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Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Encourages Retail Credit Card Companies to Consider More Transparent Promotions

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today announced it has sent letters to top retail credit card companies encouraging them to consider using more transparent promotions. Many retailers use credit cards with deferred-interest promotions – offers of no interest for a set period if the promotional balance is paid in full by the end – to give consumers a financing option, often for larger purchases. The letters outline Bureau concerns that these promotions may surprise consumers with high, retroactive interest charges after the promotional period ends. The CFPB suggests that companies consider using a zero-percent-interest promotion that is more transparent and carries less risk for consumers.

“With its back-end pricing, deferred interest can make the potential costs to consumers more confusing and less transparent,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We encourage companies to consider more straightforward credit promotions that are less risky for consumers.”

A sample letter is available at: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/documents/4824/Deferred_Interest__Letter.pdf

Deferred-interest promotions are typically offered on store credit cards. They give consumers a way to buy items such as appliances and furniture, or even medical or dental services, and pay the cost over time. Under a deferred-interest plan, the consumer pays no interest if the purchase amount is paid off within a set period, typically six to 12 months. If any promotional balance remains when the promotional period ends, consumers are charged accrued interest on the promotional balance from the time of purchase. The interest rate on these cards is generally about 25 percent, so these deferred-interest charges can be substantial. A consumer carrying even a small balance past the promotion’s expiration date may owe much more in interest than the remaining purchase balance due.

A 2015 CFPB report found that the number of purchases using deferred-interest promotions rose 21 percent between 2010 and 2013. The Bureau has warned about the consumer risks associated with deferred-interest promotions due to their back-end pricing and associated lack of transparency. The CFPB report raised several issues with these promotions, including:

Instead of deferred-interest promotions, retailers could use a more straightforward zero-percent-interest promotion. Here, interest is not charged retroactively if the balance is not paid off by the end of the promotional period. Instead, consumers are charged interest only on the balance that remains. This type of promotion has more transparent costs for consumers. Last month, one of the nation’s largest retailers announced it will no longer offer deferred-interest promotions on its store credit card. It is now offering customers zero-percent-interest promotions on eligible purchases made on that card.

Consumer Tips

The CFPB has published consumer tips about credit card interest-rate promotions. Consumers should be aware of factors that determine the cost of borrowing, which include:

This article by was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.