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Consumer Watch: Read your mail for info from credit card companies

Aug. 28, 2009 - 04:00PM   |   Last Updated: Aug. 28, 2009 - 04:00PM  |  
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It's more important than ever to open your mail and read it — especially if it is mail from a credit card company, bank or other financial institution.

Some credit card companies have been raising interest rates, lowering card limits, increasing minimum payments and even canceling credit cards in advance of new consumer protections that will take effect Feb. 22.

Some protections of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, also known as the Credit CARD Act, took effect Aug. 20. A key protection is that credit card companies must notify you at least 45 days before changing the terms of your card — such as increasing interest rates or fees. Each notice must be clear and conspicuous, with a statement of your right to cancel the card before the change becomes effective.

Keep in mind that if you decide to cancel the card, that doesn't trigger a requirement to immediately pay the balance in full. The law describes repayment options that include structuring the balance to be repaid over five years.

Some credit card companies are raising interest rates before the new limitations go into effect Feb. 22. Until then, the interest rate hikes can apply to existing balances.

That's why you need to pay attention to your mail. Read the fine print on your statements — these changes could seriously affect your wallet.

"Financial institutions … have a window of opportunity that Congress gave them. It gives plenty of time for hijinks," said Linda Sherry of Consumer Action, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.

When other provisions take effect Feb. 22, credit card companies no longer will be able to apply higher interest rates to your existing balance unless:

• Your payment was 60 days late.

• The rate change is under a variable-rate formula.

• A promotional period that offered a lowered rate is ending.

Other important financial information can come in the mail, too, and you can get burned if you don't pay attention. I got a notice Aug. 19 from a credit card company that said it is ending the association of its MasterCard with a particular furniture store, and the account had been closed. Luckily, I haven't used the card in years and don't have a balance on it.

And it's not just credit card information that you should read. One reader said his debit card recently was rejected, and he overdrew his bank account. After calling the bank, he found out it had sent him a notice that its overdraft protection was being transferred to another arm of the bank, and that it could no longer be used. This was in a statement he received online; he had put it aside without reading it.

"There was no other notification that the overdraft protection that I had had for over 10 years was being canceled," he said.

The bank refunded some, but not all, of his overdraft fees.

More commissary bargains

It's September, and that means items offered at a bigger discount than usual, stretched across commissary parking lots, or in special areas within a store warehouse.

The Defense Commissary Agency says customers will see savings of 50 percent or more on bulk products at local case lot sales, including canned goods, beverages, toilet paper, paper towels, produce, fresh meat, seafood, pet supplies, cleaning and laundry products, and more.

About 50 percent to 60 percent of these items are sold in "club pack" assortments like you would see in commercial warehouse club outlets.

Selections will vary by location, but 404 items are available for the sale. Larger commissaries stateside will have an extra 100 or more items, while smaller commissaries in the U.S. and overseas will carry a more limited selection.

To find out when a store in your area is having its sale, go to http://www.commissaries.com/">/www.commissaries.com/, click the "Shopping" icon, and then click "Case Lot Sales."

As always, make sure you compare prices in local stores before you hit the big sale; just because it's sold in bulk doesn't mean it's the best deal. Compare cost per ounce, or per diaper, for example.

And if it will spoil before you can use it, or if you don't have space to store it, it might be a waste of money rather than a bargain.

__________________

Questions or comments? Contact staff writer kjowers@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Karen Jowers at kjowers@militarytimes.com">kjowers@militarytimes.com.

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