Friday, September 28, 2007

YOU EARN YOUR CREDIT

Simple fact: We earn the credit card interest rate we receive. Card issuers price their cards based on the risk of each borrower. The greater the risk that a borrower may not be able to repay the loan, the higher the interest rate.

Re-pricing of credit card loans was developed because some long-term customers who had never been late were suddenly walking away from thousands of dollars of credit card debt. Card issuers realized they needed to look at the customer's broad financial picture, which for many borrowers changes over time.

It's the same with car insurance. Good drivers pay less than risky drivers do. And auto insurance premiums change over time. Drivers who speed and get caught can expect to pay higher car insurance premiums. Credit card borrowers whose risk exposure worsens can also expect their rates to rise.

The ability to manage risk effectively is critical because credit cards are open-ended and unsecured. As such, they are among the riskiest loans a bank can make.

Bankers lend money in the hopes that they will get it back. They also want to keep good customers: A single late payment is unlikely to trigger a rate increase. Rather, it's typically a pattern of missed payments, rising debt levels or applications for additional credit that trigger a change.

As for interest rates and default triggers being properly disclosed, federal regulations require that this information appear in credit card applications in 10-point type -- the same size as this newspaper's online articles.

More than 95% of credit card accounts are paid on time, according to the American Bankers Association's most recent Consumer Credit Delinquency Bulletin. For those who get in credit trouble, early prevention can help. Look out for signs such as paying only the minimum month after month; running out of cash regularly; making the rent or mortgage payments late; taking longer to pay off balances; and borrowing from one lender to pay another.

Risk-based pricing is fairer to good borrowers because it rewards them without asking that they pay the costs of those who don't repay their loans.

***
Edward L. Yingling is president and CEO of the American Bankers Association.

(c) USA TODAY

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