FEATURE ARTICLE: Secured Credit Card Marketing Scams
Secured and unsecured cards can be used to pay for goods and services. However, a secured card requires you to open and maintain a savings account as security for your line of credit; an unsecured card does not.
The required savings deposit for a secured card may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Your credit line is a percentage of your deposit, typically 50 to 100 percent. Usually, a bank will pay interest on your deposit. In addition, you also may have to pay application and processing fees — sometimes totaling hundreds of dollars. Before you apply, be sure to ask what the total fees are and whether they will be refunded if you’re denied a card. Typically, a secured card requires an annual fee and has a higher interest rate than an unsecured card.
Deceptive Ads and Scams
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken action against companies that deceptively advertise major credit cards through television, newspapers, and postcards. The ads may offer unsecured credit cards, secured credit cards, or not specify a card type. The ads usually lead you to believe you can get a card simply by calling the number listed. Sometimes the number is not toll-free. A ‘900’ number service, for which you are billed just for making the call, may instruct you to give your name and address to receive a credit application, or give you a list of banks offering secured cards. It also may tell you to call another ‘900’ number — at an additional charge — for more information.
Deceptive ads often leave out important information.
- The cost of the ‘900’ call — which can range from $2 to $50 or more;
- The required security deposit, application, and processing fees;
- Eligibility requirements like income or age;
- An annual fee or the fact that the secured card has a higher than average interest rate on any balance.
How to Avoid the Scam
To avoid being victimized, look for the following signs:
- Offers of easy credit. No one can guarantee to get you credit. Before deciding whether to give you a credit card, legitimate credit providers examine your credit report.
- A call to a ‘900’ number for a credit card. You pay for calls with a ‘900’ prefix — and you may never receive a credit card.
- Credit cards offered by “credit repair” companies or “credit clinics.” These businesses also may offer to clean-up your credit history for a fee. However, you can correct genuine mistakes or outdated information yourself by contacting credit bureaus directly. Remember that only time and good credit habits will restore your credit worthiness.
If you’re considering a secured card as a way to build or re-establish a credit record, make sure the issuer reports to a credit bureau. Your credit history is maintained by companies called credit bureaus; they collect information reported to them by banks, mortgage companies, department stores, and other creditors. If your card issuer doesn’t report to a bureau, the card won’t help you build a credit history.
For More Information
To build a credit record, you may want to apply for a charge card or a small loan at a local store or lending institution. Ask if the creditor reports transactions to a credit bureau. If they do — and if you pay back your debts regularly — you will build a good credit history.
If you cannot get credit on your own, you can ask a relative or friend with a good credit history to act as your cosigner. The cosigner promises to repay the debt if you don’t.
If you’re having problems paying bills, you may want to contact a credit counseling service. Non-profit organizations in every state counsel consumers who are in debt. Counselors try to arrange a repayment plan that is acceptable to you and your creditors. They also can help you set up a realistic budget. These counseling services are offered at little or no cost to consumers. You can find the office nearest you by checking the White Pages of your telephone directory.
Sometimes, non-profit counseling programs are operated by universities, military bases, credit unions, and housing authorities. They are likely to charge little or nothing for their services. Or you can check with your local bank or consumer protection office to see if it has a list of reputable low-cost financial counseling services.
Where To Complain
The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
MONEY SAVING TIP: Take fewer trips to the grocery store
Making bigger shopping trips less often will cut down on your impulse buys. In fact, almost half of all shoppers go to the store three or four times per week. Shoppers making a “quick trip” to the store usually purchase 54% more than they planned, according to a study published by the Marketing Science Institute.
If you go to the store three times a week and spend $10 on impulse buys each trip, that adds up to $120 extra per month. But if you go only once a week, you’ll spend $40 per month on impulse buys. That saves you $80 per month, or $960 per year.
DID YOU KNOW…Closing and old account will hurt your credit score?
You should think twice before officially closing that credit card you opened back in college, especially if you’re getting ready to apply for a new line of credit. Closing an old account can have a negative impact on your credit score since it can lower your credit to debt utilization ratio, which is essentially how much credit you have at your disposal versus how much credit you are actually using.
According to FICO, it can also cost you points you might have been netting by having an ideal number of credit cards in your wallet and by building that 15% of your score that comes from credit history.
The exact effect this has on your score will vary, depending on the rest of your credit profile, but the advice is consistent.