Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in 2008 but was updated on October 12, 2016. If you have any questions about our content, we’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some 3 billion pieces of mail are sent to U.S. consumers each year from credit card companies, according to 2015 statistics highlighted in Business Insider. That’s a lot of marketing to wade through. And, as you know, it’s simply not enough to pay your balance in full and on time. Credit card companies are looking for ways to penalize you for paying your balance off. They can cancel a card if you are not using it, which can hurt your credit score. Did you know they can raise your APR on one card simply because they found out you were late on a payment to another? Did you also know that the fine print on contracts states they can increase your APR at any time they want, for any reason?
Fighting back doesn’t take one borrowed dollar. Here are ten ways to turn the tables on credit card companies.
Understand when and where the credit card debt cycle begins
Credit card companies start recruiting before skepticism or experience develops; college students being a prime target. With education costs and student loans at an all-time high, youth are the perfect profile of a needy, unsuspecting victim. If fact, a large number of college students have reported they didn’t even know the credit being offered to them wasn’t free of charge.
According to a 2016 survey by credit scoring agency Experian on college students and credit found millennials felt “let down” by the preparation they had received so far to manage their credit life responsibly and confidently. Here’s more:
Pay off your credit cards
The best thing you can do for yourself and your debt is to pay it off and never tango with credit card companies again. There is just no substitute or excuse for taking up the financial reins of your own life. This will give you the greatest power, as well as let you help others later who have fallen into the trap.
Send back any credit card offers or additional debt-inducing advertisements
You know all those little ads that are mailed with your bill? Stuff them in your bill’s return envelope to send them back. Let the credit card companies be responsible for their own paper waste and noise. Get calls on the phone from credit card companies? I like to put them on hold and leave them there for an indefinite amount of time.
Destroy all your credit cards — emergencies call for cash, not plastic
Credit cards are not a necessary part of life. Although credit cards — when used wisely — can render a user cash-back and other reward benefits, you don’t need to have a credit card in case of an emergency. You need to have $1,000 cash in a high-interest online savings account like ING Direct that issues debit cards so you can have the money in a snap.
If you choose to keep a credit card, don’t be a debt recidivist
Make it a goal to always keep your credit utilization under 30% — this will help your credit score. Better still for life in general, avoid carrying any credit card debt month-to-month. Unless you are charging more than you can afford or are paying off a big-ticket item, there’s not really a reason to. And if you are using credit to finance larger purchases, be very aware of when any zero percent APR window ends. Even if you only have a small balance left, the fine print allows the credit card companies to charge you interest on the full balance and from the day you made the purchase.
Stop the credit card companies from contacting you
File a complaint against the credit card companies
Consumer Reports advises consumers to register a complaint with your state attorney general. (Contact information is available at The National Association of Attorneys General.) Also lodge a complaint with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which you can reach by phone at 800-613-6743. If the OCC doesn’t regulate the card issuer, it will help you find the agency that does.
Realize revolving balances support credit card corporations and their causes
From 1990 to 2004, almost $8 million from credit card companies was contributed to both political parties. Aside from achieving personal relief and control over your financial life, another value-based and entirely beneficial reason to pay off your credit cards is to stop giving funding to organizations who will not use your money to lobby for laws on your behalf. In a sense, when you use credit cards, think of yourself as inadvertently giving money to a cause you might (or more likely might not) support.
Remember, penalty and non-penalty fees (late fees, interest rates) have made up a whopping one-third of total revenue for credit card companies.
Support government regulation for credit card companies
While there is still no federal law that caps credit card interest rates, the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009 helped to tip the balance more in favor of the consumer. Changes include a 45-day notice before changing your interest rate and greater disclosure about how long it will take you to pay off a balance if you only make the minimum payments.
Vote in the next election
I’ll give you the same simple speech my father used to give me when I was younger and disconnected to the process: “Voting is not a choice; it is your civic duty.” If you dislike laws and regulations, get involved in the political process.
Author Katrina Ramser is a freelance writer who contributes to various websites, newspapers and magazines.