Consumers with good credit ratings take a lot of pride in their ranking, and don't take kindly to credit card companies taking actions that could negatively impact those credit scores.
So when credit card companies recently began to change the terms for many card holders, in advance of new government rules that would outlaw some of these changes, consumers have reacted with anger. Capital One is provoking some of the most heated reaction.
"I received a notice from Capital One Bank stating the 4.9 percent APR on the Mastercard I have had for six years will be increasing to 13.9 percent," Helen, of Boca Raton, Florida, told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I have always paid my bill in total and on time if not early. I called the customer service line and they very politely read the 'cue cards' stating it was a "business decision due to the current economy."
Helen wanted to know if Capital One could raise her rate for no reason. In fact, they can. After June 2010 they won't be able to do so under new rules adopted by the Federal Reserve, which may explain why they are doing so now.
Theresa of Richmond, Virginia, has a similar story. She said she recently received a "change in terms" notice on the Capital One card she had been using for seven years.
"The notice stated my rate is increasing from 8.9 percent to 17.9 percent with the option of opting out and having my account closed," she said. "I have a 790 FICO score and made large payments of my account every month. My current balance is only $700. I have never, ever been late on this account or any other account. I, like everyone else, was really angry when I received my notice."
Capital One, along with many other credit card companies, are reacting to the economy. Not only have they changed terms for delinquent customers, they are changing terms for some of their best customers who have very low rates.
Analysts say the companies are trying to offset current and anticipated losses from credit card delinquencies. Credit card delinquencies rose to record highs in January, according to Fitch Ratings. It reported payments more than 60 days late rose to 3.75 percent.
Consumers can call and complain to Capital One and other credit card issuers all they want, but the companies are unlikely to budge. They have concluded raising a nine percent rate to 18 percent is worth it, even if they end up losing the customer.
In late 2008, federal agencies announced new credit card rules that would prevent companies from taking some of the actions currently drawing complaints, but gave banks a year and a half to phase in the new rules. While applauding federal banking regulators for finalizing rules to curb some of the most abusive credit card lending practices, the Consumer Federation of America last December expressed concern that the requirements were too slow in taking effect. The group called on Congress to provide additional consumer protections to rein in abuses not addressed by the regulators.
"Federal regulators have taken an important first step to stop credit card companies from using hidden traps and tricks to drive up the amount of debt consumers owe," said Travis B. Plunkett, legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America. "However, it is not helpful to consumers struggling to pay off hefty debts in the middle of a recession, to give credit card companies the green light to continue to mislead and overcharge consumers for another year and a half."
Meanwhile, consumers continue to fume about their treatment. Philip, of Phoenix, notes that Capital One, which received government bailout money because of its poor business practices, is cutting him off, even though he has a high credit score and currently carries no balance on his Capital One card.
"This type of behavior from a company begging my government for money is appalling," he said. "They need customers like us to stay, not drive us away."