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What you need to know about credit cards

Consumer Action and American Express partner new free, multilingual education initiative

Here's one thing you can check off your holiday list-getting to know the terms on your credit card. Credit cards get a lot of use during the holiday season-but how well do you know your card?

Consumer Action and American Express have partnered to create a free, multilingual consumer education series called Credit Cards: What You Need to Know. "We created our campaign to educate consumers about credit card terms and conditions so that they will learn how to compare credit card offers, read and understand credit card terms and conditions, maintain their credit card accounts in good standing and avoid penalties and fees," said Ken McEldowney, executive director of Consumer Action.

The holiday season is a busy time-credit card due dates and credit limits are not at the top of our minds. But the way you handle your credit card is important. Not managing your credit wisely can lead to:

  • Increased annual percentage rates (APRs)
  • Unnecessary fees
  • A decline in your credit score

Denials of future credit "Credit Cards: What You Need to Know" is designed to help consumers:

  • Understand the types of cards available
  • Sort through card offers
  • Compare card terms and conditions
  • Avoid penalty rates and fees
  • Find more information and assistance

The "Credit Cards: What You Need to Know" series is available on Consumer Action's web site (www.consumer-action.org).

It includes a brochure available in Chinese, English, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese; a question-and-answer backgrounder guide; a training guide for presenting the materials in a classroom setting and a 65-slide PowerPoint set.

Consumer Action and American Express held two regional meetings this fall-in Oakland, CA and Washington, DC-to train representatives of more than 125 community-based organizations. In the coming months, Consumer Action will distribute 125,000 educational packets through its national educational network of 8,000 community-based organizations.

Note to Editors: Readers may request a hard copy of the "Credit Cards: What You Need to Know" brochure by sending a self-addressed, stamped (37 cents) legal-sized envelope to: Consumer Action-CC Brochure, 221 Main St., Suite 480, San Francisco, CA 94105.

Please specify the Chinese, English, Korean, Spanish or Vietnamese version.

Consumer Action (www.consumer-action.org) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) advocacy and education organization, with offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, DC that has served consumers since 1971. CA distributes two million free educational brochures annually on consumer financial services and other issues, through its national network of 8,000 community-based organizations.

Consumer Action has been conducting surveys of credit card rates and terms since the 1980s, to track trends in the industry and assist consumers in comparing cards and understanding their rights when using credit. American Express Company (www.americanexpress.com) is a diversified worldwide travel, financial and network services company founded in 1850. It is a world leader in charge and credit cards, Travelers Cheques, travel, business services and international banking.

Five questions to ask when getting a credit card

  1. What is the interest rate? - Is there an introductory rate and how long does it last? - How high can my interest rate go? - Why would my interest rate increase?
  2. What fees could I be charged, and why? - How can I avoid these fees?
  3. How can my account terms change? - How will you inform me of any changes in my contract?
  4. What services do you provide to help me honor the terms of my cardholder agreement? - Free payment options; alerts for over-limit purchases; a leniency period before late fees are charged, etc.
  5. What's in it for me? - Rewards, rebates, balance transfer opportunities, etc.

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