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Bad Company: When it comes to credit card offers, read the fine print

When it comes to debt, you should pay close attention to everything from the interest rate all the way down to the minimum payment.

That's because credit card companies don't always have your best interests in mind, even though they might argue to the contrary. You can think of the credit card companies like a tremendous sales person who has the kind of pitch you can't ignore.

The credit card pitch comes to you via email or regular snail mail in the form of applications that promise plenty of great rates and fantastic terms but really hide their true colors in that fine print no one ever reads.

Chances are some of the bold print tells you that your zero interest lasts only to a certain time and perhaps a little insight on balance transfers but that doesn't mean everything you need to know is put on the table.

For instance, late fees often come in the form of a sole one when you pay late. But what credit card companies might not tell quite so easily is that they can charge you two late fees for one late payment. Another aspect of paying late they don't want you to know: how about the late payment forgiveness they aren't so inclined to advertise. Most of the time, credit card companies will refund late fees if you've been a relatively good customer and you call to explain why you paid late.

That type of customer service, one would think, should be part of marketing plans and advertising efforts to let would be customers know how understanding they can be. But that isn't always the case; credit card companies make a nice piece of change on late fees, so why interrupt that source of revenue?

As long as you're talking about paying on time, you might want to steer clear of missing a payment or paying late. Not only is that going to hurt your credit, but you'll also find something even worse on that next credit card bill: a different annual percentage rate. Promotional rates of 3, 4 or 5 percent won't last long if you pay late. Credit card companies don't tell you that when they send out those flashy mailers, but truthfully they can manipulate that rate from 3 percent to 20 if you're lagging on paying on time.
No one is suggesting that all credit card companies deal in deception but rather have built in policies to protect their investment as well.

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