By Mark Huffman
October 14, 2009
When Congress passed credit card reform legislation in May, many industry analysts warned that lenders would find new ways to extract the revenue they would soon be losing from consumers.
Among the mentioned new fees is actually an old one -- the annual fee.
When credit cards were first introduced almost all cards charged an annual fee. But as the industry grew more competitive, with more and more banks and financial services firms offering cards, the annual fee gradually disappeared from major bank cards.
Now, Bank of America says it will begin test marketing a new "membership" fee for some of its customers. In other words, not every customer will be assessed the charge. If those who are charged don't cancel their cards or protest too loudly, presumably all customers will soon be required to pay it.
While other banks are expected to follow suit, it may be helpful to point out that many current credit card users are already paying an "annual fee" for the privilege of carrying a credit card.
Small credit card issuers that target the subprime market have always charged a high annual fee, one of the many things making these low credit limit cards such bad deals.
Michael, of Hershey, Pa., said he paid a $100 annual fee recently on his Imagine Visa card.
"This month I get a letter stating that their credit card program has ended, and that my account will be closed immediately," he told ConsumerAffairs.com. "If they would have sent a letter, stating their intentions, before charging me the annual fee of $100, I would have paid the balance off and cancelled the card myself."
But to other credit card customers, the appearance of an annual fee on their credit card bill comes as a surprise. Rick, of Erskine, Minn., said he had never been assessed an annual fee on his Washington Mutual credit card. Then Washington Mutual was acquired by JP Morgan Chase earlier this year.
"I got a charge for over the limit, which was only a few bucks over my limit," Rick told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I looked at my account and saw that what put me over was a $39 annual fee. I had not warning about this charge and didn't know about it."
When major banks offer a credit card in partnership with another business, such as a hotel or airline, customers often get slapped with an annual fee, although some customers might overlook it. Jennifer, of Murray, Utah, wanted to use her Marriott Rewards Credit Card for a major purchase and called the company to determine how much credit she had.
"I proceeded with the charge and was quickly notified that it was declined because it put me over the credit limit by $65 - their annual fee that is not published on all of the marketing material," Jennifer told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I called customer service to rectify the situation, they passed me on to three different representatives before they told me it was my fault for not expecting the annual fee to be included in my balance."
Last year Anna, of Brooklyn, N.Y., lost her Citicard and asked for a new one. The replacement card was Citi's new Diamond Preferred Rewards card, even though she just wanted a replacement for her old card.
"When I called to inquire about the change, I was told that the new card works just the same as the old card, and only adds the "Thank You Network" feature, at no charge," she told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I asked if I can instead have my old card back, and was told no. Now, less than a year later, I'm being charged a $30 membership fee, for doing nothing more than always paying the card charges in full every month. This change comes without any notice, although the company claims that there was a letter."
Is there anyway to get out of paying an annual fee? Maybe. Scott Bilker, who writes the Dollar Stretcher Blog and is author of Talk Your Way Out Of Credit Card Debt, suggests calling and asking politely if the bank would waive the fee. He says in his experience, 95 percent of the time the bank will agree.