Credit Card Offers Are Needlessly Confusing; New Law Brings Some Improvement


Center for Responsible Lending
October 25, 2010

Credit card offers have grown increasingly complicated since 2000, when Congress required issuers to start disclosing pricing information on credit card offers. But instead of providing clarity to consumers about the true cost of their credit cards, issuers responded to this mandate by adding a confusing array of numbers to their offers, new CRL research finds.

To see the full report, go to http://www.responsiblelending.org/credit-cards/research-analysis/Numbers-Game-The-True-Cost-of-Credit-Card-Mail-Offers.html 

Specifically, CRL’s  research finds that the total count of numeric disclosures in credit card direct-mail offers increased 250% from 1999 to 2009, and at the peak in early 2009 the average credit card offer contained 33 figures.  Much of the increased complexity in offers came from new penalty rates and fees.

CRL also finds that offer complexity varied widely among issuers: in most years, the most complex offer had 6 to 8 times as many numbers as the simplest offer.  This suggests that it has been issuer choice, not regulation, that has made credit card terms more confusing.

The CARD act appears to have made credit card contracts simpler, suggesting the law is having the intended effect of creating fair, understandable terms. But credit card pricing remains far more complicated than just a decade ago, thwarting consumers’ ability to comparison shop. CRL recommends that regulators monitor industry practices carefully to determine whether more action is needed to enhance clarity. 

For more information: Kathleen Day at (202) 349-1871 or kathleen.day@responsiblelending.org; Ginna Green at (510) 379-5513 or ginna.green@responsiblelending.org; or Charlene Crowell at (919) 313-8523 or charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

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About the Center for Responsible Lending

The Center for Responsible Lending is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and policy organization dedicated to protecting homeownership and family wealth by working to eliminate abusive financial practices. CRL is affiliated with Self-Help, one of the nation's largest community development financial institutions.