Consumers Should Skip Hype and Choose Credit Cards with Lowest Fees

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Those tantalizing credit card offers crammed in your mailbox are appealing, but many are fraught with a multitude of fees in addition to the rewards you will reap.

Before you comb through your inbox searching for that provocative new credit card that you deem a must have, read the fine print, because some cards come with a whopping 12 fees each.

A survey by Austin-based CreditCards.com examined 100 credit cards in June that represent a sampling of cards offered from major issuers. Two credit cards, the First Premier Bank Credit Card and First Premier Bank Secured MasterCard, both charged 12 fees each.  Five major credit cards -- other high-penalty offenders -- charged nine fees each: the Credit One Visa Platinum, Fifth Third Bank Platinum MasterCard, Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum, Navy Federal Credit Union Cash Rewards and Regions Visa Platinum Rewards. The average credit card charges six different fees.

“There are two main categories of fees: penalty fees and transactional fees,” said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com’s senior industry analyst. “Penalty fees are pretty easy to avoid by paying your bills on time. Transactional fees are more important.”

By contrast, the PenFed Promise Visa Card does not charge fees at all. Other cards with a low number of fees still instituted three of them and included the following cards: ExxonMobil SmartCard from Citi, Spark Classic from Capital One, Capital One Spark Cash Select for Business and Spark Miles Select by Capital One.

The survey found some favorable news, including the fact that annual fees are rare and only 25 of the 100 cards charge an annual fee with ten of those who waive the fee for the first year.

Late payment fees remain the most common fee, as 99 of the cards penalize consumers for not making payments on time. These fees can cost consumers as much as $35 for just one late payment.

It Pays to Shop Around to Avoid Pervasive Fees...


“This survey is absolute proof of the importance of shopping around before you get a card,” he said. “Some cards have a dozen potential fees, some might even have none, but you won’t know which is which unless you do your homework and shop around.”

Although cash advance fees should be used sparingly and in emergencies, all but two of the issuers charge them. The most common fee was $10 or 5% of each cash advance, whichever is greater.

While balance transfer offers remains robust as the economy has improved, 90% still charge a fee of $5 or 3% of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Although these other fees are not as common, some companies still charge for paper statements, expedited phone payment fees and reopening of the account.

“Banks make billions of dollars every year on fees,” Schulz said. “The good news is the vast majority of those can be easily avoided by doing two things: shopping around for a card and setting up auto payments once you get the card.”

While many of the offers from credit card companies appear to be too good to pass up, opening too many accounts in a short period of time is a negative sign for future lenders when they check your credit report.

“Even if the goal is to apply for cards that offer the lowest rates and fewest fees, having too many open credit card accounts can hurt more than it helps,” said Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization. “It is best to avoid sending the message that you have a voracious appetite for credit and limit yourself to no more than a couple cards.”

If you only own a handful of credit cards, it will be easier to control your spending and not exceed your budget, which will increase your credit score.

“The latest credit card may seem new and exciting, but there is a good chance that the details behind the hype are no different than some of the competing offers,” he said. “Look beyond the sales pitch to examine the terms and conditions to see exactly what you will be getting.”

Of Course, Fees May Be Worth It Depending on Lifestyle...


Paying fees might not be a major issue for some consumers if cards offer valuable perks such as a free checked bag, airport lounge access, concierge service and other such things, said Schulz.

“Sometimes paying an annual fee isn’t the worst idea,” he said. “It all depends on your lifestyle and how you’d use the card. If you are someone who would get a lot of use out of such things, then it might be worthwhile to get that card with an annual fee.”

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