Card companies roll out ‘friendlier’ cards
The features are nice, but will they save you money?
Zut alors! Credit card companies are beginning to offer simpler, more consumer-friendly credit cards to the masses.
For instance, Bank of America's Basic Visa card, which debuts next month, will charge the same interest rate no matter how you use the card. It also comes with a set $39 late fee that won't fluctuate regardless of how large your outstanding balance is.
Also, Jack at Master Your Card said, the interest rate won't go up even if you make a late payment.
Even better, it seems, is Chase's new Blueprint feature, newly available for some 20 million existing credit card accounts. Blueprint allows cardholders to single out certain types of purchases -- say, groceries or gas -- that they can pay in full each month interest-free while finance charges accumulate on the rest of the balance.
Why are card companies trying to make things easier for us? In part, they're trying to get ahead of the curve before new credit card rules kick in. The Washington Post offered another possible explanation:
Credit card experts said card issuers are clearly trying to improve their images after months of defending themselves for raising interest rates and cutting credit lines for even their most creditworthy customers.
We like the added transparency of these new features. One interest rate? That will eliminate the surprise you get when you open your bill after using the card for cash advances.
Blueprint -- which is free and optional -- has several attractive features. You can tell Chase when you want to pay off a particular purchase or your entire balance, and it will produce a payment plan to fit your goal and allow you to review your progress online. You can also use Blueprint to set a budget and track your spending. Sounds like a good tool.
What do other personal-finance bloggers think?
Re Basic Visa: Several noted that this card comes with a hefty interest rate -- the prime rate plus 14%.
However, he wondered if the "full pay" feature for groceries and such really saves you money, and answered:
No, not really -- you aren't saving anything if you think about it. The deal is that you pay no interest on a certain category provided that you pay it off in full. This holds true for any kind of balance you hold on your credit card -- Blueprint or no. ... What Blueprint does is help you track spending in a certain category. It's about self-awareness.
David Weliver at Money Under 30 reviewed Blueprint and praised the transparency, which, he said, will allow card users to make better decisions about using credit. But, he added,
Does Blueprint make it "smart" or "OK" to borrow on a credit card? Hardly. The best policy is to pay your card in full every month. And for those determined to get into credit card debt, a Chase Blueprint card might be the credit equivalent of a "light" cigarette; they'll both still kill you in the end.
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Published Sept. 23, 2009
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