Dealing with credit cards

There are many benefits to having a credit card. It may offer an extra layer of security when faced with unexpected expenses, and some offer rebates, gas, air miles, and other perks. Most consumers know they should spend wisely, but credit cards often lead to financial hardship and the difficulties that come with a bad credit history. Whether or not you are in the market for a credit card, our tips can help you protect your financial future.

  1. Comparison shop for a better deal. Comparing cards can be can be difficult, given the many, many fees, introductory offers, varying APRs, and credit limits available to you. NerdWallet has a useful tool that will compare over 1,000 credit offers, based on your individual circumstance.1  You can also print out a checklist to do a side-by-side comparison of credit card offers. 
  2. When shopping around, beware of secured credit cards. They may be the only option for those with bad credit, but the arrangement is like lending money to yourself. The opportunity to lend money to yourself comes with an APR and fees for membership, late payments, and/or over-limit charges.2
  3. Challenge fees. The CARD Act of 2009 prohibits companies from charging more than 25% of the credit limit during the first year. For example: if your credit limit is $300, the company many not charge more than $75 in fees. You may also be able to negotiate the reduction or forgiveness of exorbitant fees, e.g. a $25 late payment fee on a $20 balance, by calling customer service and asking to speak with a supervisor.
  4. Watch for changes to your existing accounts. The CARD Act of 2009 also requires credit companies to send notice of changes to accounts 45 days in advance. If you don't like the changes, call customer service to find out about your options.
  5. Avoid fraud. You may read more on the identity theft tip sheet, but there are a few basic ways to protect yourself from identity thieves. Keep your credit card in sight when you use it, and try avoid situations in which the seller might walk off with it, e.g. restaurant servers. Immediately call the toll-free, 24-hour service line for your credit company when you realize that your card has been lost or stolen. After you report it, you will have no liability for charges that you did not make.3
  6. Consider opting out of pre-screened credit offers. Pre-screened credit card offers can easily be stolen from your mail or your trash, giving identity thieves the opportunity to ruin your financial life. Opting out is a smart way for you to protect yourself without spending time sorting and shredding your mail. To opt out for five years, call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or go to www.optoutprescreen.com.4  To opt out permanently, you must do so by mail. The optoutprescreen.com website has a form that you may print and mail to the address indicated. You may also send requests to each of the credit reporting bureaus, making sure to include your home telephone number, name, Social Security number, and date of birth. Mail requests to opt out permanently must be sent to each of the address below:

Experian
Opt Out
P.O. Box 919
Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion
Name Removal Option 
P.O. Box 505 
Woodlyn, PA 19094 

Equifax, Inc.
Options
P.O. Box 740123
Atlanta, GA 30374-0123

Innovis Consumer Assistance
P.O. Box 495
Pittsburgh, PA 15230-0495

Sources:

  1. http://www.nerdwallet.com/credit-cards/
  2. Counsumerist: http://consumerist.com/2010/05/12/rent-to-own-is-loansharking/ 
  3. http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0216-protecting-against-credit-card-fraud 
  4. FTC information on opt out: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0148-prescreened-credit-and-insurance-offers 

Issue updates

Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

#KickTheCan: BPA still found in many grocery stores’ canned foods | Dev Gowda

We’re all told to watch out for BPA in drinking bottles and baby products. But how about BPA in the cans that contain our food? A recent study by Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reveals that the toxic chemical BPA is readily found in canned foods. BPAs are often used in the liners of canned food to keep the aluminum from interacting with the food.

> Keep Reading

L'Oréal: Pledge to Be Toxic-Free

Today, PennPIRG Education Fund, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP)), and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families delivered more than 150,000 petition signatures calling on the multinational cosmetic giant L’Oréal USA to eliminate cancer causing chemicals and to disclose its secret “fragrance” chemicals. 

> Keep Reading
Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Medical Debt Malpractice

Millions of Americans are contacted by debt collectors every year over debt related to medical expenses. "Medical Debt Malpractice" is the latest (9th) in our series based on analysis of complaints in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's public complaint database. The report demonstrates that the CFPB is a critical agency protecting consumers against unfair financial practices and needs to be defended against special interest attacks.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

Unilever: Go Toxic-Free

On Valentine’s Day, consumer groups thank Unilever for great first step in disclosing fragrance ingredients and call on personal care giant to go toxic-free.

> Keep Reading

Statement on Procter & Gamble’s New Preservative Tracker in Personal Care Products

Personal care product giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) recently unveiled a new preservative tracker, which lets consumers know which preservatives are included in various categories of P&G’s products, such as baby wipes, skin care, and hair care products. Consumers can search the tracker by ingredient or by product type.

> Keep Reading

Pages

L'Oréal: Pledge to Be Toxic-Free

Today, PennPIRG Education Fund, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP)), and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families delivered more than 150,000 petition signatures calling on the multinational cosmetic giant L’Oréal USA to eliminate cancer causing chemicals and to disclose its secret “fragrance” chemicals. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

Unilever: Go Toxic-Free

On Valentine’s Day, consumer groups thank Unilever for great first step in disclosing fragrance ingredients and call on personal care giant to go toxic-free.

> Keep Reading

Statement on Procter & Gamble’s New Preservative Tracker in Personal Care Products

Personal care product giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) recently unveiled a new preservative tracker, which lets consumers know which preservatives are included in various categories of P&G’s products, such as baby wipes, skin care, and hair care products. Consumers can search the tracker by ingredient or by product type.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay, Transportation

Framework for VW Settlement Announced

Statement by Mike Litt, Consumer Program Advocate at U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on todays announced VW settlement. For more details on what a strong settlement agreement ought to look like, please see the open letter that we released earlier this week with other consumer and environmental groups.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Leading Groups Send Criteria for Evaluating VW Settlement

Four leading consumer, environmental, and public health organizations wrote an open letter in advance of the April 21st deadline set by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer for a proposal that deals with Volkswagen’s emission scandal.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Medical Debt Malpractice

Millions of Americans are contacted by debt collectors every year over debt related to medical expenses. "Medical Debt Malpractice" is the latest (9th) in our series based on analysis of complaints in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's public complaint database. The report demonstrates that the CFPB is a critical agency protecting consumers against unfair financial practices and needs to be defended against special interest attacks.

> Keep Reading
Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Big Banks, Big Overdraft Fees

An analysis of new government data by PennPIRG Education Fund found that big banks made $8.4 Billion in overdraft fee income in the first three quarters of 2016, up nearly 4% from the same period in 2015. Since the beginning of 2015, all banks greater than $1 Billion in assets have been required to report fee data quarterly and are included in the study. Pennsylvania-based bank ACNB ranked second-highest in the nation in overdraft fee revenue-per-customer.

> Keep Reading
Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Consumer Protection

TROUBLE IN TOYLAND 2016

For over 30 years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

> Keep Reading
Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

For 30 years, PennPIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

> Keep Reading
Report | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Mortgages and Mortgage Complaints

Our sixth report analyzing complaints in the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database evaluates mortgage complaints, the number one source of complaints to the CFPB, totaling 38% of nearly 500,000 complaints posted since 2011.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

#KickTheCan: BPA still found in many grocery stores’ canned foods | Dev Gowda

We’re all told to watch out for BPA in drinking bottles and baby products. But how about BPA in the cans that contain our food? A recent study by Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reveals that the toxic chemical BPA is readily found in canned foods. BPAs are often used in the liners of canned food to keep the aluminum from interacting with the food.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumers Count: Five years of the CFPB standing up for consumers | Kathryn Lee

This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns five years old! As part of our efforts to tell more people about the CFPB, we're cross-posting this video blog and comments written by Zixta Q. Martinez of the CFPB (check out the infographic at the end, too!).

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

30 Years of "Trouble in Toyland," 30 Years of Safety Improvements | Anna Low-Beer

Every year, U.S. PIRG Education Fund releases Trouble in Toyland, a report on toy safety which examines toys bought at major national retailers, looking for safety hazards including toxic toys, choking hazards, labeling violations, powerful magnets, and excessibely loud toys. We continue to find these hazards on store shelves, which indicates the need for continued vigilance and adequate enforcement of safety regulations. But despite lingering dangers, in the last 30 years, we've come a long way in terms of both policy and compliance with standards.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

The CFPB is 4 years old and has a lot to show for it! | Ed Mierzwinski

Tuesday, July 21, marks four years to the day since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opened its doors to protect consumers and make financial markets work. We've summarized some of the ways CFPB works for you on a new web page.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How the CFPB’s Data Keeps Getting Better and Better | Mike Litt

As the CFPB turns 4 years old on July 21, here is some information on how it works for you and how we at PIRG use its data to produce reports, such as our new report on mortgage complaints to the CFPB. We've also got some photos from the Americans for Financial Reform "CFPB at 4" event.

> Keep Reading

Pages

View AllRSS Feed

Support Us

Your tax-deductible donation supports PennPIRG Education Fund's work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and to stand up to the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

Learn More

You can also support PennPIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations.