.

    Step Two: What are your chances of getting approved for the new card?

    Just because a credit card offers a 0% or 2% interest rate on balance transfers does not mean that you will be approved for that offer. Cards always put their best foot forward; but sometimes people are approved for the cards under different terms, based on their credit scores and payment histories. Take a close look, because often the credit card you apply for will tell you that if you don't qualify for the terms of the offer they will issue you a credit card with higher interest rates or different overall terms. If this happens, will the higher rates be beneficial to you, or will you just end up with a second credit card that charges a fortune in fees and interest and the temptation to spend more because you have a new credit line available?

    Step Three: Apply

    If you find a card with a great offer that you've compared closely to your existing card and feel that you will save money through the new, lower interest rate and/or through the rewards program the new card offers – AND you've considered your realistic chance of being approved for that card and all seems ready to go; it's time to apply.

    When applying for the new card, make sure to fill out the balance transfer portion at the time of application. The reason for this is sometimes the balance transfer offers are only good for immediate balance transfers that occur at the time of account opening. Balance transfers that are initiated later may be considered a cash advance and do not enjoy the same promotional terms your initial transfers do.

    Step Four: Stop Using Old Card

    If you've transferred the balance to a new and improved credit card, stop using your old credit card. Cut it up or put it away so you aren't tempted to charge on it. If you transfer the balance and then continue to use your old card, you've completely defeated the purpose of moving the money and now have TWO credit cards to pay off!

    Types of debit card

    Although many debit cards are of the Visa or MasterCard brand, there are many other types of debit card, each accepted only within a particular country or region, for example Switch (now: Maestro) and Solo in the United Kingdom, Interac in Canada, Carte Bleue in France, Laser in Ireland, "EC electronic cash" (formerly Eurocheque) in Germany and EFTPOS cards in Australia and New Zealand. The need for cross-border compatibility and the advent of the euro recently led to many of these card networks (such as Switzerland's "EC direkt", Austria's "Bankomatkasse" and Switch in the United Kingdom) being re-branded with the internationally recognised Maestro logo, which is part of the MasterCard brand. Some debit cards are dual branded with the logo of the (former) national card as well as Maestro (e.g. EC cards in Germany, Laser cards in Ireland, Switch and Solo in the UK, Pinpas cards in the Netherlands, Bancontact cards in Belgium, etc.). The use of a debit card system allows operators to package their product more effectively while monitoring customer spending. An example of one of these systems is ECS by Embed International. A prepaid debit card looks a lot like a credit card. It even works a lot like a credit card, when you use it in a store to purchase products. However, a prepaid credit card is not a credit card. The two work very differently.

    Whenever you use a credit card, you are borrowing money from someone else to purchase something. A credit card is then, in essence, a loan. It doesn’t matter if it is a secure credit card, a small business credit card or anything else: the credit card company is lending you money in order to make your purchase, for which you are going to be charged interest on later (assuming you don’t pay the total balance within a predetermined period).

    A prepaid debit card, on the other hand, is not a loan. It is simply a method following some of the principles of credit cards for the basic transaction, but instead of borrowing money from a third party you are taking money straight from your debit card account. This is why it is referred to as prepaid: you put the money into the account, then you can take the money out of it using your debit card, as opposed to paying for the purchase after the fact with a credit card.

    Because of this there are no interest rates applied to prepaid debit cards, although there are sometimes fees associated with them. You never have to worry about going into debt using a prepaid debit card, since you are only taking out what you have put in. Many people find them a welcome alternative to traditional credit cards. Traditional debit cards, however, are not prepaid but simply linked to a bank account. This means it is sometimes possible to go overdrawn (effectively a loan), and incur interest charges and/or fees. However, if the bank account has sufficient funds to cover the transaction amount, no fees or charges will generally be applied. .

    How credit cards work 2

    Operating costs

    This is the cost of running the credit card portfolio, including everything from paying the executives who run the company to printing the plastics, to mailing the statements, to running the computers that keep track of every cardholder's balance, to taking the many phone calls which cardholders place to their issuer, to protecting the customers from fraud rings. Depending on the issuer, marketing programs are also a significant portion of expenses.

    Charge offs

    When a consumer becomes severely delinquent on a debt (often at the point of six months without payment), the creditor may declare the debt to be a charge-off. It will then be listed as such on the debtor's credit bureau reports (Equifax, for instance, lists "R9" in the "status" column to denote a charge-off.) The item will include relevant dates, and the amount of the bad debt.[18]

    A charge-off is considered to be "written off as uncollectable." To banks, bad debts and even fraud are simply part of the cost of doing business.

    However, the debt is still legally valid, and the creditor can attempt to collect the full amount for the time periods permitted under state law, which is usually 3 to 7 years. This includes contacts from internal collections staff, or more likely, an outside collection agency. If the amount is large (generally over $1500–$2000), there is the possibility of a lawsuit or arbitration.

    In the US, as the charge off number climbs or becomes erratic, officials from the Federal Reserve take a close look at the finances of the bank and may impose various operating strictures on the bank, and in the most extreme cases, may close the bank entirely.


    Many credit card customers receive rewards, such as frequent flier points, gift certificates, or cash back as an incentive to use the card. Rewards are generally tied to purchasing an item or service on the card, which may or may not include balance transfers, cash advances, or other special uses. Depending on the type of card, rewards will generally cost the issuer between 0.25% and 2.0% of the spread. Networks such as Visa or MasterCard have increased their fees to allow issuers to fund their rewards system. Some issuers discourage redemption by forcing the cardholder to call customer service for rewards. On their servicing website, redeeming awards is usually a feature that is very well hidden by the issuers. Others encourage redemption for lower cost merchandise; instead of an airline ticket, which is very expensive to an issuer, the cardholder may be encouraged to redeem for a gift certificate instead. With a fractured and competitive environment, rewards points cut dramatically into an issuer's bottom line, and rewards points and related incentives must be carefully managed to ensure a profitable portfolio. Unlike unused gift cards, in whose case the breakage in certain US states goes to the state's treasury, unredeemed credit card points are retained by the issuer.


    The cost of fraud is high; in the UK in 2004 it was over £500 million.[19] When a card is stolen, or an unauthorized duplicate made, most card issuers will refund some or all of the charges that the customer has received for things they did not buy. These refunds will, in some cases, be at the expense of the merchant, especially in mail order cases where the merchant cannot claim sight of the card. In several countries, merchants will lose the money if no ID card was asked for, therefore merchants usually require ID card in these countries. Credit card companies generally guarantee the merchant will be paid on legitimate transactions regardless of whether the consumer pays their credit card bill. Most of the banking services have their own credit card services that handles fraud cases and monitoring any possible attempt of fraud.Employees that is specialized in doing fraud monitoring and investigation are often placed in Risk Management or Fraud and Authorization or Cards and Unsecured Business.The fraud monitoring emphasize in minmizing fraud losses while doing their best to track down fraudster from getting as much illegal information and using the credit card as their can. The credit card fraud is one of the major problem within white collar crimes that has been around for many decades and eventhough the creation of chip based card (EMV) in some countries was in place to prevent these fraud case,


    Offsetting costs are the following revenues:

    Interchange fee

    Main article: Interchange fee

    In addition to fees paid by the card holder, merchants must also pay interchange fees to the card-issuing bank and the card association.[20][21] For a typical credit card issuer, interchange fee revenues may represent about a quarter of total revenues.[22].

    These fees are typically from 1 to 6 percent of each sale, but will vary not only from merchant to merchant (large merchants can negotiate lower rates[22]), but also from card to card, with business cards and rewards cards generally costing the merchants more to process. The interchange fee that applies to a particular transaction is also affected by many other variables including the type of merchant, the merchant's total card sales volume, the merchant's average transaction amount, whether the cards are physically present, if the card's magnetic stripe is read or if the transaction is hand-keyed or entered on a website, the specific type of card, when the transaction is settled, and the authorized and settled transaction amounts.

    Interchange fees may consume over 50 percent of profits from card sales for some merchants (such as supermarkets) that operate on slim margins. In some cases, merchants add a surcharge to the credit cards to cover the interchange fee, enouraging their customers to instead use cash,

    Interest on outstanding balances

    Interest charges vary widely from card issuer to card issuer. Often, there are "teaser" rates in effect for initial periods of time (as low as zero percent for, say, six months), whereas regular rates can be as high as 40 percent. In the U.S. there is no federal limit on the interest or late fees credit card issuers can charge; the interest rates are set by the states, with some states such as South Dakota, having no ceiling on interest rates and fees, inviting some banks to establish their credit card operations there. Other states, for example Delaware, have very weak usury laws. The teaser rate no longer applies if the customer doesn't pay his bills on time, and is replaced by a penalty interest rate (for example, 24.99%) that applies retroactively.

    Fees charged to customers

    The major fees are for:

    • Late payments or overdue payments
    • Charges that result in exceeding the credit limit on the card (whether done deliberately or by mistake), called overlimit fees
    • Returned cheque fees or payment processing fees (eg phone payment fee)
    • Cash advances and convenience cheques (often 3% of the amount)[23]. Transactions in a foreign currency (as much as 3% of the amount). A few financial institutions do not charge a fee for this.
    • Membership fees (annual or monthly), sometimes a percentage of the credit limit.
    • Exchange rate loading fees (these may sometimes not be reported on the customer's statement, even when they are applied)[24]

    Neutral consumer resources


    The Government of Canada maintains a database of the fees, features, interest rates and reward programs of nearly 200 credit cards available in Canada. This database is updated on a quarterly basis with information supplied by the credit card issuing companies. Information in the database is published every quarter on the website of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC).

    Information in the database is published in two formats. It is available in PDF comparison tables that break down the information according to type of credit card, allowing the reader to compare the features of, for example, all the student credit cards in the database.

    The database also feeds into an interactive tool on the FCAC website.[25] The interactive tool uses several interview-type questions to build a profile of the user's credit card usage habits and needs, eliminating unsuitable choices based on the profile, so that the user is presented with a small number of credit cards and the ability to carry out detailed comparisons of features, reward programs, interest rates, etc.


    The concept of using a card for purchases was described in 1887 by Edward Bellamy in his utopian novel Looking Backward. Bellamy used the term credit card eleven times in this novel.[26]

    The modern credit card was the successor of a variety of merchant credit schemes. It was first used in the 1920s, in the United States, specifically to sell fuel to a growing number of automobile owners. In 1938 several companies started to accept each other's cards. Western Union had begun issuing charge cards to its frequent customers in 1921. Some charge cards were printed on paper card stock, but were easily counterfeited.

    The Charga-Plate was an early predecessor to the credit card and used during the 1930s and late 1940s. It was a 2 1/2" x 1 1/4" rectangle of sheet metal, similar to a military dog tag, that was embossed with the customer's name, city and state (no address). It held a small paper card for a signature. It was laid in the imprinter first, then a charge slip on top of it, onto which an inked ribbon was pressed.[27] Charga-Plate was a trademark of Farrington Manufacturing Co. Charga-Plates were issued by large-scale merchants to their regular customers, much like department store credit cards of today. In some cases, the plates were kept in the issuing store rather than held by customers. When an authorized user made a purchase, a clerk retrieved the plate from the store's files and then processed the purchase. Charga-Plates speeded back-office bookkeeping that was done manually in paper ledgers in each store, before computers.

    The concept of customers paying different merchants using the same card was invented in 1950 by Ralph Schneider and Frank X. McNamara, founders of Diners Club, to consolidate multiple cards. The Diners Club, which was created partially through a merger with Dine and Sign, produced the first "general purpose" charge card, and required the entire bill to be paid with each statement. That was followed by Carte Blanche and in 1958 by American Express which created a worldwide credit card network.

    Bank of America created the BankAmericard in 1958, a product which, with its overseas affiliates, eventually evolved into the Visa system. MasterCard came to being in 1966 when a group of credit-issuing banks established MasterCharge; it received a significant boost when Citibank merged its proprietary Everything Card, launched in 1967, into Master Charge in 1969. The fractured nature of the U.S. banking system meant that credit cards became an effective way for those who were traveling around the country to move their credit to places where they could not directly use their banking facilities. In 1966 Barclaycard in the UK launched the first credit card outside of the U.S.

    There are now countless variations on the basic concept of revolving credit for individuals (as issued by banks and honored by a network of financial institutions), including organization-branded credit cards, corporate-user credit cards, store cards and so on.

    In contrast, although having reached very high adoption levels in the US, Canada and the UK, it is important to note that many cultures were much more cash-oriented in the latter half of the twentieth century, or had developed alternative forms of cash-less payments, such as Carte bleue or the Eurocard (Germany, France, Switzerland, and others). In these places, the take-up of credit cards was initially much slower. It took until the 1990s to reach anything like the percentage market-penetration levels achieved in the US, Canada, or the UK. In many countries acceptance still remains poor as the use of a credit card system depends on the banking system being perceived as reliable.

    In contrast, because of the legislative framework surrounding banking system overdrafts, some countries, France in particular, were much faster to develop and adopt chip-based credit cards which are now seen as major anti-fraud credit devices.

    The design of the credit card itself has become a major selling point in recent years. The value of the card to the issuer is often related to the customer's usage of the card, or to the customer's financial worth. This has led to the rise of Co-Brand and Affinity cards - where the card design is related to the "affinity" (a university, for example) leading to higher card usage. In most cases a percentage of the value of the card is returned to the affinity group.

    Collectible credit cards

    A growing field of numismatics (study of money), or more specifically exonumia (study of money-like objects), credit card collectors seek to collect various embodiments of credit from the now familiar plastic cards to older paper merchant cards, and even metal tokens that were accepted as merchant credit cards. Early credit cards were made of celluloid plastic, then metal and fiber, then paper, and are now mostly plastic.


    Credit card debt has soared, particularly among young people. Since the late 1990s, lawmakers, consumer advocacy groups, college officials and other higher education affiliates have become increasingly concerned about the rising use of credit cards among college students. The major credit card companies have been accused of targeting a younger audience, in particular college students, many of whom are already in debt with college tuition fees and college loans and who typically are less experienced at managing their own finances.

    A 2006 documentary film titled Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders deals with this subject in detail.[28] The nonprofit group Americans for Fairness in Lending works with Maxed Out to educate Americans about credit card abuse.

    Another controversial area is the universal default feature of many North American credit card contracts. When a cardholder is late paying a particular credit card issuer, that card's interest rate can be raised, often considerably. With universal default, a customer's other credit cards, for which the customer may be current on payments, may also have their rates and/or credit limit changed. This universal default feature allows creditors to periodically check cardholders' credit portfolios to view trade, allowing these other institutions to decrease the credit limit and/or increase rates on cardholders who may be late with another credit card issuer. Being late on one credit card will potentially affect all the cardholder's credit cards. Citibank voluntarily stopped this practice in March 2007 and Chase stopped the practice in November 2007.[29] The fact that credit card companies can change the interest rate on debts that were incurred when a different rate of interest was in place is similar to adjustable rate mortgages where interest rates on current debt may rise. However, in both cases this is agreed to in advance, and is a trade off that allows a lower initial rate as well as the possibility of an even lower rate (mortgages, if interest rates fall) or perpetually keeping a below-market rate (credit cards, if the user makes his debt payments on time).

    Another controversial area is the trailing interest issue. Trailing interest is the practice of charging interest on the entire bill no matter what percentage of it is paid. U.S Senator Carl Levin raised the issue at a U.S Senate Hearing of millions of Americans whom he said are slaves to hidden fees, compounding interest and cryptic terms. Their woes were heard in a Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing which was chaired by Senator Levin who said that he intends to keep the spotlight on credit card companies and that legislative action may be necessary to purge the industry.[30]

    In the United States, some have called for Congress to enact additional regulations on the industry; to expand the disclosure box clearly disclosing rate hikes, use plain language, incorporate balance payoff disclosures, and also to outlaw universal default. At a congress hearing around March 1, 2007, Citibank announced it would no longer practice this, effective immediately. Opponents of such regulation argue that customers must become more proactive and self-responsible in evaluating and negotiating terms with credit providers. Some of the nation's influential top credit card issuers, who are among the top fifty corporate contributors to political campaigns, successfully opposed it.

    Hidden costs

    In the United Kingdom, merchants won the right through The Credit Cards (Price Discrimination) Order 1990[31] to charge customers different prices according to the payment method. As of 2007, the United Kingdom was one of the world's most credit-card-intensive country, with 2.4 credit cards per consumer.[32]

    In the United States, until 1984 federal law prohibited surcharges on card transactions. Although the federal Truth in Lending Act provisions that prohibited surcharges expired that year, a number of states have since enacted laws that continue to outlaw the practice; California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas have laws against surcharges. As of 2006, the United States probably had one of the world's if not the top ratio of credit cards per capita, with 984 million bank-issued Visa and MasterCard credit card and debit card accounts alone[33] for an adult population of roughly 220 million people.[34] The credit card per US capita ratio was nearly 4:1 (as of 2003)[35] and as high as 5:1 (as of 2006).[36]


    Credit Card redlining is a spatially discriminatory practice among credit card issuers of providing different amounts of credit to different areas, based on their ethnic-minority composition, rather than on economic criteria, such as the potential profitability of operating in those areas.[37]

    Credit card numbering

    The numbers found on credit cards have a certain amount of internal structure, and share a common numbering scheme.

    The card number's prefix, called the Bank Identification Number, is the sequence of digits at the beginning of the number that determine the bank to which a credit card number belongs. This is the first six digits for MasterCard and Visa cards. The next nine digits are the individual account number, and the final digit is a validity check code.

    In addition to the main credit card number, credit cards also carry issue and expiration dates (given to the nearest month), as well as extra codes such as issue numbers and security codes. Not all credit cards have the same sets of extra codes nor do they use the same number of digits.

    Credit cards in ATMs

    Many credit cards can also be used in an ATM to withdraw money against the credit limit extended to the card, but many card issuers charge interest on cash advances before they do so on purchases. The interest on cash advances is commonly charged from the date the withdrawal is made, rather than the monthly billing date. Many card issuers levy a commission for cash withdrawals, even if the ATM belongs to the same bank as the card issuer. Merchants do not offer cashback on credit card transactions because they would pay a percentage commission of the additional cash amount to their bank or merchant services provider, thereby making it uneconomical.

    Many credit card companies will also, when applying payments to a card, do so at the end of a billing cycle, and apply those payments to everything before cash advances. For this reason, many consumers have large cash balances, which have no grace period and incur interest at a rate that is (usually) higher than the purchase rate, and will carry those balance for years, even if they pay off their statement balance each month.

    Credit cards as funding for entrepreneurs

    Credit cards are a creative, yet often risky way for entrepreneurs to acquire capital for their start ups when more conventional financing is unavailable. It is rumoured that Larry Page and Sergey Brin's start up of Google was financed by credit cards to buy the necessary computers and office equipment, more specifically "a terabyte of hard disks".[38] Similarly, filmmaker Robert Townsend financed part of Hollywood Shuffle using credit cards.[39] Director Kevin Smith funded Clerks in part by maxing out several credit cards. Actor Richard Hatch also financed his production of Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming partly through his credit cards. Famed hedge fund manager Bruce Kovner began his career (and, later on, his firm Caxton Associates) in financial markets by borrowing from his credit card.

    How credit cards work

    Credit cards are issued after an account has been approved by the credit provider, after which cardholders can use it to make purchases at merchants accepting that card.

    When a purchase is made, the credit card user agrees to pay the card issuer. The cardholder indicates his/her consent to pay, by signing a receipt with a record of the card details and indicating the amount to be paid or by entering a Personal identification number (PIN). Also, many merchants now accept verbal authorizations via telephone and electronic authorization using the Internet, known as a 'Card/Cardholder Not Present' (CNP) transaction.

    Electronic verification systems allow merchants to verify that the card is valid and the credit card customer has sufficient credit to cover the purchase in a few seconds, allowing the verification to happen at time of purchase. The verification is performed using a credit card payment terminal or Point of Sale (POS) system with a communications link to the merchant's acquiring bank. Data from the card is obtained from a magnetic stripe or chip on the card; the latter system is in the United Kingdom and Ireland commonly known as Chip and PIN, but is more technically an EMV card.

    Other variations of verification systems are used by eCommerce merchants to determine if the user's account is valid and able to accept the charge. These will typically involve the cardholder providing additional information, such as the security code printed on the back of the card, or the address of the cardholder.

    Each month, the credit card user is sent a statement indicating the purchases undertaken with the card, any outstanding fees, and the total amount owed. After receiving the statement, the cardholder may dispute any charges that he or she thinks are incorrect (see Fair Credit Billing Act for details of the US regulations). Otherwise, the cardholder must pay a defined minimum proportion of the bill by a due date, or may choose to pay a higher amount up to the entire amount owed. The credit provider charges interest on the amount owed if the balance is not paid in full (typically at a much higher rate than most other forms of debt). Some financial institutions can arrange for automatic payments to be deducted from the user's bank accounts, thus avoiding late payment altogether as long as the cardholder has sufficient funds.

    Interest charges

    Credit card issuers usually waive interest charges if the balance is paid in full each month, but typically will charge full interest on the entire outstanding balance from the date of each purchase if the total balance is not paid.

    For example, if a user had a $1,000 transaction and repaid it in full within this grace period, there would be no interest charged. If, however, even $1.00 of the total amount remained unpaid, interest would be charged on the $1,000 from the date of purchase until the payment is received. The precise manner in which interest is charged is usually detailed in a cardholder agreement which may be summarized on the back of the monthly statement. The general calculation formula most financial institutions use to determine the amount of interest to be charged is APR/100 x ADB/365 x number of days revolved. Take the Annual percentage rate (APR) and divide by 100 then multiply to the amount of the average daily balance (ADB) divided by 365 and then take this total and multiply by the total number of days the amount revolved before payment was made on the account. Financial institutions refer to interest charged back to the original time of the transaction and up to the time a payment was made, if not in full, as RRFC or residual retail finance charge. Thus after an amount has revolved and a payment has been made, the user of the card will still receive interest charges on their statement after paying the next statement in full (in fact the statement may only have a charge for interest that collected up until the date the full balance was paid...i.e. when the balance stopped revolving).[2]

    The credit card may simply serve as a form of revolving credit, or it may become a complicated financial instrument with multiple balance segments each at a different interest rate, possibly with a single umbrella credit limit, or with separate credit limits applicable to the various balance segments. Usually this compartmentalization is the result of special incentive offers from the issuing bank, to encourage balance transfers from cards of other issuers. In the event that several interest rates apply to various balance segments, payment allocation is generally at the discretion of the issuing bank, and payments will therefore usually be allocated towards the lowest rate balances until paid in full before any money is paid towards higher rate balances. Interest rates can vary considerably from card to card, and the interest rate on a particular card may jump dramatically if the card user is late with a payment on that card or any other credit instrument, or even if the issuing bank decides to raise its revenue.

    Benefits to customers

    Because of intense competition in the credit card industry, credit card providers often offer incentives such as frequent flyer points, gift certificates, or cash back (typically up to 1 percent based on total purchases) to try to attract customers to their programs.

    Low interest credit cards or even 0% interest credit cards are available. The only downside to consumers is that the period of low interest credit cards is limited to a fixed term, usually between 6 and 12 months after which a higher rate is charged. However, services are available which alert credit card holders when their low interest period is due to expire. Most such services charge a monthly or annual fee.

    Grace period

    A credit card's grace period is the time the customer has to pay the balance before interest is charged to the balance. Grace periods vary, but usually range from 20 to 40 days depending on the type of credit card and the issuing bank. Some policies allow for reinstatement after certain conditions are met.

    Usually, if a customer is late paying the balance, finance charges will be calculated and the grace period does not apply. Finance charges incurred depend on the grace period and balance; with most credit cards there is no grace period if there is any outstanding balance from the previous billing cycle or statement (i.e. interest is applied on both the previous balance and new transactions). However, there are some credit cards that will only apply finance charge on the previous or old balance, excluding new transactions.

    Benefits to merchants

    For merchants, a credit card transaction is often more secure than other forms of payment, such as checks, because the issuing bank commits to pay the merchant the moment the transaction is authorized, regardless of whether the consumer defaults on the credit card payment (except for legitimate disputes, which are discussed below, and can result in charges back to the merchant). In most cases, cards are even more secure than cash, because they discourage theft by the merchant's employees and reduce the amount of cash on the premises. Prior to credit cards, each merchant had to evaluate each customer's credit history before extending credit. That task is now performed by the banks which assume the credit risk.

    For each purchase, the bank charges the merchant a commission (discount fee) for this service and there may be a certain delay before the agreed payment is received by the merchant. The commission is often a percentage of the transaction amount, plus a fixed fee. In addition, a merchant may be penalized or have their ability to receive payment using that credit card restricted if there are too many cancellations or reversals of charges as a result of disputes. Some small merchants require credit purchases to have a minimum amount (usually between $5 and $10) to compensate for the transaction costs, though this is strictly prohibited by credit card companies and must be reported to the consumer's credit card issuer.[3]

    In some countries, for example the Nordic countries, banks guarantee payment on stolen cards only if an ID card is checked and the ID card number/civic registration number is written down on the receipt together with the signature. In these countries merchants therefore usually ask for ID. Non-Nordic citizens, who are unlikely to possess a Nordic ID card or driving license, will instead have to show their passport, and the passport number will be written down on the receipt, sometimes together with other information. Some shops use the card's PIN for identification, and in that case showing an ID card is not necessary.

    Parties involved

    • Cardholder: The holder of the card used to make a purchase; the consumer.
    • Card-issuing bank: The financial institution or other organization that issued the credit card to the cardholder. This bank bills the consumer for repayment and bears the risk that the card is used fraudulently. American Express and Discover were previously the only card-issuing banks for their respective brands, but as of 2007, this is no longer the case.
    • Merchant: The individual or business accepting credit card payments for products or services sold to the cardholder
    • Acquiring bank: The financial institution accepting payment for the products or services on behalf of the merchant.
    • Independent sales organization: Resellers (to merchants) of the services of the acquiring bank.
    • Merchant account: This could refer to the acquiring bank or the independent sales organization, but in general is the organization that the merchant deals with.
    • Credit Card association: An association of card-issuing banks such as Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, etc. that set transaction terms for merchants, card-issuing banks, and acquiring banks.
    • Transaction network: The system that implements the mechanics of the electronic transactions. May be operated by an independent company, and one company may operate multiple networks. Transaction processing networks include: Cardnet, Nabanco, Omaha, Paymentech, NDC Atlanta, Nova, TSYS, Concord EFSnet, and VisaNet.[4]
    • Affinity partner: Some institutions lend their names to an issuer to attract customers that have a strong relationship with that institution, and get paid a fee or a percentage of the balance for each card issued using their name. Examples of typical affinity partners are sports teams, universities, charities, professional organizations, and major retailers.

    The flow of information and money between these parties — always through the card associations — is known as the interchange, and it consists of a few steps.

    Transaction steps

    • Authorization: The cardholder pays for the purchase and the merchant submits the transaction to the acquirer (acquiring bank). The acquirer verifies the credit card number, the transaction type and the amount with the issuer (Card-issuing bank) and reserves that amount of the cardholder's credit limit for the merchant. An authorization will generate an approval code, which the merchant stores with the transaction.
    • Batching: Authorized transactions are stored in "batches", which are sent to the acquirer. Batches are typically submitted once per day at the end of the business day. If a transaction is not submitted in the batch, the authorization will stay valid for a period determined by the issuer, after which the held amount will be returned back to the cardholder's available credit (see authorization hold). Some transactions may be submitted in the batch without prior authorizations; these are either transactions falling under the merchant's floor limit or ones where the authorization was unsuccessful but the merchant still attempts to force the transaction through. (Such may be the case when the cardholder is not present but owes the merchant additional money, such as extending a hotel stay or car rental.)
    • Clearing and Settlement: The acquirer sends the batch transactions through the credit card association, which debits the issuers for payment and credits the acquirer. Essentially, the issuer pays the acquirer for the transaction.
    • Funding: Once the acquirer has been paid, the acquirer pays the merchant. The merchant receives the amount totaling the funds in the batch minus the "discount rate," which is the fee the merchant pays the acquirer for processing the transactions.
    • Chargebacks: A chargeback is an event in which money in a merchant account is held due to a dispute relating to the transaction. Chargebacks are typically initiated by the cardholder. In the event of a chargeback, the issuer returns the transaction to the acquirer for resolution. The acquirer then forwards the chargeback to the merchant, who must either accept the chargeback or contest it.

    Secured credit cards

    A secured credit card is a type of credit card secured by a deposit account owned by the cardholder. Typically, the cardholder must deposit between 100% and 200% of the total amount of credit desired. Thus if the cardholder puts down $1000, they will be given credit in the range of $500–$1000. In some cases, credit card issuers will offer incentives even on their secured card portfolios. In these cases, the deposit required may be significantly less than the required credit limit, and can be as low as 10% of the desired credit limit. This deposit is held in a special savings account. Credit card issuers offer this because they have noticed that delinquencies were notably reduced when the customer perceives something to lose if the balance is not repaid.

    The cardholder of a secured credit card is still expected to make regular payments, as with a regular credit card, but should they default on a payment, the card issuer has the option of recovering the cost of the purchases paid to the merchants out of the deposit. The advantage of the secured card for an individual with negative or no credit history is that most companies report regularly to the major credit bureaus. This allows for building of positive credit history.

    Although the deposit is in the hands of the credit card issuer as security in the event of default by the consumer, the deposit will not be debited simply for missing one or two payments. Usually the deposit is only used as an offset when the account is closed, either at the request of the customer or due to severe delinquency (150 to 180 days). This means that an account which is less than 150 days delinquent will continue to accrue interest and fees, and could result in a balance which is much higher than the actual credit limit on the card. In these cases the total debt may far exceed the original deposit and the cardholder not only forfeits their deposit but is left with an additional debt.

    Most of these conditions are usually described in a cardholder agreement which the cardholder signs when their account is opened.

    Secured credit cards are an option to allow a person with a poor credit history or no credit history to have a credit card which might not otherwise be available. They are often offered as a means of rebuilding one's credit. Secured credit cards are available with both Visa and MasterCard logos on them. Fees and service charges for secured credit cards often exceed those charged for ordinary non-secured credit cards, however, for people in certain situations, (for example, after charging off on other credit cards, or people with a long history of delinquency on various forms of debt), secured cards can often be less expensive in total cost than unsecured credit cards, even including the security deposit.

    Sometimes a credit card will be secured by the equity in the borrower's home.[5][6] This is called a home equity line of credit (HELOC).

    Prepaid "credit" cards

    A prepaid credit card is not a credit card,[7] since no credit is offered by the card issuer: the card-holder spends money which has been "stored" via a prior deposit by the card-holder or someone else, such as a parent or employer. However, it carries a credit-card brand (Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover) and can be used in similar ways just as though it were a regular credit card.[7][8]

    After purchasing the card, the cardholder loads the account with any amount of money, up to the predetermined card limit [9] and then uses the card to make purchases the same way as a typical credit card. Prepaid cards can be issued to minors (above 13) since there is no credit line involved. The main advantage over secured credit cards (see above section) is that you are not required to come up with $500 or more to open an account. [10] With prepaid credit cards you are not charged any interest but you are often charged a purchasing fee plus monthly fees after an arbitrary time period. Many other fees also usually apply to a prepaid card.[7]

    Prepaid credit cards are sometimes marketed to teenagers[7] for shopping online without having their parents complete the transaction.[11][12][13][14]

    Because of the many fees that apply to obtaining and using credit-card-branded prepaid cards, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada describes them as "an expensive way to spend your own money".[15] The agency publishes a booklet, "Pre-paid cards",[16] which explains the advantages and disadvantages of this type of prepaid card.


    As well as convenient, accessible credit, credit cards offer consumers an easy way to track expenses, which is necessary for both monitoring personal expenditures and the tracking of work-related expenses for taxation and reimbursement purposes. Credit cards are accepted worldwide, and are available with a large variety of credit limits, repayment arrangement, and other perks (such as rewards schemes in which points earned by purchasing goods with the card can be redeemed for further goods and services or credit card cashback).

    Some countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, limit the amount for which a consumer can be held liable due to fraudulent transactions as a result of a consumer's credit card being lost or stolen.


    Credit card security relies on the physical security of the plastic card as well as the privacy of the credit card number. Therefore, whenever a person other than the card owner has access to the card or its number, security is potentially compromised. Merchants often accept credit card numbers without additional verification for mail order purchases. They however record the delivery address as a security measure to minimise fraudulent purchases. Some merchants will accept a credit card number for in-store purchases, whereupon access to the number allows easy fraud, but many require the card itself to be present, and require a signature. Thus, a stolen card can be cancelled, and if this is done quickly, will greatly limit the fraud that can take place in this way. For internet purchases, there is sometimes the same level of security as for mail order (number only) hence requiring only that the fraudster take care about collecting the goods, but often there are additional measures. The main one is to require a security PIN with the card, which requires that the thief have access to the card, as well as the PIN.

    The PCI DSS is the security standard issued by The PCI SSC (Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council). This data security standard is used by acquiring banks to impose cardholder data security measures upon their merchants.


    The low security of the credit card system presents countless opportunities for fraud. This opportunity has created a huge black market in stolen credit card numbers, which are generally used quickly before the cards are reported stolen.

    The goal of the credit card companies is not to eliminate fraud, but to "reduce it to manageable levels".[17] This implies that high-cost low-return fraud prevention measures will not be used if their cost exceeds the potential gains from fraud reduction.

    Most internet fraud is done through the use of stolen credit card information which is obtained in many ways, the simplest being copying information from retailers, either online or offline. Despite efforts to improve security for remote purchases using credit cards, systems with security holes are usually the result of poor implementations of card acquisition by merchants. For example, a website that uses SSL to encrypt card numbers from a client may simply email the number from the webserver to someone who manually processes the card details at a card terminal. Naturally, anywhere card details become human-readable before being processed at the acquiring bank, a security risk is created. However, many banks offer systems where encrypted card details captured on a merchant's webserver can be sent directly to the payment processor.

    Controlled Payment Numbers which are used by various banks such as Citibank (Virtual Account Numbers), Discover (Secure Online Account Numbers, Bank of America (ShopSafe), 5 banks using eCarte Bleue and CMB's Virtualis in France, and Swedbank of Sweden's eKort product are another option for protecting one's credit card number. These are generally one-time use numbers that front one's actual account (debit/credit) number, and are generated as one shops on-line. They can be valid for a relatively short time, for the actual amount of the purchase, or for a price limit set by the user. Their use can be limited to one merchant if one chooses. The effect of this is the users real account details are not exposed to the merchant and its employees. If the number the merchant has on their database is compromised, it would be useless to a thief after the first transaction and will be rejected if an attempt is made to use it again.

    The same system of controls can be used on standard real plastic as well. For example if a consumer has a chip and pin (EMV) enabled card they can limit that card so that it be used only at point of sale locations (i.e restricted from being used on-line) and only in a given territory (i.e only for use in Canada). There are many other controls too and these can be turned on and off and varied by the credit card owner in real time as circumstances change (ie, they can change temporal, numerical, geographical and many other parameters on their primary and subsidiary cards). Apart from the obvious benefits of such controls: from a security perspective this means that a customer can have a chip and pin card secured for the real world, and limited for use in the home country assuming it is totally chip and pin. In this eventuality a thief stealing the details will be prevented from using these overseas in non chip and pin (EMV)countries). Similarly the real card can be restricted from use on-line so that stolen details will be declined if this tried. Then when the card user shops online they can use virtual account numbers. In both circumstances an alert system can be built in notifying a user that a fraudulant attempt has been made which breaches their parameters, and can provide data on this in real time. This is the optimal method of security for credit cards, as it provides very high levels of security, control and awareness in the real and virtual world. Furthermore it requires no changes for merchants at all and is attractive to users, merchants and banks, as it not only detects fraud but prevents it.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Postal Inspection Service are responsible for prosecuting criminals who engage in credit card fraud in the United States, but they do not have the resources to pursue all criminals. In general, federal officials only prosecute cases exceeding US $5000 in value. Three improvements to card security have been introduced to the more common credit card networks but none has proven to help reduce credit card fraud so far. First, the on-line verification system used by merchants is being enhanced to require a 4 digit Personal Identification Number (PIN) known only to the card holder. Second, the cards themselves are being replaced with similar-looking tamper-resistant smart cards which are intended to make forgery more difficult. The majority of smartcard (IC card) based credit cards comply with the EMV (Europay MasterCard Visa) standard. Third, an additional 3 or 4 digit Card Security Code (CSC) is now present on the back of most cards, for use in "card not present" transactions. See CVV2 for more information.

    The way credit card owners pay off their balances has a tremendous effect on their credit history. All the information is collected by credit bureaus. The credit information stays on the credit report, depending on the jurisdiction and the situation, for 1, 2, or even 10 years after the debt is repaid.

    Profits and losses

    In recent times, credit card portfolios have been very profitable for banks, largely due to the booming economy of the late nineties. However, in the case of credit cards, such high returns go hand in hand with risk, since the business is essentially one of making unsecured (uncollateralized) loans, and thus dependent on borrowers not to default in large numbers.

    Interest expenses

    Banks generally borrow the money they then lend to their customers. As they receive very low-interest loans from other firms, they may borrow as much as their customers require, while lending their capital to other borrowers at higher rates. If the card issuer charges 15% on money lent to users, and it costs 5% to borrow the money to lend, and the balance sits with the cardholder for a year, the issuer earns 10% on the loan. This 5% difference is the "interest expense" and the 10% is the "net interest spread".