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Reminder for steps you can take if you think your credit or debit card data was hacked

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Yesterday, Home Depot confirmed that there has been a breach of its payment data systems. According to the company, the breach could potentially impact any customer that has used their card for payment at a Home Depot in the U.S. or Canada since April 2014.

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself if you spot unauthorized charges.
Protect your credit and debit card information
If your information was part of a breach, the most immediate risk is that the thieves may make unauthorized charges or debits to your accounts. Keep a close eye on your account activity and report suspicious transactions immediately to your bank or credit card provider. The sooner you tell your provider about any unauthorized debits or charges, the better off you will be.

1. Check your accounts for unauthorized charges or debits and continue monitoring your accounts

If you have online or mobile access to your accounts, check your transactions as frequently as possible. If you receive paper statements, be sure to open them and review them closely. If your provider offers it, consider signing up for email or text alerts.

Report even small problems right away. Sometimes thieves will process a small debit or charge against your account and return to take more from your bank account or add more charges to your credit card if the first smaller debit or charge goes through. And keep paying attention: fraudulent charges to your card or fraudulent debits to your bank account might occur many months after the theft of your information during a data breach.

2. 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.

If your physical credit card has not been lost or stolen, you are not responsible for unauthorized charges. You can protect yourself from being liable for unauthorized debit card charges by reporting those charges immediately after you find out about them or they show up on your bank statement.

If you spot a fraudulent transaction, immediately call the card provider’s toll-free customer service number on the back of your card. If the provider asks, follow up with a written letter. The provider should give you the address where you need to send the letter. Make sure to send it as soon as possible after you tell the provider about the unauthorized charge.

When you communicate in writing, be sure to keep a copy for your records. Write down the dates you make follow-up calls and keep this information together in a file.

If your card or PIN was lost or stolen, different rules may apply. Your timeline for reporting after your card, PIN, or other access device is lost or stolen is tied to when you discover the loss or theft or when unauthorized transactions show up on your bank statement. Therefore, you should make the report as soon as you know that there is a problem.

Debit card issuers should investigate the charges (generally within 10 business days) and take action quickly (generally within 3 business days). For your credit card, it can take longer, but you don’t have to pay the charge while it is under investigation. You also have a right to see the results of their investigations.

3. You can submit a complaint to the CFPB if you have an issue with your bank account or credit card

If you have an issue with your bank account or credit card, you can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372), TTY/TDD (855) 729-CFPB (2372).We’ll forward your complaint to the company and work to get you a response.

If you have other questions about billing disputes and your debit and credit card protections, you can Ask CFPB.

4. Know when to ignore anyone contacting you to “verify” your account information by phone or email

This could be a common scam, often referred to as “phishing,” to steal your account information.

Banks and credit unions never ask for account information through phone or email that they initiate. If you receive this type of contact, you should immediately call your card provider (using a customer service number that you get from a different source than the initial call or email) and report it. Reliable sources of contact information for your card provider include the customer service number or web address listed on your bank or credit card statement or the back of your card.

For more information on phishing scams, check out the FTC’s consumer alerts.

For more information, check out the consumer advisory.

You could still end up paying interest on a zero percent interest credit card offer

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What could be better than zero percent interest for one year? Nothing, nada, free…right? Not exactly.

These kinds of promotional rates are common with credit card offers. They can be connected to:

  • Balance transfer offers
  • Pitches for low-cost ways to finance big purchases, such as “deferred interest” offers
  • So-called “convenience checks,” which invite you to write checks against your credit account and pay the amount back within the specific promotional period

Credit card companies market these promotions as a way for you to save money.

But, what some credit card companies may not have been telling you is that new purchases could cost you more than you expect. While your transferred balance or your first big purchase has the zero or low annual percentage rate (APR) for the promotional period, any additional purchases you make with the card may get dinged with regular interest charges right away. The only way to avoid those charges is to pay off your whole balance, including the promotional balance and the new purchases, by the payment due date.

The marketing materials may have focused on one-time fees, such as balance transfer fees or deferred interest fees, and not provided clear and prominent information about the cost of new purchases due to the loss of the grace period.

Fall from grace

Most credit cards offer a grace period on purchases. The grace period – if you have one – is the time when you don’t have to pay interest on a purchase or other transaction. With most credit cards, you can avoid paying interest on new purchases if you pay off your whole balance by the payment due date each month.

However if you don’t pay off your entire balance by the due date, you will lose your grace period. Without a grace period, you will have to pay interest on new purchases from the date you make them. Carrying a promotional balance can cause you to lose your grace period or make it harder for you to get it back. This is why accepting promotional balance offers can cost you more than you expect.

We’re alerting credit card companies that some of them may be at risk of breaking the law because of the way that they market promotional rates. We told them that their marketing materials should clearly, prominently, and accurately tell you that you will pay interest right away on new purchases if you accept a promotional offer but don’t pay off the entire balance, including the promotional balance, by the payment due date.

Avoid the interest

If you decide to accept a promotional offer, here are a few things you should consider.

If you usually don’t carry a balance: If you usually keep your grace period by paying off your full statement balance each month, you can avoid interest by not making new purchases with the promotional rate card until you have paid off the entire promotional balance. Consider making your new purchases with cash, debit, or another credit card that doesn’t have a balance.

If you usually carry a balance: If you already carry a balance on all your credit cards, consider paying with cash or debit. However, if you decide to use a credit card, compare the interest rates among your cards to decide which is the better deal for new purchases.

Also, make sure you make all of your payments on time, and for promotional and deferred interest balances, pay off the entire balance before the end of the promotional period.

Let us know if you have a problem

If you have a problem with a credit card, you can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372.

For more information about grace periods or how credit cards work, check out Ask CFPB.

Explainer: Compensating consumers for Bank of America’s illegal tactics for credit card add-on products

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Today we’re fining Bank of America, N.A. and FIA Card Services, N.A. for unfairly billing consumers for services relating to identity theft protection “add-on” products and for using deceptive marketing and sales practices for credit protection “add-on” products.

We are also ordering Bank of America to refund fees and provide other redress to consumers. Approximately 2.9 million consumers will be receiving or already have received up to $727 million in refunds for fees they paid for these products and services as well as additional redress.

If you’re impacted by the announcement, you don’t have to take any action to receive a credit or check. If you are one of the consumers affected by the order, Bank of America should have already notified you or will notify you directly. If you have questions about whether you are entitled to a refund, you can contact Bank of America.

Who is eligible for compensation?

Nearly 1.4 million consumers have already received or will receive refunds of at least $250 million in fees for the “credit protection” products (Credit Protection Plus and Credit Protection Deluxe). You will receive refunds if you are a Bank of America customer who enrolled in these products at any time over the phone, were charged a fee between October 1, 2010 and March 31, 2013, and either did not activate benefits or who had  a request for benefits denied.

Approximately 1.5 million consumers purchased the “identity theft protection” products (Privacy Guard, PrivacySource, and Privacy Assist) and were improperly billed for services that were not performed. As a result, consumers paid at least $459 million in fees, interest, and over-limit charges for these products without receiving full services. Today’s announcement recognizes the refunds Bank of America has already provided to consumers harmed as a result of the illegal billing practices relating to these identity theft protection products.

Eligible consumers who were enrolled in the “identity theft protection” products received refunds if they enrolled in these products between October 2000 and September 2011 but did not receive full credit monitoring services, received only partial credit monitoring and/or credit report retrieval without notice, and/or didn’t receive credit report retrieval benefits.

What do eligible consumers get?

That depends on the product consumers were enrolled in and some other factors.

Eligible consumers who were enrolled in a “credit protection” product for less than a year, who made a request for benefits that was denied or closed, or who, complained to the CFPB or to Bank of America stating that they did not authorize enrollment in the product, will receive a refund of all fees charged from October 1, 2010 through March 31, 2013. Eligible consumers who were enrolled in a “credit protection” product for a year or more and who do not fall within any of the groups described above will receive a refund of 300 days of fees charged from October 1, 2010 through March 31, 2013.

Some consumers who were enrolled in “credit protection” product will also receive:

  1. A reduction in charged-off balances due to product fees charged from October 1, 2010 through March 31, 2013.
  2. “Credit protection” services for six months at no-cost for consumers enrolled in the product as of March 1, 2013.

Bank of America has already completed reimbursement for the “identity theft protection” eligible consumers, so eligible consumers should have already received refunds. If you have questions about receiving a refund for this product, you can contact Bank of America.

Bank of America 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 in order to “claim your refund,” it’s a scam. Please call us at (855) 411-CFPB to report the scam.

What sunshine for student financial products can show us

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Recently, we alerted financial institutions about the potentially risky practice of not readily disclosing arrangements with colleges and universities to market bank accounts, prepaid cards, debit cards, and other financial products to students. Director Cordray called on financial institutions to voluntarily make these agreements available on their websites.

According to a survey of school officials, 69 percent of debit card agreements are already available to the public, since many contracts with public colleges and universities are subject to state open records laws. We identified agreements available in the public domain by checking state open records databases and other websites where agreements were disclosed.

Some financial institutions offer low-cost student financial products as a way of developing long-lasting relationships with students as they start their financial lives. For example, one credit union told us that “over 85 percent of student accounts remain open one year following graduation.” But other financial institutions generate a significant amount of their revenue on these products while students are currently in school.

Here’s how they work

Some of these agreements were difficult to find, but here are a few examples of the different agreements financial institutions have with colleges and universities. We didn’t verify whether these agreements are current, but the examples give us a sense of how some of these agreements work.

1. Direct payments for using school logos

We found several agreements where a financial institution offers a licensing fee in order to use a school’s logo to market its financial products. (In 2008, Congress restricted this practice for student loans, but not for other financial products.) For example, we found an agreement which provides $25 million to a university for use of the school’s logo, among other benefits.

2. Bonuses for recruiting students

Other agreements provide bonus payments based on whether students sign up for a financial institution’s student checking account marketed on campus. For example, one agreement paid a university an upfront payment of $400,000 and an additional bonus of upwards of $200,000 each year if enough new students signed up for the accounts.

3. Discounted prices in exchange for marketing access

Some colleges receive discounted – or even completely free – services in exchange for allowing a provider to market financial products to students. For example, we found many agreements where a financial institution charges a university to transfer loan and scholarship funds to students.

However, some school officials have told us that these charges may be heavily discounted, since these agreements provide the financial institution with unique access to market to students receiving financial aid. This gives the financial institution a foot in the door to generate significant revenue in fees from students, making it worthwhile to provide discounted services to schools.

Committed to transparency?

Many financial institutions offer good products at competitive prices. But as we’ve stated before, voluntarily disclosing these arrangements is a sign of a financial institution’s commitment to transparency when marketing deposit accounts, prepaid cards, financial aid disbursement accounts, and other financial products to students. In doing so, they also want to make sure students know that they have a financial relationship with their school. Responsible financial institutions also want students to know they don’t have to choose their product if they don’t want to.

Actions you can take

Students, schools, financial institutions, or anyone else who wants to share information about the availability of these agreements can email us.

If you are a student, or family member of a student, you can check out our guide to Managing Your College Money and our consumer advisory on accessing student loans and scholarships.

If you have a complaint about a student loan, checking account, or credit card, you can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372.

What’s the deal with health care credit cards? Four things you should know

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Recently, many patients facing medical procedures have seen their health care providers suggest deferred interest rate credit cards as a payment option. Unfortunately, health care providers don’t always explain how these deferred interest credit cards work. We want to make sure that you get the facts you need.

Four things to know about cards with deferred interest rates

This type of credit card isn’t new. You may have seen ads on television, online, or in retail shops for promotional rates like zero-percent interest for the first year. No matter where the credit cards come from—a medical office or a mall store—they have a few features in common. Here’s what you need to know:

1. How to avoid paying interest

Make on-time payments each month and pay off your balance by the end of the promotional period. Minimum payments usually aren’t enough to pay off your entire balance by the end of the promotional period, so think about paying more than the minimum amount each month. Or, save up enough to pay the final amount before the promotional period ends.

2. What happens at the end of the promotional period

If you haven’t paid off the balance for your purchase when the promotional period ends, you’ll be charged interest on your balance for each month, starting from when you first made the purchase. Your credit card company must tell you the date by which you must pay off your balance to avoid paying interest. The date must appear on the front of your bill. If you aren’t sure when your promotional period ends, call your credit card company.

3. Using the card for other purchases

Before using the card again, check with the credit card company to see if you have a “grace period” and how it works. Without a grace period, you’ll pay interest on new purchases from the date you make them.

4. Details matter

Keep track of minimum payments and payment addresses to make sure small errors don’t add up to large interest and penalty charges.

Case in point: GE CareCredit cards

We brought an enforcement action against GE CareCredit to prevent deceptive and unfair credit card enrollment tactics. The enforcement action came after an investigation, where we found that consumers got incorrect information about how their cards worked, and later submitted complaints to us.

As a result of our enforcement action, all consumers enrolling in the CareCredit card in a health care provider’s office will receive a comprehensive “welcome” call from CareCredit within two to three days of enrollment. Certain consumers who sign up for a CareCredit card will speak directly to a representative prior to any enrollment or purchase of services. Additionally, CareCredit will enhance their disclosures to warn consumers when their promotional period is about to end. The company will also do more training of health care office personnel who offer the card. Finally, we ordered CareCredit to reimburse up to $34.1 million to customers who were victims of their deceptive credit card enrollment tactics.

Actions you can take

If you’re having trouble with a deferred interest credit card, you can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372.

For more answers about how deferred interest medical credit cards work, check out Ask CFPB.

Four steps you can take if you think your credit or debit card data was hacked

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Lately, we’ve received a lot of questions about what to do in light of the recent data breach at Target retail stores. This theft of credit and debit card information could impact tens of millions of consumers and we want to let you know what you can do to protect yourself if you spot fraudulent charges.
Protect your credit and debit card information
If your information was part of a breach, the most immediate risk is that the thieves may make unauthorized charges or debits to your accounts. Keep a close eye on your account activity and report suspicious transactions immediately to your bank or credit card provider. The sooner you tell your provider about any unauthorized debits or charges, the better off you’ll be.

1. Check your accounts for unauthorized charges or debits and continue monitoring your accounts

If you have online or mobile access to your accounts, check your transactions as frequently as possible. If you receive paper statements, be sure to open them and review them closely. If your provider offers it, consider signing up for email or text alerts.

Report even small problems right away. Sometimes thieves will process a small debit or charge against your account and return to take more from your bank account or add more charges to your credit card if the first smaller debit or charge goes through. And keep paying attention—fraudulent charges to your card or fraudulent debits to your bank account might occur many months after the theft of your information during a data breach.

2. 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.

If your physical credit card has not been lost or stolen, you’re not responsible for unauthorized charges. You can protect yourself from being liable for unauthorized debit card charges by reporting those charges immediately after you find out about them or they show up on your bank statement.

If you spot a fraudulent transaction, call the card provider’s toll-free customer service number immediately. Follow up with a written letter. Your monthly statement or error resolution notice will tell you how and where to report fraudulent charges or billing disputes.

When you communicate in writing, be sure to keep a copy for your records. Write down the dates you make follow-up calls and keep this information together in a file.

If your card or PIN was lost or stolen, different rules may apply. Your timeline for reporting after your card, PIN, or other access device is lost or stolen is tied to when you discover the loss or theft or when unauthorized transactions show up on your bank statement. Therefore, you should make the report as soon as you know that there is a problem

3. Submit a complaint if you have an issue with your bank or card provider’s response

Debit card issuers should investigate the charges (generally within 10 business days) and take action quickly (generally within 3 business days). For your credit card, it can take longer, but you don’t have to pay the charge while it’s under investigation. You also have a right to see the results of their investigations.

If you have an issue with their response, you can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372. For TTY/TDD, call (855) 729-2372.

If you have other questions about billing disputes and your debit and credit card protections, you can Ask CFPB.

4. Know when to ignore anyone contacting you to “verify” your account information by phone or email

This could be a common scam, often referred to as “phishing,” to steal your account information. Banks and credit unions never ask for account information through phone or email that they initiate. If you receive this type of contact, you should immediately call your card provider (using a customer service number that you get from a different source than the initial call or email) and report it.

For more information on phishing scams, check out the FTC’s consumer alerts.

For more information, check out the consumer advisory.