The other day Five-Cent Nickel sent an alert to the effect that he was posting a very interesting graphic on the changes you’ll be seeing in your credit-card statements now that the new law has gone into effect. It’s quite a creation, built on information from the federal government.
My AMEX bill came a few days ago. It took me a minute to figure it out—Nickel’s graphic with its mouse-over captions could be very helpful to the complication-impaired among us. But right up at the top is the “Minimum Payment Warning,” explaining in no uncertain terms what will happen if you just let your balance float.
If I made only the minimum payment on the $864.17 due and never charged up another penny, it would take eight years to pay this month’s bill! And the privilege would cost me about $1,456 in interest. The annual percentage rate for this loan is a usurious 15.24%, and an even more criminal 25.24% for a cash advance.
Well, if that doesn’t get your attention, nothing will.
Those of us who are long in the tooth have known these factoids for a long time. But maybe forcing the credit companies to explain, quite literally up front, what a credit-card balance really means will forestall having so many young people end up in debt they can’t handle.
Because I pay my bill in full every month, not only do I not owe AMEX anything, it owes me $77.17 toward this year’s annual rebate.
Interestingly, the busy design of the statement makes it difficult to follow. AMEX has installed a ditzy, squirrelly background inside textboxes that present this information. The account summary, for example, is typed directly against this hectic pattern, small black figures against a dizzying gray background. The law must require credit-card issuers to print the minimum payment warning clearly, because that section lacks the eyeball-spinning textbox fill. But many other key pieces of information are obscured by this graphic device: the amount of the late fee, the account summary, the credit limit, available credit, cash advance limit and available credit, the days in the billing period. And, most tellingly, the customer service number.
At least now the customer service number, hard to read though it may be, is on the front page of the darned statement. Before this you had to sift through the fine print on the backs of several pages to find a number to call.
This is an improvement. The fact that the credit card company is doing its best to make it difficult to figure out suggests just how big an improvement it is for me and you.