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Credit card complaint? File it with the government

By Jim Sloan

Credit card complaint? File it with the government

More than a few of us have felt our jaws drop when opening a bill from one of our credit card companies.

Maybe you were shocked to see that your interest rate had jumped on your zero percent credit cards or that there were fake credit card numbers on your bill. Or maybe those balance transfer offers were not as good as you thought, or that best cash back credit card you got didn't reward you the way you expected it to.

Chances are the details were outlined to you in the fine print of your credit card application. But if these surprises weren't included in that disclosure and that the charges are unfair or unjust, you do have the right to complain about your credit card company to a state agency or the federal government.

The first step

Before reporting your credit card company to your state or federal agencies, try to work out your differences with the company itself. Call and explain your problem to them and ask about what procedures you should follow to correct the problem.

If that doesn't help, you can file a formal complaint with a state agency. It varies by state, but in most states the Attorney General's Office can handle consumer complaints. Some states refer these complaints to a state banking agency, however, and some states offer no help whatsoever and refer all complaints directly to the federal government. Talk about passing the buck.

Federal complaints

The proper federal agency for filing a complaint about your credit cards depends on the type of bank issuing the card. The following is a breakdown of where complaints should go based on the type of card:

Credit cards issued by banks that are members of the Federal Reserve System:

Federal Reserve Board

202-452-3693

Cards issued by banks with "national" in the name or including "N.A" in their name:

Comptroller of the Currency, office of the ombudsman

800-613-6743

www.occ.treas.gov

Credit cards issued by state banks:

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)

Consumer Response Center

877-275-3342

www.fdic.gov

Cards issued by federal savings and loan associations:

Office of Thrift Supervision

Consumer Programs

800-842-6929

www.ots.treas.gov

Cards issued by federal credit unions:

National Credit Union Administration

Office of External Affairs

703-518-6330

www.ncua.gov

Cards issued by finance companies or stores:

Federal Trade Commission

Consumer Response Commission

877-382-4357

www.ftc.gov

New rules on credit cards

The federal Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act banned many practices that mistreated cardholders. Under the law, card companies can no longer raise interest rates on existing balances or in the first year an account is opening. The penalty fee for late payments is capped at $25 per violation, and monthly statements have to spell out the interest costs of making only minimum payments.

Still, consumers are finding much to complain about when it comes to their credit cards.

Consumer debt, including mortgages, collections and credit cards, was the highest ranking complaint filed with the Illinois Consumer Protection Division in 2010. In particular, Illinois residents had hundreds of complaints about credit card debt, problems with credit card balance transfers, introductory rate offers and excessive interest rates.

Problems with identity theft

Another big issue is identity theft involving credit cards. In Illinois, more than a thousand complaints were filed about fraudulent charges showing up on credit card accounts and new credit card accounts appearing in the names of people who hadn't opened the accounts.

On a national level, identity theft was the highest-ranking complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission, which is the nation's consumer protection agency. There were more than 33,000 complaints about credit cards, putting them in the top 10 for complaints despite new federal regulations mandating more clarity and transparency from credit card companies.

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