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Take a New Inventory of Your Credit Cards or Pay New Fees

This article was written by in Credit, Featured. 30 comments.


I’m growing more concerned about my relationship with credit card issuers. We’ve been getting along mostly well for several years. I charge many of my expenses, pay my bills on time, collect some rewards, and they don’t levy any additional fees. These companies are certainly making money off of me through the interchange fees they charge the merchants with whom I do business, but my bank accounts still mostly benefit from the use of credit cards.

The environment is changing. The Credit CARD Act has added a number of protections for consumers but the industry has been using the opportunity to find more ways to make money.

One such method is through annual fees. Until recently, annual credit card fees were reserved for cards with concierge benefits and sub-prime borrowers. Now, if issuers feel you aren’t using your credit card enough, you may be required to pay a fee. Back in November, Bank of America announced the addition of annual fees for some customers. Citi has recently sent communication to many of its credit card customers to provide the option of opting out of a new $60 fee.

I’ve been using credit cards for at least sixteen years, and I’m certain I wouldn’t know how many accounts I have unless I pull a recent credit report. I have three cards in my wallet, two for personal use and one for business. For several other accounts, I get new cards in the mail every so often. I file them away without activating them. Other issuers may not have my current address, so it is possible there are other inactive accounts I don’t know about.

My credit report should list all of these accounts. As I don’t have a recent credit report, I visited AnnualCreditReport.com the other day to get an update.

I found three open credit card accounts on the report not accounted for.

  • a Capital One card opened in September 1998, last reported in October 2006
  • a Citi card opened in June 2006, last reported in July 2008 — I believe this was a card whose number changed
  • a Best Buy/HSBC card opened in October 2001, last reported in November 2002

I am most concerned about the Best Buy/HSBC card. I used this card to take advantage of a 0% APR offer for purchases. I have not heard of inactive HSBC cards receiving a new annual fee, but I don’t recall receiving any mail pertaining to this account in years. I do not want to miss a notification, particularly if HSBC wants to change the terms.

The credit report lists the phone number, so I plan to call and either update my information or cancel the account. Canceling this credit card would affect my credit score negatively because the account has been open longer than my current average age of credit lines. I may cancel regardless just to be comfortable that I won’t find any surprises.

If you have credit card accounts that may be open but inactive, I suggest checking your credit report and collecting information for the unfamiliar accounts listed. Call the companies’ phone numbers listed on the report, update your account information, and cancel the accounts if you want more peace of mind.

Updated February 28, 2010 and originally published February 25, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Andrew

You should keep us updated on how easy it was to close your accounts and clean up your credit report. I recently closed an account with chase after they cut the credit limit by 80%. I figured I already took the hit to my credit report. However, the account is still open for some reason. I am not going to do anything about it as long as they don’t add an annual fee or non-usage fee to the card. But it seems like they make even closing inactive accounts difficult.

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avatar Ryan @ SpillingBuckets

The same thing is happening to us. We have received several change notices over the last few weeks, most of which are notifications of new fees. The good news is that it has given us an excuse to clean up our accounts. So far we have closed two barely ever used credit cards, two online checking accounts, and 6 online savings accounts (all used at one point for organization and savings goals, however we no longer need the separation).

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avatar SteveDH

Good advice for sure. The small hit to your credit score would pale in comparison to missing the notice and having the account show up as “in arrears” (not having paid a fee or service charge).

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avatar DE

I rarely use a credit card and only have one. Now my company is going to charge me a hefty fee for not using the card enough.So I need to find someone who will let me use it only when I want to/need to and not charge me a fee. Does anyone know of a card with a good reputation?

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avatar Erica Douglass

I use the Schwab Invest First Visa with 2% cash back and have no complaints. Have not received notice of any fees, either.

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avatar Steve

You really have to stay on top of your accounts, and make sure the account holders all have your correct, current address and phone number. More than once in my life I’ve (sometimes accidentally) used an old credit card, the bill got sent to some old address, and by the time I found out it had cost me some money in late fees.

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avatar megscole64

Just goes to show you that “best intentions” often create all sorts of “unforeseen” (even though many speculated this would happen) consequences. The government meddles with the private sector for “our own good” and we get screwed again. So annoying. I don’t have time to deal with digging through any cards that I don’t use. =(

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avatar RainyDaySaver

This is something I haven’t thought of — thanks for the heads-up.

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avatar Holly

I know I informed all cc’s of my new address when I moved in 2004. If I should receive a notification from a credit card/bank that I am being assessed either an inactivity fee or an annual fee, I will opt-out and/or cancel the card.

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avatar Erica Douglass

Hi Flexo,

I assume the Best Buy card is a store card…? I doubt they’d charge an annual fee for non-use. I’d probably just leave it alone unless they send you a notice.

-Erica

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avatar SavingEverything

Hi FLEXO, I, like everyone else, is also a bit nervous. You say you have a credit card for at least 16 years. What are you supposed to do if the issuer with your longest history and/or large credit revolving lines decides to implement an annual fee??? We need to voice our opinions to these credit card issuers, either by phone and/or letters to the Directors or VP or P’s of customer relations and cardholder services!!!
Be careful!!! Capital One and Citibank both have some of their credit card products with annual fees. For HSBC-Best Buy, they dont have an annual fee. Most store-branded affinity credit cards do not have annual fees; but high purchase APR. Most airline-branded affinity credit cards have annual fees. Also, car- and motorcycle -brand affinity credit cards may or may not have annual fee (depending on type of card product).

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,435 (Platinum)

SavingEverything (and others): The credit card industry is in a period of transition right now. Cards that currently do not typically carry annual fees may decide to begin implementing a fee now or in the future. I’m not ready to trust any issuer to turn down the option of implementing a new fee. And when old, inactive cards do not have a current address on file for sending notifications of changes in terms, it is a cause of concern.

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avatar Anonymous

I actually had an HSBC credit card canceled on me a few years back because I hadn’t used it in a couple years. They didn’t bother to send me a notice but just canceled the card – so nice of them but oh well I accepted the small ding to my credit score and it’s not like I used that particular card anyway but still… :)

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avatar Eric

I would cancel. The negative ding would be very small since you have a perfect history. It’ll save you the headache possibly later.

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avatar Kelly

Great idea to check your credit report. When we moved into our new house 2 years ago we got a credit card in the mail. It was an account I had not used ever, and we didn’t even know where the cards were, and this was supposed to be the “replacement” card.

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