An ad promoting a trip to Glacier National Park

On the subject of those well-known plastic credit cards, I discovered that even if you make your payments on time, the credit card bank can raise your interest rate automatically. If you’re late on payments elsewhere–such as on another credit card or on a phone, car or house payment–or simply because the bank feels you have taken on too much debt, your interest rate goes up.

Isn’t it amazing how these banks and credit card characters continue to find new ways to squeeze the public at every opportunity? Finally Congress is looking at this plague on the lower-middle-class citizens.

This practice of automatically raising credit card interest rate is called “universal default.” It is fast becoming standard in those credit-card agreements. Those agreements are the ones in such small print it takes special glasses to read and a lawyer to explain.

The credit-card agreement is difficult to understand. It is tucked into the fine print that most of us ignore. This clause allows the company to change your interest rate (APR) at any time, for any reason, as long as they give you 15 days’ notice.

There is no limit on the amount a credit-card company can charge a cardholder for being even a half day late with a payment. There is no federal limit on how much interest they can charge.

Credit-card companies legally get around every law they can. Notice how many companies are located in states such as South Dakota or Delaware. That’s because these states have either weak or no “usury laws,” meaning there is no cap on the interest rate that is charged.

The federal government once had national usury laws that set a cap on the amount of interest that could be charged on a loan. But it repealed them after the Great Depression, and some states put no new usury laws in place. That’s why Citibank, the issuer of MasterCard, moved to South Dakota, where there is no cap on interest rates.

The average American household carries a credit-card balance of more than $8,000. Paying only the minimum due each month, that amount can be paid out in just 35 years!

There is help available. Several trustworthy organizations exist to advise people whose debt has spiraled out of control.

The Better Business Bureau can act as an intermediary to help resolve your dispute. Complaints can be handled by the local Better Business Bureau by suggesting a reputable company to help.

One non-profit group I recommend highly is Family Life Credit Services. It is a national corporation, fully accredited.

Don’t let the pesky credit cards pester you another day. Don’t get ground down this year.

Britt Towery, a retired Baptist missionary, writes a weekly column for the Brownwood Bulletin in Brownwood, Texas.

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