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The Worst Credit Card Contracts

Date: December 1, 2016      Publication: Bottom Line Personal      Source:  Matt Schulz, www.creditcards.com      Print:

To understand the agreements that you must sign to get a Visa card or MasterCard from Synovus Bank, you probably need an advanced degree. And the contract for a MasterCard from KeyBank runs 30 pages and 15,037 words—about as long as the Shakespeare play “The Comedy of Errors.” Despite efforts by consumer watchdogs and government regulators to crack down on the complexity of credit card contracts, more than half of US consumers find them too difficult to understand.

Here’s how to select cards with relatively consumer-friendly contracts…

Rating the Card Issuers

The HSBC Platinum Rewards contract is the easiest to read, requiring just an eighth-grade reading level to understand. Other issuers that score well include, in order of declining readability, Navy Federal Credit Union…Citi…Synchrony Bank…USAA…Chase…Discover…and Capital One. Navy Federal Credit Union and Synchrony Bank also are among the issuers that keep their agreements relatively brief.

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Large issuers that have especially unreadable agreements include Barclays, TD Bank and Bank of America. Those with especially long agreements include Fifth Third Bank, Citizens Bank and PNC Bank. (You can find rankings of various measures of card agreement complexity at CreditCards.com)

Checking Details

When reviewing any card’s contract, search for the words below to help you determine whether it might be worth choosing a different card or trying to opt out of some provisions. You can find an issuer’s contracts at ConsumerFinance.gov.

  • “Security interest.” If this phrase appears, the paragraph might grant the issuer the right to take assets from other accounts that you have with that financial institution to pay your credit card bill.
  • “Arbitration.” Many issuers require cardholders to use an arbitration process, not the courts, to resolve disputes. This process tends to be stacked in the issuer’s favor. Major issuers that do not require arbitration include Bank of America, Capital One and Chase.
  • “Affiliates.” This section might grant the issuer the right to sell your account details, including your spending history, to third-party companies that will use it for marketing purposes.

Source: Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst with CreditCards.com, which conducted a study on the complexity of more than 2,000 credit card agreements that included a poll of 1,000 US consumers.