Credit Card Companies and Your Debt

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Millions of Americans are drowning in credit card debt. High interest rates and low minimum payments are just some of the reasons why it is hard for consumers to escape from the debt trap.

The television commercials for credit cards make paying with plastic seem painless. Like the line from a recent MasterCard commercial -- "going out to dinner: $50, ordering dessert $16, staying for coffee $8. Giving your kitchen the night off: priceless."

But they leave out the time it takes to pay it all off and for many people -- it's a lifetime.

Click the video player to watch CBN News' Charlene Israel's report and Pat Robertson's comments on your credit card score.

"This game is rigged so that you stay in credit card debt," financial expert Michelle Singletary told CBN News. And if you make just the minimum payment you will be taking years to pay it off."

Last year, eleven per cent of Americans only paid the minimum on more than $2.2 trillion charged on their credit cards every month.

Singletary says this practice favors the credit card company and puts the pinch on consumers.

"Let's say you have a credit card balance of $10,000. The average interest rate on the credit card is about 14%. It would take you 36 years to pay off that amount if you made the minimum payment of 2%," she explained. "In that time period you would have paid $13,000 in interest, that's on top of the $10,000 you borrowed."

To make matters worse, some banks are raising credit card rates even for customers who pay on time. Those companies include big corporations like Capital One, Bank of America and Chase. Some are also boosting late fees, annual charges and ATM fees.

Carita Gamble has always paid her credit card bill on time. So she was surprised when her interest rate jumped from 16 to more than 26 percent.

"This has put me over the top financially," she said.

One credit card customer says he only found out about his rate increase when he checked his statement online.

"I was shocked," said Richard Davis. "I was angry. I've never been late with a payment with Chase ever."

So why are companies hiking the rates, especially when other interest rates are coming down in an effort to boost the economy? Some analysts say recent losses in the mortgage market have caused banks to put the squeeze on consumers.

"Right now with the mortgage crisis, banks are looking for ways to increase their income and fee income has been a gold mine for them," Singletary explained.

Congress is watching and some lawmakers have threatened banks with tighter regulation surrounding credit-card fees and policies.

Until the federal government decides to act, Singletary says it is up to consumers to read the fine print.

"Right on the back in the tiny print that you probably need a magnifying glass to read, it says the company reserves the right to change these terms at any time giving you a short period of notice and they often do," she said.

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Charlene Israel

Charlene Israel

CBN News Reporter

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