Banking Online? You May Miss New Card Warnings

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By Candice Choi, AP Personal Finance Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — It's meant to jolt borrowers from the complacency of debt: A new credit card statement that spells out the price of making only minimum payments.

Yet the shock factor may be lost on the growing number of cardholders who bank online and no longer check their paper statements.

As part of the credit card law that went into effect Monday, banks are now required to present some jarring math. Namely, how much you need to pay each month to wipe your balance clean within three years, and how long it would take to be debt-free if only minimum payments are made.

It's valuable information, but there's a glitch for those who do most of their banking online.

Rather than putting the new minimum payment warnings front and center for cardholders when they log on, most banks are taking refuge by limiting the changes to monthly statements.

That means cardholders will need to download or view a PDF copy of their full statements to see the new calculations.

"The warning was designed to ensure people are aware of just how expensive credit can be," said Ruth Susswein of Consumer Action, an advocacy group. "If they don't have easy access to this information, it makes that element of the law moot."

There's no telling how many cardholders click past the account summary page, which typically provides the essentials — the current balance, minimum payment due and recent transaction activity.

Ideally, that's also where the minimum payment warning would appear, even if cardholders had to scroll down to see it, Susswein said. None of the biggest banks are putting it there, however.

Bank of America, Chase, Citi and others meanwhile note that they're educating customers via mail and e-mail about the new statements.

At Capital One, for example, cardholders will see banner ads about the new disclosures for at least the next few months when they log on.

"We're going to lengths to ensure our customers are aware that their statements are different," said spokeswoman Pam Girardo.

She also noted that the majority of cardholders still opt for paper statements, although she declined to provide exact numbers.

For anyone who banks online, getting to a copy of your full statement usually takes a couple of extra clicks. At Bank of America and Discover, for example, the full statement is two or three clicks away once you've accessed your account.

It sounds simple enough, but looking at the full statement isn't always a habit.

That's the case for Frantzie Bazile, 28, who works as a payment administrator in music publishing. She usually just logs on to note her balance, but now plans to start pulling up her full statement more regularly so she can refer to the minimum payment warning box. The numbers will motivate her to pay off the $14,000 or so she owes over five credit cards, she said.

On her Chase card, for example, her latest statement says she can pay off her $2,350 balance within three years if she pays $100 a month. As much as she appreciates the new guidance, Bazile said she would like it even better if it appeared on the first page of her online account.

The Federal Reserve, which issued the guidelines on the statement disclosures under direction of the law, declined to comment on whether it would eventually require banks to display in the information more prominently online.

The glitch may have occurred because lawmakers assumed most people still get paper statements, said Travis Plunkett, legislative director for the Consumer Federation of America, an advocacy group.

As that changes, however, Plunkett noted that the law may need updating.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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