YONKERS, NY - Consumer Reports analyzed hundreds of credit cards and named a dozen that are worthy of consumers’ consideration - and three to stay away from.
Among the best credit cards for low-rate/low-fee are: Capital One Platinum Prestige, Clear from American Express, and Iberiabank Visa Classic.
The best cash-back cards included Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards, Chase Freedom Visa, and Discover More.
Among the best gas cards were Chase PerfectCard MasterCard, Discover Open Road, and Hess Platinum Visa.
Three cards to avoid were First Premier Bank, HSBC American DreamCard and New Millennium Visa or MasterCard.
Although some consumers have avoided any direct effect from the storm clouds in the economy, the credit-card industry is changing in ways that could affect cardholders. Consumer Reports’ experts advise consumers to do a credit card checkup to make sure their accounts haven’t changed for the worse.
“Whether you have good credit or bad, you should check your account terms with your credit cards,” said Greg Daugherty, executive editor, Consumer Reports. “Several card issuers have doubled or tripled interest rates for some customers in recent months, even though many were current on their bills and have good credit.”
The full report is available in the redesigned October issue of Consumer Reports, which went on sale Sept. 2 on newsstands and online at www.ConsumerReports.org.
CR reports that consumers’ credit card balances are up from $825 billion at the end of 2005 to $962 billion in May. At-risk borrowers are facing tightened credit lines and higher interest rates. Periods for teaser rates are becoming shorter, and balance-transfer fees are becoming standard while fixed rates on cards are as high as ever.
All news is not bad news however, as variable interest rates have come down, which can help consumers who carry a balance. Those with excellent credit scores can earn lower rates, higher credit limits and good rewards according to the report.
Getting the most from a card
Good credit or bad credit, consumers must keep tabs on their accounts. CR offers the following tips on how to get the most out of a credit card:
• Use credit wisely. If a consumer has a lot of high-interest debt, they should find a card that has a zero-percent-interest transfer offer and no transfer fee.
• Open the mail. Card issuer letters could look like advertising, but they also could be a notice of an increase in rates or a reduction in credit limit. Issuers often provide an opt-out clause, allowing customers to stop using the card and pay off the existing balance under old terms.
• Contact the lender. Cardholders who are dissatisfied with account changes or errors should call the card issuer and ask to speak to a manager or customer-retention person.
• Steer clear of traps. Federal banking regulators are pushing for rule changes that could take effect as early as next year. Some current practices that could be eliminated are raising rates on existing balances and applying payments to the lowest-rate charges (such as balance transfers.)
• Pick the right card. Consumers should select the right card for the type of borrower they are. CR also found that smaller issuers including credit unions and community banks are worth checking out for various interest-free offers.