Banks quietly finding ways to charge more

CanWest News Service
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If you think the global tightening of credit hasn't impacted you in any direct way, you might want to check your credit-card statements.

Mine has quietly gone from a 26-day grace period to 21 days.

The interest rate on outstanding balances and cash advances is one per cent higher than last year (despite a significantly lower prime rate), there's now a $2 fee for cash advances and the balances from current and previous statements must be paid in full by the due date to avoid interest charges.

Montreal -

If you think the global tightening of credit hasn't impacted you in any direct way, you might want to check your credit-card statements.

Mine has quietly gone from a 26-day grace period to 21 days.

The interest rate on outstanding balances and cash advances is one per cent higher than last year (despite a significantly lower prime rate), there's now a $2 fee for cash advances and the balances from current and previous statements must be paid in full by the due date to avoid interest charges.

I wouldn't have known any of this if a friendly bank teller had not mentioned it in passing.

That led me to take a second look at past statements, and sure enough, it was all there in the fine print.

If I didn't spot it the first time around, many others likely missed it as well, underscoring the need for enhanced disclosure and improved business practices on credit cards, which federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty pledged in his recent federal budget.

Financial institutions say they have no choice but to tighten the flow of credit and boost rates to counter increased market risk and their own increased lending costs since the financial-market turmoil of 2008.

That's resulted in higher - in some cases, sharply higher - interest rates on mortgages, credit cards and lines of credit, as well as some controversial new fees.

The interest-rate hikes are a concern, especially for those with unpaid balances, but what really seems to get customers riled are the fees.

TD Canada Trust, for example, advised customers it would begin charging a $35 "inactivity fee" as of April 30 on those who hadn't accessed their unsecured lines of credit in the previous year.

The interest rate on lines of credit also was going up.

In other words, you paid more whether you borrowed or not.

Customer complaints flooded in.

In a letter he forwarded to the Montreal Gazette, Vince Fabrizio said the bank was taking advantage of people at a time of economic weakness rather than helping them.

Robin Hamilton-Harding, a retired senior executive for Bell Canada, cancelled his line of credit, but gave the bank an earful as well.

"Canadians are reasonable people. We usually don't get our knickers in a twist over things. We allow greed but not stupidity. When something like this happens, it's over the edge, so obviously wrong. Charging you for not doing something offended everyone's intelligence, and made you wonder why there aren't five or 10 other banks out there to give you real choice," Hamilton-Harding said.

Last week, TD abruptly announced it was dropping the fee, and promised not to introduce any new fees or hike existing ones this year.

"The bottom line is we heard from customers and we heard from employees who work directly with customers that this was a fee that concerned them and the timing of it was also a concern," TD spokeswoman Kelly Hechler told Canwest News Service.

Organizations: TD Canada Trust, Montreal Gazette, Bell Canada Canwest News Service

Geographic location: Montreal

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