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Credit Card Debt & the Unfairness of the Universal Default Clause

Let's look at a real world example: A woman purchased a new $4,000 large screen TV a few months ago based on the knowledge her monthly payment was going to be $175, and based on the 9% interest rate charged by her credit card company. For five months straight she made all her payments on time, but in the fifth month she was late paying her mortgage bill, for reasons unknown. She found out a month or two later that her credit card company doubled her interest rate to 18%, thus increasing the payment for the TV to about $190 per month. Even though she was never late on any other payments, she found most of her other credit cards raised their interest rates as well. Even her car insurance company raised their rates. The net effect was she ended up paying nearly $200 per month more because she was late on a single mortgage payment.

This is a common result of a very little known or understood clause found in nearly every credit card agreement today. How would you feel if the company who sold you a product, based on certain arrangements (including the interest rate), called you up and said they were increasing your monthly payment for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with them? Is this really fair?

Let's take this a step further. Could any customer call a company, that had sold them a particular product on payments, and tell them the re-payment to the company will now be lower because they had missed a payment to one of their suppliers? Of course not. This Universal Clause is extremely one- sided, making consumers victims of what one could easily ascertain as an unjust and unmerited practice.

Yet many powerful credit card companies continue to lobby Washington, arguing it is the consumer that needs to be held accountable to the terms and conditions of the contract, neglecting the most important element, that they are equally accountable to the same terms and conditions of the agreement. The Clause was introduced in the mid nineteen- nineties, after seeing an influx of bankruptcy filings in America. The credit card industry, fearing huge losses, decided to enact this little known clause referred to as "The Universal Default Clause". Simply stated, they feel the credit card companies should have the right to increase one's APR if a consumer is late on any other credit card or debt entity, including outside bills such as phone, cable or utilities. This clause is purely an excuse to collect more money for credit card companies who invoke the clause. Surprisingly enough it comes at a time when many cardholders need monthly relief, not additional financial strain. This clause creates a natural conflict between cardholders and credit card companies, and generates an adversarial relationship that leaves everyone bitter.

According to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) this is considered an unfair practice and has recently labeled it "Unacceptable". The Clause is usually hidden under the "Other APR's" section.

Our Advice: Please read each credit application carefully and avoid any card with this clause. Currently out of 45 banks issuing 144 cards, 44% use the Universal Default Clause.

Phil Andrews is currently the VP of Business Development for Precept Financial Solutions, a leading debt settlement firm based in Dallas, Texas. For more information, go to http://www.PreceptFinancial.com or call toll free 800-584-0855 and press option 2.

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