Feb. 11, 2008 -- Just because the Fed is cutting interest rates doesn't mean the credit card companies have to pass that savings along to consumers. As many Americans are finding out, the banks have a lot of leeway.
In fact, credit card companies, like Capital One, Bank of America and Chase, have notified hundreds of thousands of customers that their interest rates are going up — sometimes as high as 28 percent.
The increase in the cost of using a credit card comes at a time when Americans are hurting from a slowing economy, and rising payments on adjustable mortgages that came with low teaser rates.
Robert Manning of the Rochester Institute of Technology calls the rising card rates "an outrage."
Customers, like Richard Davis, who says he found out his rate tripled from 8 percent to 24 percent, only when he checked his statement online, agree.
"I was shocked. I was angry. I've never been late with a payment with Chase, ever," he said.
What's more, banks are also raising credit card fees for everything from annual charges to late fees. They sometimes even bill people for paying an hour late.
And though card companies deny it vehemently, many industry observers say the banks are squeezing cardholders to make up for losses in the mortgage mess.
"Unfortunately, the average American, right now, is going to find themselves facing the higher cost of credit, simply because the banks are losing money on other divisions," said Manning.
How can the banks do this? Most people do not read the fine print on the terms of a bank agreement. Sometimes there is a clause that says the bank can change the agreement at any time, for any reason.
Congress is now considering bills that would require banks to notify customers before they change rates or fees.
This isn't just a problem for individual cardholders; it's a problem for the entire economy. The more people struggle to pay their credit card bills, the more they cut back on spending, which further fuels the economic slowdown.