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Credit Card Agreements Matter: Here's Why

July 1, 2021

There are plenty of factors that may sway you towards one credit card versus another. 

One may have double cash-back rewards, while the other may rack up airline miles for frequent fliers or have 0% APR for the first 12 months.  

Credit card companies make the selling points very clear to draw in customers but the details that come along with each card can be found in the terms of the agreement. When you use a credit card, it means that you agree to all of its terms and conditions regardless if you read the rules thoroughly or not. 

Whatever the selling point might be for a credit card, it is equally important to thoroughly understand the contract terms.  

Do you know what constitutes a penalty on your new card? Or if it has foreign transaction fees? Do you know what actions you can take if an incorrect charge shows up on your account? 

 If you don’t follow the stipulations outlined in the agreement, you risk losing the right to use your card or introductory offers such as 0% APR.  

You may even fall into a debt trap and end up hurting your credit score. 

That is why it becomes even more important for you to read and understand the terms and conditions outlined by your credit card company – by doing so, you not only save yourself from paying high-interest charges and penalties, but you may end up boosting your credit score as well. 

The more knowledgeable you are about your credit card agreement the easier it will be to utilize it to your advantage. 

Where can you find your credit card agreement? 

The credit card company likely provided you with an agreement when you received the card. 

Moreover, as per federal law, issuers that have more than 10,000 card accounts must provide the terms and conditions of their card agreement online. 

You can visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website to find agreements from more than 300 card issuers. 

What kind of information should you look for in your credit card agreement?  

The main takeaway from your credit card is the pricing information, for example, what kind of finance charges you need to pay if you carry over a balance and what type of penalties you incur if you miss a payment. 

  • Interest rate information: If you carry a balance from one month to another, you’ll need to pay interest at a rate that is specified in your credit card agreement. This APR (Annual Percentage Rate) may be linked to a variable rate such as the Prime rate. The same card can have multiple APRs – for example, you may be charged a different APR during the promotional period or while taking out a cash advance. 
  • Finance charge: The minimum finance charge, the method through which finance charges are calculated, your grace period, when you may be exempted from a finance charge – all these details are listed in the agreement.
  • Fees: Look out for fees such as annual fee, foreign transaction fee, late payment fee etc. Depending on your lifestyle and spending habits, you should evaluate if the card makes sense for you, for example, if you tend to travel overseas a lot, then it may be better to opt for a card that does not charge foreign transaction fees. 
  • Payment deadline: This is the date by which you should make your credit card payment every month to avoid paying interest charges and late payment fees.
  • Rewards: Most credit cards offer rewards for spending, such as cashback on purchases or points you can redeem. However, many of these rewards have restrictions attached to them so it's important to learn about their limitations. 

In your credit card agreement, the issuer will tell you how they report your information to credit bureaus, what your credit limit is, what happens if you default on your payments, how to pay your bill, and how to dispute charges.  

It includes the changes that the issuer can make to your account – the card company can alter the terms of the agreement at any point in time with advance notice.  

After receiving information about the change, if you keep using the card, it would mean that you agree to the updated terms.  

A credit card can make your life easier, or it can land you into trouble – so if you want to use the card to your advantage, make sure you read the agreement. 

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