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"We said that big banks can no longer take advantage of hardworking Americans," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said of the recent legislation that will restrict rate hikes and late fees charged by credit card companies. But some out there argue that credit card holders are just as culpable. It seems there is a fine line between who is really to blame: the companies that provide the easy credit with high penalties or the consumers that take easy credit and ignore the possible penalties.
Just how did credit cards become so ubiquitous in the American financial landscape? A recent article in Time magazine noted that credit cards have been around since the 1920s. Service stations, hotels and restaurants began offering credit cards when Americans began venturing out in their cars to a world beyond the convenience of their local banks. By the 1950s, over 20,000 Americans carried the Diners Club card in their wallets. That success was followed by American Express and Bank of America, which both began offering credit cards in 1958.
Flash forward 50 years and Americans are predicted to be in credit card default to the tune of $75 billion this year. It seems psychology had a little to do with that, after all no one forced Americans to obtain credit cards and then charge on them beyond their means. No, it seems that the perceived irresistibly of not actually paying now is hard to refuse.
A study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that people can be quite irrational when it comes to credit. The study by Drazen Prelec and Duncan Simester showed that people don't perceive credit and cash in the same way and will pay twice as much for something, in this case basketball tickets, purchased with credit. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have estimated that the typical cardholder pays an extra $200 a year in interest on a credit card balance while keeping a large amount of cash in savings or checking.
It seems people happily ignore the fine print in those multiple-page credit card bills that come every month and focus instead on the minimum amount due, which is printed in large bold numbers. While the new credit card laws may offer consumer protection from the credit card companies, perhaps it is protection from the innate urge to whip out the plastic now and pay later that is the real culprit.
Here are a few tips on how to be smarter about credit cards:
1. Look over credit card bills carefully. Taking a few minutes to look at the fine print can save a cardholder money in the long run. While the new credit card legislation stipulates that lenders must say how much time it would take and how much money in interest would be paid if only the minimum monthly payments are made, it will be several months before that disclosure shows up on bills. In the meantime, consumers should do the math and make purchases with the long-term costs in mind.
2. Credit cards make it easy to track spending, so consumers should pay close attention to what goes on the bill every month. It doesn't make sense to carry a balance on lattes and lunch when paying cash for those items would save money in the long run.
3. Get a credit report and make sure the facts are correct. Credit scores determine not only a consumer's credit worthiness, but also the interest rate that will be paid on loans.
4. Make an effort to pay off credit balances, starting with those carrying the high interest rates. By paying a little extra each month, cardholders can chip away at debt and improve credit scores. However, financial planners warn consumers not to close accounts once they are paid off. A long history of good credit with many accounts is what credit scores are based on.
Disclaimer: ActiveRain Corp. does not necessarily endorse the real estate agents, loan officers and brokers listed on this site. These real estate profiles, blogs and blog entries are provided here as a courtesy to our visitors to help them make an informed decision when buying or selling a house. ActiveRain Corp. takes no responsibility for the content in these profiles, that are written by the members of this community.