Credit card billing statements can contain unwelcome
surprises. That's why I take a few minutes on the last day
of each month to go over every charge. To make the process
easy, I've put my credit cards on a billing cycle so they
all arrive at roughly the same time. Yes, I like to keep
track of what I'm spending, where I'm spending, and whether that
auto repair charge is as big as I remember. But I'm also on
the lookout for what I call "snipe charges."
Hey, what's this charge?
Snipe charges are those that somehow slip onto your statement
from time to time without your noticing. Maybe you have a
recurring subscription that you forgot to cancel. Maybe you
signed up for something on the Internet and in teeny-weeny print
somewhere it said you were also signing up for some crazy DVD
I recently realized that certain unscrupulous smartphone apps
will generate in-app purchases that come out of nowhere. A friend
told me about signing up for a merchant account so he could
accept credit cards, and mysterious compliance fees began showing
up every month.
Other charges to look out for include gym memberships. For
many years, one national gym chain made it practically impossible
to cancel a membership and kept charging cards by the
As for me, anytime I sign up for a subscription, I enter all
the relevant info into a spreadsheet. I also set an alert on my
smartphone if it's a trial plan and I don't want to get hit with
the monthly charge when the trial period ends.
A CARD Act to follow
As for credit card companies, before the CARD Act of 2009, they
were virtually unregulated as far as what fees they could charge.
But the legislation put certain requirements in place.
Previously, if you wanted to pay by phone or online, you could
get charged a fee, and you'd also get an over-the-limit fee if
you exceeded your credit limit. Now you must opt in for the fees.
If you don't, a charge for the fee won't go through.
In addition, if you had a card that carried balances with
multiple APR rates, the issuers previously would apply
payments to the lower-APR balances first. As a result, you'd get
hit with more interest fees, because higher-balance APRs wouldn't
get paid down first. Now, any payment over the minimum is
required to be applied to the highest APR.
It never hurts to speak up
Regardless of whether a mystery charge appears to be from a
merchant or your credit card company, you should always challenge
it. There is nothing to lose from challenging the
charge. For starters, if turns out to be a sketchy charge,
you have leverage in reporting the offending party to consumer
activist websites and the FTC and blowing that party's name all
over the Internet. You can tell the offending party this, too.
Even if the charge is legitimate, you may find that it still gets
waived. I've had instances in which all I did was ask about a
charge that I simply didn't understand, and because I have such a
great relationship with my issuer, the issuer waived it. "If
you don't ask, you don't get," as a friend tells me.
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