Money Talk: Credit card rates unlikely to drop
June 14, 2009
Dear Liz: Can you tell me if the new credit card reform bill will apply to interest rates that were raised in the past? In other words, if a rate was unjustly raised, will the card issuer be obligated to lower it when the new law begins?
Answer: No. Credit card companies won’t have to adjust rates and can continue to raise rates for any reason until the law goes into effect in February 2010. At that point, issuers will be restricted from raising rates on existing balances unless the increase is because of a change in the card’s variable rate, the rate was in a promotion period which has ended or the cardholder is 60 days or more late with a payment.
Card issuers will be able to raise interest rates on future purchases but will have to give 45 days notice before doing so. The coming restrictions mean card issuers are likely to continue jacking up rates and fees while they still can, industry experts say.
Dear Liz: Is there any downside to refinancing? I have 15 years to go on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 6.625 percent. I’d like to take advantage of today’s lower rates, but the only way I could lower my payment substantially would be to switch to another 30-year mortgage. We crunched the numbers for a 15-year mortgage, but the payment would be about the same.
It feels odd to sign up for a 30-year loan at age 54, but my primary reason to refinance would be to protect myself in case of the unexpected, such as a job loss. I have no other debt and my credit is excellent.
Answer: The benefits of refinancing wane the longer you’ve been paying down your loan. You’re far enough into your mortgage that refinancing to another 30-year loan will increase the total interest you pay over the life of the loans, even if your interest rate drops substantially.
If your mortgage was originally $200,000, for example, you could pay more than $60,000 in additional interest by refinancing the balance at the midway point, as you’re considering.
There are situations where reducing a monthly payment is so important that it’s worth the extra cost. If you couldn’t afford the current payments or were far behind in saving for retirement, you could make a case for refinancing.
But you’ll want to do the math for your particular situation before proceeding. The mortgage calculators at HSH Associates Financial Publishers, at www.hsh.com, can help.
Liz Pulliam Weston is the author of the book “Your Credit Score: Your Money and What’s at Stake.” Questions for possible inclusion in her column may be sent to 3940 Laurel Canyon Blvd., No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or via the “Contact Liz” form at www.asklizweston.com. Distributed by No More Red Inc.