There are new changes afoot regarding credit cards and fees.

Those of us who have been careful with our credit have often opted for no-fee cards- but nothing in the service agreement requires that the card be no fee forever- the bank can change the terms with appropriate notification.  The banks are sending out notices, but they are far from obvious, often looking like junk mail.    There was a great show on NPR this weekend, Marketplace, by American Public Media that everyone should listen to- the link will take you to their site and you can listen or download the show as a podcast, discussing the loopholes in the new legislation.

This was verified for me when I was talking to a friend of mine who works for a bank, and they were having meetings about the recent legislation in DC regarding the new rules, and how the bank was planning to work around the new requirements.  She said to me:

I know that most of us are counting every penny during these tough economic times.  I wanted to alert you to some new charges that you can avoid.  If you were not aware, the new laws governing banks and the fees, etc. that they can bill you go into effect this week.  The laws are very good for the consumer.  However, the credit card companies are angry that they are in effect and have brought back annual fees (some of them are very high fees) on no annual fee credit cards that you might already have.

Be sure to open all mail in the next few months even if it looks totally like junk mail.  I opened 3 pieces this morning that did not look at all like official business.  In each envelope was a “notice” that I would start to get $60 annual fees beginning in a few weeks on 3 different credit cards that have been paid off for many years.  I honestly had forgotten that I had ever opened them.  If I had not opened the junk mail, I would have been billed $180.  The old accounts that were opened without annual fees are not “grandfathered” into no fee cards.  It is up to each company which cards they want to exclude from fees.

This will probably not be a unique occurrence.  Make sure you open and actually read the junk mail, and make sure you know about fees being added on no fee cards, that you know what the terms of service are, and that you are very careful with your credit and use of credit.  The banks need not make these changes obvious, they just have to let you know, and if you are like me, you might often throw out these notices without giving them a careful reading about the change in terms.

Please make sure you are aware of what’s occurring and manage your finances accordingly.  Please listen to the Marketplace show and keep yourself informed. Informed is way better than surprised.