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credit card laws shield consumers

January 31, 2011
By JOHN PEPIN Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE -The credit counseling experts at the non-profit Greenpath Debt Solutions in Marquette say there are some important consumer protection laws, specific to credit cards, that everyone needs to know about.

- The Fair Credit Billing Act requires creditors to promptly investigate any disputed charges on billing statements and to fix any errors, without impacting a consumer's credit rating. The law applies to credit cards, not loans, that have fixed payment schedules. You generally have to report errors within 60 days of receiving the statement, in writing, explaining the issue in detail. During the review, you are not required to pay the disputed amount or any related charges.

- The Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act deals with the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of information in the files of consumer reporting agencies. Anyone who uses a credit report or another type of consumer report to deny your application for credit, insurance, or employment must tell you, and must give you the name, address, and phone number of the agency that provided the information to them. You may request all the information about you in the files of a consumer reporting agency.

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You have the right to dispute inaccurate information in your file. If you identify incorrect formation, and report it to the consumer reporting agency, the agency must investigate unless your dispute is frivolous. Inaccurate, incomplete or unverifiable information must be removed or corrected, usually within 30 days. In most cases, a consumer reporting agency may not report negative information that is more than seven years old, or bankruptcies that are more than 10 years old.

- The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you. A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree to it. Collectors may not contact you at work if they're told that you're not allowed to get calls there. Within five days after their first contact, every collector must send you a written "validation notice" telling you how much you owe, who you owe, and how to proceed if you don't think you owe the money.

Practices prohibited by the law include the use of threats of violence or harm, publishing a list of names of people who refuse to pay, use of obscene or profane language, or repeatedly using the phone to annoy someone. Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. Debt collectors also are prohibited from saying that you will be arrested if you don't pay, that they'll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so.

- The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2010 has many provisions on what your credit card company has to tell you about your account. They must send you notice 45 days before they can increase your interest rate or change certain fees. However, there are a few exceptions, most notably, if you fall 60 days past due, the 45 day advance notice does not apply to increases in your interest rate.

Your credit card company must mail or deliver your bill at least 21 days before the due date and the due date should be the same each month. If you pay more than the minimum, the excess amount must be applied to the balance with the highest rate.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His e-mail address is



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