American Express (AMEX) may have just boosted my credit line last week from $10,000 to $14,000, but I’m starting to think I’m an outlier. New reports find a growing number of Americans shocked to discover their credit lines are getting slashed by card issuers from Washington Mutual (WM) to HSBC Holdings (HBC), Target (TGT) and Wells Fargo (WFC), despite being "responsible" card holders. Turns out the rules are changing and it’s no longer adequate to have a clean bill of credit and a solid credit score to keep your line safe. Your zip code, job, and marriage life are also going under the microscope. Guess if Ed McMahon can default on his Countrywide loan (CFC) and face a law suit from Citibank (C), there are no sacred cows in this credit market.
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- Don’t Buy Your Latte With Visa (V). Even if you plan on paying off that card in full at the end of the month, immediate needs should be paid with immediate funds (i.e. cash). If your card issuer sees you’re charging your usual $4 grande soy latte, it may be a sign you’re unable to pay for your everyday lifestyle and in financial hardship.
- Need Counseling? Write A Check. It seems inconsequential, but apparently some banks are viewing personal activities like marriage counseling sessions and therapy visits as a prelude to money woes.
- Use Cash At The Bar. Racking up $100 on your MasterCard for mojitos and tequila shots every weekend may raise a financial red flag that your health may be on the line. As a general rule, you want to avoid using plastic at the bar. Just ask a bartender. “When you put down a credit card you feel like you’re not spending any money,” says 28-year-old Michael Sinensky, owner of four bars in New York, including the famous Village Pourhouse. Plus, you’re forced to pay a minimum $10 to $25 at many bars when you pay with plastic, even if it’s a debit card.
- Pay All Your Bills on Time. Visa, AmEx, Mastercard, and the rest, aren’t simply interested in how well you manage your credit cards. They’re also poking around to see how timely you are with paying your utilities, mortgage payments, basically anything that may trace back to your credit card.
- Keep Your Line Open. Maxing out or even using more than 50% of your credit line is a red flag that you’re overextending yourself. Keep at least half of your credit line unused at all times. Card issuers are reportedly cutting limits for customers carrying weighty balances.
- Don’t Go For That Realtor’s License. Have a job in real estate or thinking about starting a real estate-related firm? That’s going to raise some brows, according to reports that found American Express limited credit lines for small business customers in the real estate sector. Basically the more distressed your job sector is (think: housing, auto, airlines), the more likely your job’s on the line -- and that’s bad news for credit card issuers.
- Move Out Of Florida. Just as some job markets are riskier than others, certain parts of the country – like Florida, California and Nevada – are more real-estate depressed than other states. Living in an area with above average foreclosures is sometimes reason enough to slash your credit limit.
I also pay cash for my gin and tonics.