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Saturday, 30 October 2010

A campaign to educate credit card issuers & users

Users are not the only ones who should be responsible about credit cards - issuers must be too


  IT is interesting to note that the National Cards Group – a grouping of Malaysian credit card issuers, mainly banks – has launched a campaign to inculcate responsible credit card usage among consumers.

They have called the campaign Swipe Smart with 6E, 6E being the so-called six enablers – educate yourself, exercise caution, enhance your lifestyle, enjoy the benefits, eliminate debt and engage with your card issuer.

Well and good. One should not pour cold water on such a noble deed by the card issuers to ensure that their customers are educated and know how to use the card responsibly without getting themselves – and in the longer run the issuers – into trouble.

It was good to see too that there were representatives from Bank Negara, the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (Fomca), the Association of Banks and others there.

The only thing that was lacking was a similar campaign for card issuers, yes, you read right, the card issuers. You see, the credit card problem is a double-edged sword – both the behaviour of issuers and users contributes to delinquency. Eventually, if things really get bad, both sides will suffer – the users may become bankrupt and the banks may be saddled by high bad debts.

Both parties have to be responsible and there has to be a balance of profit with responsibility. There is a need to educate the card issuers too to, using the words of the National Cards Group but applied to itself this time, to inculcate responsible credit card issuance among card issuers.

We will even call the campaign by the same name – Swipe Smart with 6E – with its own six enablers. We hope, Fomca, who was present there, will take the cudgels up on behalf of the consumers, call the issuers and launch this campaign.

Here is our proposed 6E campaign directed at card issuers:

1. Eliminate profiteering such as late payment charges. We have written about this before. The effective interest rates on this are extortionate and exorbitant. If you are late by one day on an outstanding balance of RM100 (even if your credit limit is RM100,000!) the charge is RM50. That’s 50% a day or 18,250% a year! Now what entitles the bank or issuer to charge you such an interest rate when your credit limit is RM100,000 and you have an unutilised portion of this of RM99,900? If that is not profiteering, what is?

2. Ease up on your interest rates. Most of us pay 18% a year on balances outstanding when the fixed deposit rate is not even nudging 3%. They take your money at 3% or less, then lend it back to you for 18%! Housing loans are at 6%, why is the credit card interest rate three times that at 18%, a rate that only licensed money lenders charge?

3. Exercise restraint in your marketing. These days, have one credit card and other issuers deluge you with cards and offers. Sometimes they send a card to you that you don’t want and then three months later bill you for service charges! Then I have to call them – it takes ages to get through with a robot asking you whether you want to do this or that before you finally get through – and demand they withdraw their statement. And then they offer credit cards to all manner of people who don’t know how to use them or abuse the credit lines, so long as they have a regular salary – civil servants are great targets. And because they have a salary, the banks can get their money back – with huge penalties to boot.

4. Engage with your customer. Before they send us all that unwanted promotional material, the issuers should ask us if we want them. They should remind us – constantly – that outstanding balances cost us 18% a year, the highest rate of any bank facility, and if I am not mistaken, the highest possible legal lending rate.

5. Educate yourself on social and ethical responsibilities. Yes, we know profits are all important and yes we know there are a lot of ignorant people out there from whom money can be made. But don’t financial institutions have a social and financial responsibility to their customers, especially people, and to inform them fully of how they make money from them? If issuers want to educate the public on the dangers of credit cards, they should educate themselves on immoral behaviour and how the drive to profit stops them from truly educating the general public.

6. Explain all your charges and actions fully. I have not yet found an issuer who advertises that the penalty charge for late payment is as high as nearly 20,000% a year. Perhaps they should print this on the envelopes they mail to customers. And how many people know that many credit cards issuers impose a service charge on overseas spending, have unfavourable exchange rates for transactions, and have service fees for interest-free instalment payments? Can they tell us why they are not pushing debit cards (no interest here, the funds are transferred directly from your bank account) equally hard? The list goes on. It is time, if the issuers wanted to educate the public, for them to take huge full-page advertisements to fully disclose all their charges in the simplest possible language. If they can’t find anybody to write the copy for them in simple language, I volunteer to do it for free.

Well, that’s our 6E Campaign aimed at educating our banks and other card issuers in brief. We hope somewhere out there some consumer organisation will take up this case and that the authorities will sit up and take notice and realise that issuers too contribute to the credit card problem.

Managing editor P Gunasegaram notes with some trepidation the following figures for credit card usage in Malaysia: there are 9 million cards and the average transaction through cards is RM211mil a day or RM77bil a year. That’s a lot of potential for some to make a lot of money and a lot of others to lose some.

Other related stories:
Importance of keeping a good credit record
Having a reasonable amount of debt is generally okay

Saturday November 6, 2010

Comments by A wary reader

Of educating credit card issuers and users

P. Gunasegaram’s article entitled “A campaign to educate credit card issuers” is interesting.

But another important interest charge also needs to be highlighted. Do you know that if you do not make full payment on or before the due date, you lose the 20 days credit free period for both the current and new transactions posted on the statement?

In addition to the RM50 late payment charge, the finance charge is even higher.

For example: You receive the September statement on Oct 5 and the outstanding charge is RM1,200 and you need to settle it by Oct 20.

Say for some reason or the other, you overlook the matter and do not settle the outstanding in full by Oct 20. How much is your finance charge?

Let’s assume you settle the full outstanding of RM1,200 on Nov 5. You’d expect the bank to charge a finance charge of 17.5% pa based on daily calculation from Oct 20 to Nov 5, right?

Wrong. The bank will compute the interest outstanding from the transactions posted date till Nov 5.

In addition, all the new transactions will also attract interest charge. In short, the bank is penalising you twice on the old and new transactions.

If you do not settle the outstanding in full before due date, you lose the 20 days interest free period.

As such, the campaign should also educate the public to settle the full outstanding amount by due date. Banks, of course, will not highlight this point to the public. It’s one of their main revenue streams.