What your credit card’s fine print really says

Pen on credit card papers

Thanks to the Credit CARD Act of 2009, your credit card statement’s "Schumer Box" (named after U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who pushed the legislation) shines a bright light on a lot of details that were once buried in the statement’s fine print.

That makes it much easier to find out about your card’s balance transfer fees, cash advance fees and international transaction fees, all which typically range between 1% and 5% of the amount transferred or charged.

But the CARD Act didn’t lift the veil off some equally important facts still buried deep inside your credit card’s teeny, tiny fine print.

Take a look at your credit card statement’s fine print to brush on these details to make sure you’re getting the most from each purchase, payment and transfer.

Periodic credit checks. Carrying the card – or a balance – might mean you’re agreeing to your card’s issuer frequently checking your credit scores. Many do this monthly or quarterly. And frequent credit checks could have a negative short-term affect on your FICO score.

Annual rewards limits. True, purchases will earn you various incentives and rewards, but many card issuers limit the number of miles, free hotel stays, etc. that you can earn in a one-year period. For instance, the Citi Forward card limits you to 75,000 ThankYou Points in any given year.

Monthly reward spending limits. The Chase Freedom, Discover More and Citi Dividend cards are just a few who deploy this tactic. Their advertised 5% cash back bonus promotions are capped, so you can only earn the max rewards on a few hundred dollars of spending each month.

Limits on bonus rewards. Only a subtle difference with the above, but some cards cap reward spending on very specific categories. This is a common feature of gas credit cards, which want to make sure you aren’t using your personal card to fuel a fleet of 18-wheelers. Examples include the Costco TrueEarnings Amex, which pays 3% on gas purchases, but only up to $3,000 each year.

Indirect limits through shorter expirations. A common feature of frequent flyer miles and similar loyalty programs, sometimes your accumulated rewards might expire after a certain amount of time, implicitly reducing your realizable rewards. For example, Citibank ThankYou Points expire after three years and Bank of America WorldPoints expire after five.

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