Bank of America abruptly notified cardholders in good standing their rates would skyrocket if they didn't opt out fast. Is BofA greedy or needy?
Robert Berner -- Newsweek
Feb. 7, 2008 -- Credit-card issuers have drawn fire for jacking up interest rates on cardholders who aren't behind on payments, but whose credit score has fallen for another reason. Now, some consumers complain, Bank of America is hiking rates based on no apparent deterioration in their credit scores at all.
The major credit-card lender in mid-January sent letters notifying some responsible cardholders that it would more than double their rates to as high as 28 percent, without giving an explanation for the increase, according to copies of five letters obtained by BusinessWeek. Fine print at the end of the letter -- headed "Important Amendment to Your Credit Card Agreement" -- advised calling an 800-number for the reason, but consumers who called say they were unable to get a clear answer. "No one could give me an explanation," says Eric Fresch, a Huron (Ohio) engineer who is on time with his Bank of America card payments and knows of no decline in the status of his overall credit.
Bank of America spokeswoman Betty Riess confirms some bank cardholders could be receiving rate increases for reasons other than declines in credit scores, such as running higher balances with their Bank of America cards or with other creditors. She says the increases are part of a "periodic review" that assesses customers' credit risk. She declined to say if the Charlotte (N.C.) bank had changed its credit standards thereby bumping some consumers' rates or how many cardholders were being affected by the review. Bank of America has 40 million U.S. credit-card accounts.
Buzz about the letters is building on the Internet. Since mid-January Credit.com, a credit-card information site, has received 40 complaints from consumers Bank of America had notified of sharp rate increases, even though they were current on their bills, says Emily Davidson, a Credit.com researcher. Complaint sites My3cents.com and BankofAmericaBadforAmerica.org say they have also received similar complaints.
The so-called "opt-out" letters give borrowers the option of no longer using their card and paying off the balance at the old rate. But they must write Bank of America by later this month if they plan to do so -- otherwise, their rates on existing and new balances automatically rise.