The Credit Card Payment Shuffle

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It all started with Washington Mutual, which, in addition to other transgressions, got its hand caught in the cookie jar by moving credit card debts around — and hammering customers with late fees if they didn’t keep track.

Our story starts at the Jan. 15 edition of Consumer Reports' Money Blog, where writer Jeff Blyskal says he was “bilked out of $161” in late payment fees and penalties by WaMu, now JPMorgan Chase (Stock Quote: JPM), over the past 2 ½ years.

How? By repeatedly changing the due dates on his MasterCard (Stock Quote: MA) credit card statement.

“After I opened the account in early 2007, my first due date was June 17. Over the next few months, the due date was gradually pushed ahead until I got snagged by a $14.95 same-day electronic payment fee on November 14, 2007 as well as the next month.”

“The worst one-month due-date swing was five days, from March 17, 2009 to April 12, 2009, under the Chase regime. That surprise took me for the most fees, one $14.95 same-day electronic payment fee and three whopper $39 late fees, because the due date never swung back, as I’d been led to expect.”

To its credit, Blyskal says that once JPMorgan Chase took over his card bookkeeping, the due-date fluctuations stopped.

Blyskal actually plots the timeline out.

Blyskal is hardly alone. The Federal Reserve reports that banks have deliberately concocted billing schedules so that due dates change, usually moving earlier than normal to trip up cardholders into paying their card bills late. As always, when a cardholder pays late, penalties and fees kick in along with higher interest rates.

The Fed has actually banned that practice, but the new rules won’t take effect until July 1.

So, keep a close eye on payment due dates. Card issuers can use every trick in the book to separate you from the money in your wallet.

The “wandering due date” gambit is just the latest example.

If you fall victim to a changing card payment date, act fast and act aggressively. Get on the phone to your card company and point out the date-change, and tell them you want any fees rescinded and any interest rate hikes eliminated. As always, calling and complaining are the most easy and effective ways of keeping your card company on a tight leash.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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