Consumer Payment Card News

Late Fee Bug

The late fee bug has bitten more than half of all U.S. cardholders over the past twelve months. Since 1996, late fee revenues generated to bank credit card issuers has soared from $1.7 billion to $7.3 billion, annually. An informal online poll conducted in early May by CardWeb.com, found that 58.3% of consumers say they have been hit with a late fee during the past year. Since the first of this year, average late fees have jumped more than 5%, from $28.29 to $29.84,as several major issuers have boosted late fees this year from $29 to $35. Since 1996, late fees have more than doubled, from an average of $13.28 to $29.84. In June 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that commercial banks can charge whatever fees they want on credit cards, anywhere in the country. Until 1996, many credit card issuers were dogged with lawsuits from various states over credit card penalty fees. The 1996 ruling preempts state laws regarding card fees for an out-of-state issuer. Previously the Supreme Court ruled commercial banks may charge interest rates on credit cards subject to the limitations imposed by the home state or card issuing state of bank, not the state of the cardholder’s residence. However, the issue of whether the same protection applied to fees associated with a bank credit card program was not settled until June 3, 1996. Since then, late fees have soared. Most issuers have also modified trigger policies to charge late fees for payments received after a certain time on the due date. For example, many big issuers have a 2pm cut-off on the due date. Late fees now represent the third largest revenue stream, just behind interest revenues (#1) and merchant fee revenues (#2). Best advice to beat late fees: send in a minimum payment as soon as you receive a credit card statement and then send a second, larger payment near the due date. Remember, bumping into a late fee more than once per year can trigger your interest rate upward.

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