Friday, February 13, 2009

Late Fee Games

Recently, I wrote about one of my creditors twice assessing late fees on my account when I'd actually paid on time on each occasion.

Today, I thought I'd warn my readers about two other possible credit pitfalls that are now becoming common in our sagging economy.

The first is randomly changing the due date on one's account. I've had a card with JC Penney for several years now and my payment date had always been on the 15th, without variation. It was such that I never checked the due date on the bill when it came in each month.

Imagine my surprise when I got this bill a couple of months ago and saw that a late fee had been assessed on my account. I looked closer at the bill and saw that the payment date had been moved back six days, hence the late fee.

Last month, I got the bill, and saw that it had been moved back yet again another day.

I'm convinced that credit card companies are doing this quite purposely, knowing that people who have had cards for years with the same payment date all that time aren't checking the due date each and every month, hoping to be able to slap late fees on unsuspecting customers who are in the habit of paying their bills on time. After all, it's not as if they're moving payment dates ahead, so that the customer ends up paying early.

Another change is that of eliminating payment grace periods. Most of us have had accounts that we know allow a couple of days grace on payments, not assessing late fees until the bill is past due five days more or so. And with money being tight and with paydays sometimes not matching up well with due dates, we've known which bills we can let slide a few days until the paycheck comes in, and others which must be paid strictly on time.

Well, those days are pretty much over.

I paid one of those relaxed "grace period" accounts one day late last month and the new bill came in with a stiff late fee that doubled the monthly payment for that month. This was an account that I've paid up to five days past due in the past without assessing late fees.

So, to all of you who have credit card accounts, carefully check your due dates each month from now on, as they're likely to be bouncing them back more than once, hoping to catch you in a late fee. If you pay any accounts in person, save those receipts, in case they try to slap a late fee on you, even when you've paid on time. And, lastly, eliminate the idea of "grace period" from your credit vocabulary. Credit card companies are now more predatory than ever and are looking for ways to get more money out of you, especially in the assessment of late fees.

Don't let them get away with it. Monitor your bills carefully and don't allow yourself to fall into one of their traps.

1 comment:

Roger said...

That really sucks, but you are right about the practices of these companies. One thing you might try is to call customer service and ask for a one-time lifting of any penalty if you have not had one before. I've found some companies would do that, such as DISH Network.