Local couple gets hit by high interest rates

July 1, 2010 6:36:32 PM PDT
The new credit card laws protect you against unexpected rate increases. However, the rules came too late for some customers. Here's one case in point.

Some banks hurried to get in under the wire and raise rates before the law could prevent them. One couple got caught in that rush of rate adjustments and it hit their pocketbook hard.

Credit card holders can rest a little easier these days. Banks can no longer jack up the interest on your old purchases without a good reason. That was outlawed in February, but not before a local couple got hit.

"Doubled, doubled our interest. Very difficult to swallow," said Ron Levi.

"It was a big shock. That is usually a default rate if you miss a payment," said Monica Nuckols.

It happened in January, right before the new credit card laws took effect preventing those retroactive rate increases. Nuckols and Levi noticed the interest rate on their HSBC credit card shot way up from 15.99 to 29.99 percent.

"It's kind of shocking when you see your interest rate jump up like that. It's almost like a slap in the face," Levi.

They'd always paid on time and in full so this made no sense. When Nuckols called HSBC she was told indeed this was a mistake, sort of. Their interest rate was going up all right, but only by 4 points.

"They're very, very sorry, it's happened to millions of customers," said Nuckols.

They were told a computer glitch raised their rate far more than planned and it would all be reversed very soon. So they relaxed, until the next bill came. They were charged the same high rate. HSBC told Nuckols, be patient the rate would go down.

"I wait until the next statement, again it isn't fixed," said Nuckols.

Meanwhile, finance charges were racking up. The fees rose from $77 to $155 per month. Nuckols and Levi wondered if the rate was ever going to go back down.

"The third month rolls by and no change, so we were kind of getting nervous. I had spoken to Monica about maybe doing something different and contacting 7 On Your Side," said Levi.

They did reach 7 On Your Side and we contacted HSBC. The bank would not discuss details because of privacy rules, but said, "We are committed to ensuring that all of our customers receive a positive experience... Since learning more about this particular situation, we resolved the matter in Mr. Levi's favor."

Indeed within days, their rate sank back down, and they received a refund of $266 in finance charges.

"Satisfied, very satisfied," said Nuckols.

"I jumped on Twitter. You guys have Twitter. I told you, you guys were rock stars for taking care of this," said Levi.

The couple said HSBC did impose the 4 percent increase, but it was a lot more manageable than 30 percent.

If you would like to find out when and how your bank can raise your credit card rates, check out the links above.


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