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Credit card contract database gets makeover, but still needs more work under the hood

Connie Prater

It looks like regulators at the Federal Reserve Board were listening when consumer groups and others lambasted a new database of credit card agreements that debuted in May 2010.

Under the Credit Card Act of 2009, all U.S. credit card issuers with more than 10,000 open accounts have to submit all of their consumer credit card agreements to the Fed every quarter. The Fed, in turn, must post the agreements on the Internet so that consumers can have a one-stop place to see and compare credit card terms. At least, that was the intent. As the New York Times and others pointed out, it was virtually impossible for credit cardholders to access their specific credit card agreement on the website.

“The Fed has managed to organize the database in a way that makes it largely unusable for the ordinary consumers,” wrote Angie Littwin in the Credit Slips blog.

Disastrous database
The problem: Contracts were posted on the site with no indication about to which of the issuer’s many cards the contracts were associated. Nor was there any indication which contracts were in Spanish. This wasn’t a problem if your card was issued by a small institution with only one card. It was impossible for someone with cards from some of the mega card issuers like GE Money, Citi, Bank of America, American Express or FIA Card Services to locate and know for sure they were reading their own credit card agreements.

I know firsthand because I spent weeks scouring the database as part of a CreditCards.com special project on the readability of U.S. credit card agreements. If you haven’t read the special report, it’s worth a look.

Now, five months after its less-than-stellar debut, the database has had a quiet makeover.
I searched the database this week and was pleasantly surprised to see that there have been some revisions. But don’t get your hopes up too quickly. I still can’t find my individual credit card agreement on the Fed’s site. I searched in vain for my Citi Forward card agreement. No luck for me on that one, but others may have better luck, depending on the issuer and how many of their contracts are posted on the Fed’s site.

The database now has a column listing “card description” that should help you zero in on your particular agreement. Spanish language contracts are now listed as such. “Visa Signature” cards are clearly labeled for the Bank of America contracts. However, American Express Bank, FSB, oddly describes its contracts using a five-digit numbering system (27487, 27489 and so on). I’m not an AMEX cardholder. If you are and understand what those numbers refer to, please do fill me in.

On a positive note, the database still allows you to quickly learn which federal regulator oversees your credit card issuer — in case you want to file a complaint about violations of the CARD Act.

The database will likely undergo another makeover when the next round of credit card agreements are due in to the Fed from issuers. In the meantime, that database is still a work in progress.

Note: Anyone who wants a copy of his or her individual agreement can always request one from their issuer. Call the toll-free number on the back of your card for customer service. Also, the major issuers post the agreements on their own websites. Here’s a link to our article on finding your card agreements.

See related: New federal credit card database not user-friendly, U.S. credit card agreements unreadable to 4 out of 5 adults

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  • Robin Pelletier

    I was looking for information on credit card interest hikes.
    Can a bank who raises your rate charge the new rate on the entire balance or just new purchases? one credit card company went from 9.99% to 17.90% being charged he higher percent on the entire balance. Is this legal? If not, where can I get a copy that tells me this?
    Robin

  • Robin,
    As of February 2010, the Credit CARD Act of 2009 limits when credit card issuers can increase interest rates on the entire balance that you owe. If you were notified of a rate hike on your entire balance it must be because either:
    1. You were more than 60 days late making a payment.
    2. You have a variable rate that adjust based on the prime rate (however, the prime rate has not increased).
    3. An introductory period ended and the teaser rate increases to the regular APR.
    4. A workout debt repayment program ends and the rate is adjusted to previous levels.
    5. You are a member of the military whose APR was reduced due to your active duty status and you are no longer eligible for the reduced rate.
    If none of these circumstances apply to you, I would call the credit card issuer and ask why they have increased the rate on the entire balance. If the answer is not satisfactory, you can contact the federal or state agency that regulates the credit card issuer to perhaps file a complaint.
    To find out which agency regulates your issuer, refer to this article: http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/file-complaint-about-credit-card-issuer-1282.php.
    Also, refer to our guide to the CARD Act: http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/credit-card-law-interactive-1282.php