Banks Probe Regulatory Limits of Credit Card Add-Ons

September 17, 2013
American Banker 
credit card news

American Express, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup all seem to be testing how far they can go with credit card add-on services, even though regulators are preparing for another round of crackdowns on these controversial products. Several banks have stopped offering add-ons such as payment protection and identity theft protection services, but other institutions are continuing their sale. American Express has halted sales of identity theft protection, but now offers a similar "credit monitoring" service through Experian, in which customers are charged a $1 sign-up fee and $14.99 per month for versions of their credit scores from the three largest credit bureaus. American Express noted, however, that the credit scores provided "are not used by lenders" and that "in some instances we may not be able to begin monitoring information from all three bureaus." Wells Fargo and Citibank still offer payment protection, which provides consumers with a form of insurance that suspends or cancels out card payments in the event of a hardship such as illness.

Consumer advocates criticize these add-on products, saying they provide poor value for customers' money, and that sales practices for these products often target low-income customers who can least afford them. Under revived regulatory scrutiny of these products, Bank of America may have to pay restitution and penalties related to its payment and identity-theft protection products, and JPMorgan Chase's discontinued identity-theft protection offering is being examined. Regulators have also investigated the two banks' oversight of the third-party vendors that provide these add-on products.

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