4 Scary Things That May Be Hiding in Your Credit Card Statements

As neighborhoods streets fill with kids dressed as ghosts and goblins, the scariest thing on your block could be in your mailbox. Credit cards can be great for earning rewards, helping you get a handle on your credit card debt, and building credit. But you have to be careful about what could lurk in your credit card statements.

Here are four scary things to look for in your credit card statements, and what you can do about them.

1. Shocking Interest Rates

There are few things more frightening than being surprised by a high interest rate you didn’t sign up for. But that can happen with most cards when you make a late payment and a penalty interest rate is imposed, which is usually more than 20% APR. To avoid this scare, make every effort to pay your bills on time, including setting up reminders or even automatic bill payment. And if a penalty interest rate was imposed because of a single late payment, try contacting your card issuer and asking for a one-time waiver of the late fees and penalty interest rates. Finally, you can always shop for a credit card that has no penalty interest rate, like the Citi Simplicity (reviewed here), PenFed Promise or Discover it cards (reviewed here).

2. Vampire Fees

Fees are one of the most common things cardholders fear. There are some fees, like foreign transaction fees, that can hit you for every purchase, often 3% of your total charge. Other costly fees can include cash advance fees, balance transfer fees and annual fees. In fact, the cost of an annual fee can sometimes outweigh the value you receive from your rewards credit card. All of these fees should be clearly explained and outlined in your card’s terms before you apply, but many consumers sign up for the bonus rewards or the free checked bag and forget to check for the fees. To avoid this fate, scrutinize the terms of any new credit card you apply for, and consider a rewards card with no fees, even if it has a lower rate of return on your spending.

3. A Haunted Rewards Programs

All rewards programs are not created equal. While some credit card rewards programs offer cardholders lots of flexibility in how they use their points and are generous in their perks, there are programs out there that can be frustrating to use. Some signs of a “haunted” rewards program: Airline award seats at the lowest mileage levels seemingly vanish when you try to redeem your miles, or your program with no “blackout dates” may still allow properties to institute capacity controls to the same effect. Other hotels may guarantee that you can use your points for any available standard room, but then label nearly all of their rooms “superior” in some way.

To get around these restrictions, get to know the rewards program first, before accumulating your rewards. Don’t just read the award chart, but actually search for available awards and read what others have to say.  And if you just don’t want to play that game anymore, you can always focus on rewards points and miles that have a fixed value, or just stick to cash-back credit cards.

4. Freaky Fraudulent Charges

One thing that can spook any credit card user is a fraudulent charge. And while any large unauthorized charges can be easy to spot, it’s actually the small ones that are the most likely to creep into your statements unnoticed. Thankfully, federal law says that cardholders are never responsible for more than the first $50 of any fraudulent charge, and nearly all card issuers waive this requirement by offering zero liability policies. But it’s up to cardholders to look under every crack and crevice of their statements in order to find and dispute fraudulent charges, no matter how small.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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Image: iStock

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