When dealing with credit card issuers, money doesn't always equal power. Ultimately, you're just a drop in their enormous financial ocean. Thankfully, though, several laws exist that protect the rights of consumers with credit cards. As a cardholder, you should be familiar with these rights. You never know when you’ll need to remind a credit card company to follow the law.
Any cardholder in the U.S. can count on the following protections:
When you apply for credit, credit card issuers can’t discriminate against you based on your gender, race, religion, nationality, age (unless you're under the legal age), or marital status. Additionally, credit card issuers can’t deny your credit card application because you receive public assistance, which you're legally allowed to include in your income.
Credit card issuers have to tell you the result of your credit card application within 30 days. If they turn down your application without giving you a reason, you have 60 days to request an explanation, which they must provide. You’re also entitled to a free credit score if your credit card application is denied or you’re approved with less favorable terms.
Full Information Disclosure
Under the Truth in Lending Act, credit card companies must clearly and fully disclose all information about any credit card offers and terms. This includes basic information such as the interest rate, annual percentage rate (APR), late fees, and annual fees. Issuers must also clearly differentiate "intro" APRs or other promotional terms from the standard terms, and demonstrate how long it would take to pay off the card with only the minimum monthly payment. All of this information must be presented in a way that is easy to compare to other offers. If you feel confused about any terms, you have the right to seek clarity.
Accurate and Timely Billing Statements
Credit card companies have to mail you a billing statement at least 21 days before your payment due date. This gives you enough time to make your payment before it's due and take advantage of any available grace period. Your billing statement will include credits and charges to your account since the last statement. It will also include your minimum payment, the due date, information about late payment penalties, and the impact of making the minimum payment.
You have the right to dispute billing errors. If your credit card statement has a mistake, you generally have 60 days to dispute the error with your creditor. Although many credit card issuers will take a dispute over the phone or via their website, you must also send it in writing to ensure your rights are fully protected under law. While a transaction is under investigation, your creditor cannot require you to pay the contested charge.
Limited Liability for Unauthorized Charges
If your credit card is used without your consent, you can reduce your liability for the charges. Report your credit card missing as soon as you discover that it's lost. You won’t be responsible for any of the unauthorized charges if you report your stolen card before the thief gets a chance to use it, but you could be liable for up to $50 if you’re late reporting the loss. You’re not responsible for any charges made using your credit card number while you still have the credit card in your possession.
Ability to View and Correct Your Credit Report
Your credit card issuer may report details about your credit card and your payment history to a credit bureau, also called a credit reporting agency. You have the right to request one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Take advantage of this right to make sure the information that your creditors report is accurate. You can dispute any inaccurate information with the credit bureau or with the credit card issuer.
Advance Notice for Any Changes
Credit card issuers sometimes make major changes to your credit card agreement, like increasing your interest rate or introducing a new annual fee. In the event of such changes, creditors are required to send you written notice at least 45 days before the changes take effect. They must also give you instructions on how to opt-out—you have the right to reject the new terms, pay off your credit card under your current terms, and close your account.
Note, however, that this protection doesn't apply if you're finishing a promotional period that you agreed to (such as an initial 12-month 0% APR) or you have a variable APR that's already subject to fluctuations. Your card issuer is not required to provide notice when these changes occur.
How to Deal With a Violation of Your Rights
You also have the right to file a complaint against a credit card issuer with the appropriate regulating agency. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is responsible for enforcing laws for credit card companies and should be your first point of contact. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) regulate federally insured banks and credit unions, respectively. If you're concerned about scams or identity theft, direct those concerns to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). There are also many state agencies that can help if your credit card was issued by a state-level bank.
Going up against credit card companies may feel intimidating, but these laws (and more) exist to protect you against abuse as a consumer. It helps to know your rights so that you're prepared to defend them when you need to.