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Annual Fees and Credit By Geography

by Jason Steele

Two unrelated topics today:

Annual Fee Flexibility

Yesterday, I noted that most problems I have with credit cards are typically resolved with a single phone call, without resorting to “executive email carpet bombs” or seeking publicity.     This is due to the hyper-competitive nature of the industry.    Today, I read an example of this happening for another consumer.     The Consumerist reports on a Citibank Amex card holder named Chuck.

Chuck lost his job several months ago and wanted to continue his American Express membership, but had trouble justifying the $50 annual fee in his limited budget. So he launched an Executive Email Carpet Bomb, started his own anti-AmEx blog and started picketing… Well, no. Actually he just called customer service and asked if there was anything they could do for him. To his surprise, he got a “yes.”

The truth is that annual fees can often be waived by a simple phone call, even if you haven’t lost your job.   In the case that they cannot be waived, typically you can get some bonus miles or something in return for being retained as a customer.    My experiences have shown that Citibank in particular will not let you cancel your card without offering you something substantial.

The credit card industry can be cruel and arbitrary,  but generally it wants to keep it’s customers.   Before going ballistic, try a polite phone call.    The answer could surprise you.

Credit By Geography

Speaking of arbitrary, here is an article that suggests that companies are denying people credit based on where they live.    Apparently HSBC bank lowered someone’s credit limit, and attributed the decision, in part, to the fact that the customer lived in California.   This is not nearly as bad as the practice of denying credit based on where someone shops, but it is pretty arbitrary.     While California is suffering economically, I am sure that there are many California residents who are thriving.

There is truth to HSBC’s statement that “As standard business practice, HSBC’s card business adjusts credit criteria based on economic, market and other factors.”     Credit card issuers can lower your limit any time for any reason.   They may blame it on your state’s economy, your profession, or not even give you a reason at all.    More often, they will give you a totally meaningless reason that has no correlation to reality.

My point is that this shouldn’t matter.    If you pay your bills on time, and maintain a decent credit score, banks will always be lining up for your business.   If you cannot get the credit limits you need, go elsewhere.

Ideally, you should have far higher credit limits than you will ever need.    This lowers your credit utilization ratio, a key factor in your credit score.   I currently have far more credit than I ever hope to use.    I don’t even know what my credit limit is on my cards offhand, because it is highly unlikely that I will use even 50% of my limit on one card in a single month!

So don’t get all hung up on a lowered credit limit or some bizarre explanation from your credit card company.  It is probably a sign of the bank’s financial weakness, not yours.     Place a polite phone call, and then go out and find a bank that will give you the credit you deserve.

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