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Credit cards

6 tips for using your credit card this season

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Your favorite store is having a holiday sale. You’ve bought all your items on your shopping list, but you’re tempted to peek in the store to look for a few last minute gifts. You also realized that you’re a little short with cash on hand. How will you pay for these purchases? If you’re like many Americans, you might use your credit card.

More than 60 percent of adults own at least one credit card. If you have a card, you might have been using it a lot lately to purchase gifts, meals, and travel expenses. Credit cards can help you build and maintain good credit, as long as you use your cards responsibly and pay your bills on time each month. That’s why we’re sharing six tips you should keep in mind when using your credit card this season—or any time.

1. Pay your bills on time

Pay your bills on time, every time. One way to make sure your payments are on time is to set up automatic payments. But, you have to watch your bank balance to make sure you have enough money in your account to cover the automatic payments. Also, if you can afford to pay more than the minimum amount, you can pay off your debt quicker. Keep in mind that people with the best credit scores usually are those who pay off their credit cards in full every month.

2. Don’t get too close to your credit limit

Credit scoring models look at how close you are to being “maxed out,” because the formulas predict that people who are using too much of their available credit may have future trouble with repayment. If you use too much of your total credit lines, you can hurt your credit score. Experts advise keeping your use of credit at no more than 30 percent or less of your total credit limit.

3. Get your free credit report every year

Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies. You can receive a free credit report from each reporting company once every 12 months. By requesting the reports at the same time, you can determine whether any of your files have errors. By requesting the reports separately, you can monitor your credit files more frequently throughout the year.

4. Read your credit report and dispute any errors

Identity theft and fraud is on the rise, so it’s important to check your credit report and dispute any errors immediately. If you find something wrong with your credit report, write to both the consumer reporting agency and the creditor that provided the information, if applicable, to tell them what you think is wrong and why. Include copies of any documents that support your position. When a consumer disputes credit report information, the agency and the creditor generally have to investigate the dispute and correct inaccurate information. Take a look at more information on how to submit a dispute.

5. Avoid paying upfront fees to “repair” your negative credit history

There are many places that promise to “repair” or “fix” your credit for an upfront fee but no one can remove negative information, such as late payments, from a credit report if it is accurate. You can only get your credit report fixed if it contains errors and you can do that on your own.

6. Be proactive

First, it’s important that you act right away. You do not need to be behind on your payments to ask for help, and many creditors may be willing to help if you’re facing a financial emergency.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Add up your income and expenses. Look for ways to cut costs. If you can’t find enough to pay your minimum payment, decide how much you can afford to pay.
  2. Call your credit card company. Be sure to clearly explain:
    1. Why you can’t pay the minimum.
    2. How much you can afford to pay.
    3. When you could restart your normal payments.
  3. Consider credit counseling. If you need more help, credit counseling organizations can teach you more about handling your money. Many credit counseling organizations are non-profit. Before you sign up, ask if you’ll be charged, how much, and what services will be provided. Watch out for for-profit debt relief companies that:
    1. Charge fees before they settle your debts.
    2. Give a guarantee that they can make your debt go away.
    3. Tell you to stop communicating with creditors.

If you’re having a problem with credit cards, you can submit a complaint to the CFPB at consumerfinance.gov/complaint or call (855) 411-2372 toll-free.

Have questions about credit cards or other consumer financial products and services? Find answers at consumerfinance.gov/askcfpb.

What’s that chip doing on my credit card?

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What’s that chip doing on my credit card?

Did your bank recently send you a new credit or debit card with a shiny, metallic chip on the front? You may have noticed that some cards have this chip in addition to the standard magnetic stripe on the back of the card. Lately, we’ve received questions from people wanting to know what these chips are and how they work. Because security is often people’s number one concern, we’ve also heard from consumers who want to know what they can do to protect their bank accounts, credit cards, and personal financial information.

As a new federal agency, we’re committed to providing you with trustworthy information about consumer financial products—including bank accounts and credit cards. Here are a few things you should know about chip technology.

What’s chip technology?

Chip technology is designed to help cut down on credit and debit card fraud. The technology has been in use in other countries for some time.

For credit and debit cards to work, they have to provide information—your so-called “payment credentials”—to the merchant that takes your card. The merchant uses that information to authorize the transaction. This is what that magnetic stripe, also known as a “mag stripe,” on the back of your card currently does. That’s what the new chips will do, too.

Why does this matter to me?

For consumers, the important difference between chips and mag stripes is that it’s more difficult for a fraudster to make a fake chip card than to make a fake mag stripe card.

The shift to chip cards won’t affect your legal rights that protect you from credit card and debit card fraud. But to be fully protected, you must still review your credit card and debit card statements regularly—and report fraudulent charges immediately. We have some practical suggestions for how to continue to protect your accounts below.

How do I use my chip card?

Instead of swiping your card through the payment terminal, with a chip card, you insert the end with the chip into the slot at the front of that terminal. You do this with the front of the card (and the chip) facing up. Terminals take slightly longer to read a chip card than a mag stripe, so wait for the terminal’s instructions before you remove your card.

Where can I use my chip card?

Not every place you shop will be able to read chip cards yet. If the store accepts credit and debit cards but doesn’t have terminals that can read chip cards, you can still shop there. You’ll just need to use the magnetic stripe on the back of your card. Over time, you’ll see more and more terminals that read chip cards.

What about online and mobile payments?

You can use your chip card to make mobile or online payments the same way you you’ve been using your old card.

Why is this happening now?

There’s no law requiring your credit card company to give you a chip card. That’s true for debit cards as well. Likewise, there is no law saying that stores have to install terminals that can read chip cards—or turn on chip card technology even if they do have these terminals.

Even so, you’re going to see a lot more chip cards and chip card readers in the months to come. Beginning in October, card companies and stores are changing how they divide up responsibility for card fraud. Those changes are creating incentives for merchants to install chip card terminals and for banks and credit unions to issue chip cards. So, a lot of card companies and merchants are rolling out this technology as soon as they can.

What if I don’t have a chip card yet?

You can still keep using your card, and you’ll be able to swipe your mag stripe through card readers. Keep in mind that your bank or credit union will most likely send you a chip card in the future.

How you can protect your accounts

The shift to chip cards is an important step in combating fraud, but experts agree that chip cards are not going to make card fraud go away. Fraudsters will still try to make money by stealing card data, and you’ll still need to protect yourself by taking some basic precautions:

  • Check your accounts for unauthorized charges or debits regularly. Sometimes fraudsters will process a small debit or charge against your account and return to add more charges if the first transaction goes through. If you have online or mobile access to your accounts, check your transactions regularly. If you receive paper statements, be sure to open them and review them closely.
  • Report a suspicious charge or debit immediately. Contact your bank or card provider immediately if you suspect an unauthorized debit or charge. If a thief charges items to your account, you should cancel the card and have it replaced before more transactions come through. Even if you’re not sure that PIN information was taken, consider changing your PIN just to be on the safe side.

Take a look at some additional security suggestions. If you have more questions about bank accounts and services, check out Ask CFPB, our online, database of frequently asked financial questions and answers.

You have the right to a fair financial marketplace

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We've secured over $10.8 billion dollars in relief for consumers harmed by illegal practices.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was created in the wake of the financial meltdown to stand up for consumers and make sure they are treated fairly in the financial marketplace. One way we accomplish this mission is by enforcing consumer protection laws, holding law breakers accountable for their actions. Since 2011, we have secured over $10.8 billion dollars in relief for more than 25 million consumers harmed by illegal practices.

Mortgages

We’ve secured billions of dollars in relief for consumers harmed by systematic misconduct and illegal practices by companies in the mortgage industry. We’ve taken several actions against mortgage servicing companies for failing to tell borrowers when their loan modification applications were incomplete, denying loan modifications to qualified borrowers, failing to honor modifications for loans transferred from other servicers, and illegal foreclosure practices. We have also taken action against companies in the mortgage industry for steering consumers into costlier loans, for paying illegal kickbacks in exchange for business, and for making inadequate disclosures or using deceptive ads.

Credit cards

We’ve secured billions of dollars of relief for millions of consumers harmed by deceptive marketing and enrollment of credit card add-on products, unfair billing, and illegal debt collection practices.

Payday and installment lending

We have taken action against payday lenders and installment lenders for unlawful lending and collections practices that include using false threats of lawsuits or criminal prosecution to collect debts, charging undisclosed fees to servicemembers, and robo-signing court documents related to debt collection lawsuits.

Learn more about how we’re enforcing consumer protection laws in other product areas including auto lending, debt collection, debt relief, student lending, checking accounts, and more.

Citibank to refund $700 million to credit card customers for unfair and deceptive practices

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Today we’re ordering Citibank, N.A. and some of its subsidiaries to refund approximately $700 million to customers for unfair and deceptive credit card practices. This includes unfairly billing consumers for credit card add-on products, deceptively marketing those products, and deceptive collection practices. Citibank has agreed to pay about $700 million in refunds on about 8.8 million accounts.

If you were among the millions of people affected, Citibank should have already notified you or will notify you directly. You do not have to take any action. If you have questions about whether you are entitled to a refund, you can contact Citibank at the number on the back of your credit card. Generally, consumers who were signed up for these products on or after January 1, 2009, will receive full or partial refunds. If you are unsatisfied with Citibank’s response, you can submit a complaint online or by calling us at 855-411-2372.

You might be eligible for a refund if you paid for credit and identity monitoring, credit protection products, or an expedited payment fee.

Credit and identity monitoring products

Nearly 2.2 million consumers who enrolled between 2000 and 2013 have already received or will receive refunds of about $196 million in fees for credit monitoring products (Privacy Guard, DirectAlert, IdentityMonitor, Citi Credit Monitoring Service). If you enrolled in these products, but did not receive all of the services promised, you will receive full refunds for the time you did not receive full services. Most eligible consumers have already received refunds.

Separately, we found that Citibank violated the law when enrolling some IdentityMonitor consumers and when some IdentityMonitor consumers called to try to cancel that product. The amount of refund is determined by a few factors, including whether consumers tried to cancel (even if they were persuaded to keep it), and how long they stayed in the product.

Consumers who enrolled in IdentityMonitor over the phone on or after January 1, 2009, but who did not upgrade to “triple bureau” credit monitoring, will receive full or partial refunds. You are also eligible if you enrolled over the internet between January 1, 2009 and April 1, 2012.

Debt protection products

We found that Citibank violated the law when selling certain debt protection products (AccountCare, Balance Protector, Credit Protection, Credit Protector, and Payment Safeguard) to some consumers. Some of the deceptive practices happened during telemarketing sales calls, while others happened when consumers applied for credit cards at certain retail stores, using “point of sale” terminals or at specialty services desks.

Consumers who enrolled in these products on or after January 1, 2009, will generally receive refunds. Certain consumers are excluded, including if you paid a claim for benefits under the products or if you signed and returned an “Acknowledgment of Membership” form after enrolling.

Certain consumers who enrolled in these products prior to December 31, 2008, may also be eligible for a refund.

Expedited payment fee

Finally, we found Citibank violated the law when they tried to collect overdue payments from some consumers with cards issued by Citibank’s subsidiary, Department Stores National Bank (DSNB). During collection calls, Citibank sometimes charged an “expedited payment fee” of $14.95 without telling the consumer it was charging the fee or misrepresented the purpose of the fee. Nearly 1.8 million consumers who paid an “expedited payment fee” since January 1, 2009 when their DSNB credit card account was delinquent will receive all “expedited payment fees” paid during that time.

Citibank is responsible for providing refunds

Watch out for scammers claiming they will get you a refund. When large numbers of consumers get refunds, scammers sometimes pop up. The scammer may charge you a fee or try to steal your personal information. If someone tries to charge you, tries to get you to disclose your personal information, or asks you to cash a check and send a portion to a third party to “claim your refund,” it’s a scam. Please call us at 855-411-CFPB (2372) to report the scam.

Eligible consumers will get a refund directly, typically by a credit to your account or a check.

We’re ordering JP Morgan Chase to refund $50 million and stop collecting on 528,000 accounts

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Today we’re ordering JP Morgan Chase to stop illegal debt collections practices. Along with the Attorneys General in 47 states and the District of Columbia, we found that Chase sold credit card accounts to debt buyers that included amounts that were inaccurate or debts not owed by the consumer. Debt buyers then sought to collect the faulty debts it purchased from Chase. We’re ordering Chase to reform its debt sales practices to prohibit it from selling certain types of debt, like old or disputed debts, and “zombie debt” which are debts that debt collectors repeatedly attempt to collect, even when it’s not collectible. Chase will also have to provide specific documentation to debt buyers when it does sell debts, and must prohibit its debt buyers from re-selling debts they buy from Chase.

Chase also filed more than 528,000 lawsuits against consumers to collect on debts, often using sworn documents that were “robo-signed” and not verified for accuracy. As a result, Chase must refund at least $50 million to consumers, stop collecting on all of these accounts, and include specific information when filing debt collection lawsuits in the future. Chase must also pay $136 million in penalties and payments to the CFPB and states.

Chase has already begun compensating consumers and will contact you if you are eligible for payment. If you have questions about your eligibility for your refund, or to find out if Chase is prohibited from collecting on your account, you can contact Chase.

Debt collection complaints remain high

Of all of the complaints we receive from consumers, debt collection is one of the largest categories.

If you don’t recognize a debt from a debt collector, you have certain rights to verify debt. You can send a letter to the debt collector to request more information. If you have a complaint about debt collection, you can submit a complaint online or by calling us at (855) 411-2372.

Sunshine for college credit card agreements

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Today, we’re releasing a report that looks at deals between financial institutions and colleges to market credit cards to students. Congress requires credit card companies to provide data on these agreements to the CFPB each year, and further requires the CFPB to look at these arrangements in an annual report.

This year we found that there are fewer schools marketing credit cards, and those that do are not making their agreements with credit card companies readily accessible to students.

College debit and prepaid card agreements have surpassed the number of credit card agreements

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 placed new restrictions on marketing credit cards to college students, and requires schools and credit card companies to disclose these agreements publicly. In 2009, there were more than a thousand such agreements in effect. By the end of last year, the number had fallen to 336. According to the Government Accountability Office, in 2013 there were at least 852 schools that had agreements to market debit or prepaid cards to students.

At the end of 2013, there were about 950,000 credit card accounts open under the terms of these agreements. At the end 2009, before the relevant provisions of the CARD Act took effect, there were more than 2 million such accounts. Payments by credit card companies to schools in connection with credit card marketing also declined from nearly $85 million in 2009 to under $43 million in 2013.

Bank of America is the dominant issuer in this market with four times as many credit card agreements in effect in 2013 as its closest competitor. The bank had more than 80 percent of all accounts open under such agreements with schools as of the end of 2013.

Most credit card agreements are with alumni associations

The number of new accounts originated in a given year has increased since 2012. Nearly three-quarters of this new account growth is accounted for by agreements between issuers and alumni associations, indicating that most new accounts likely are issued to alumni, not to students.

Schools may not be making their credit card agreements readily accessible to students

Today’s report also takes a look at how transparent colleges are being about these agreements. Credit card issuers are required to provide prior year agreements to the Bureau, but the law requires colleges and universities to disclose all their credit card agreements, including those currently in effect.

Our analysis shows that most colleges aren’t making it easy for students and the public to learn about what deals are in effect. Just seven of the 35 schools we looked at provided clear information on their websites to find this information. Using a reasonable search protocol, we were unable to locate online any information about such agreements for the remaining 80 percent of our school sample.

To evaluate the accessibility of agreements in the public domain, we identified schools with the largest number of total accounts and the largest enrollment from our agreement database – yielding 35 distinct schools with a combined total of over half a million students.

Next, we created a basic online search methodology to see if we could find the marketing deals – or information about how to obtain them – using a commercial search engine, the sitemap of the institution’s website, and, when it existed, the search engine function on the school website. We found that the overwhelming majority of schools provided no information on their website regarding the agreement. Only one of every five schools provided a link to their marketing deal or online guidance on how to obtain their marketing agreement with a credit card issuer.


Accessibility of agreements on school websites

80 percent of schools offer no website disclosure or guidance for requesting agreements. 14.3 percent offer guidance on their website on how to obtain the agreement. 5.7 percent disclose the agreement on their websites.

More transparency is needed

The CARD Act public disclosure requirement is limited to credit cards and doesn’t include other financial products marketed through schools. We have also called on financial institutions to publicly disclose agreements with schools to market other financial products to students, like debit cards, prepaid cards, and bank accounts. Making these agreements available for all financial products can help bring needed transparency to this market.

Get an in-depth view of this data by checking out the report.

Interested in whether your school or alma mater has a marketing deal with a credit card issuer? Check out our College Credit Card Agreement Database.

Have a problem with your credit card or other financial product? You can submit a complaint online or call (855) 411-2372.