Credit Cards lowering credit limits

In the wake of the subprime meltdown, credit card issuers are getting nervous as well. Reportedly, they’ve been slashing credit limits at the first sign of trouble (a single late payment, for example). The ratio of credit used vs. credit available is used in calculating people’s credit scores, so this may have a negative effect on many people’s scores.

From the the Chicago Tribune:

Len Bryan likes to keep tabs of his credit card bills online. There’s usually no problem, but one day that changed.

“I noticed that there was no credit available anymore on one of the accounts,” Bryan said.

He hadn’t made any purchases on the card, there were no unauthorized charges, and he always paid on time. So what happened? His credit limit suddenly dropped by nearly 90 percent.

“I was pretty well shocked ’cause I had no idea that this was going to happen,” Bryan said.

“It is a trend in the credit card industry right now. Instead of upping your interest rate, which was commonly what they did, they may lower your credit limit,” Linda Sherry, of Consumer Action, said.

In a recent Consumer Action survey, 75 percent of the banks questioned said they lower credit limits as a way to manage risk. The banking industry says it’s meant to protect consumers.

“It also helps consumers to avoid becoming over extended with debt that they can’t manage or repay,” Nessa Feddis, of the American Bankers Association, said.

A change can stem from late payments of any kind, a drop in your credit score or the addition of new lines of credit. Bryan found out limits on three cards were actually cut after he took out a home equity loan to pay off some debt.

“Taking out the home equity loan may have possibly been the factor that lowered the credit line,” Bryan said.

Consumer advocates say lowering limits is a better way to manage risk than hiking interest rates, but these cuts can lead to trouble if you are not aware and prepared.

“If you don’t know your credit line has been dropped, you could go over the limit. And, with most card issuers, that means you’ll pay a hefty over the limit fee,” Gerri Detweiler, a credit card expert, said.

You also have to watch your credit rating.

“A third of your credit score takes into account how close you are to your credit limits on your credit cards. So, a lower credit limit may make you appear maxed out on your credit card and that in turn can really affect your score,” Detweiler said.

You must be notified by mail if your limit is lowered, but consumer advocates say you could miss it in the mail.

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