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How to Make the CARD Act Work for you

Small businesses using credit cards as a source of funding -- and therefore carrying a large balance -- are best off using a consumer credit card also or only, according to Papadimitriou. "The business owner is personally responsible for the debt incurred on the card whether it's a general consumer or small-business credit card, so they are not assuming any additional risk using a general consumer card for their business," he says.

Don't forget about your credit score:Consumers may be tempted to let payments slide for more than a month, knowing the CARD Act prohibits rate increases on existing balances unless the consumer is 60 days delinquent. Furthermore, the CARD Act caps late fees at $25 for first-time offenders and $35 for frequent offenders. Payments that are more than 30 days late will hurt a consumer's credit score, though. In fact, 35% of a credit score is based on whether the consumer makes payments on time.

"There's nothing good about paying late," says Cunningham, who recommends setting up an online alert system for payment reminders.

Stop the junk mail from credit card companies: "D" is for "disclosure," and now that the CARD Act is in effect, credit card issuers must ramp up their notification policies -- including giving consumers 45-day notice of any significant changes to the terms of their accounts. Those notifications may get lost in the piles of unwanted mail from credit card companies, though. Consumers can stop much of this junk mail by visiting OptOutPrescreen.com. "It's a good idea to opt out of pre-screened offers of credit for a number of reasons," Papadimitriou says. "One is to go green and help the environment with less paper waste. Secondly, receiving credit card offers through the mail puts you at greater risk for identity theft, as someone could steal your mail and apply for a credit card on your behalf."

-- Written by Carmen Nobel in Boston.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.



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