Success story: Lynne Schreiber
When Lynne Schreiber stumbled across an article about universal default, she had a very bad feeling.
She and her husband, Avy, had occasionally paid their credit cards bills late -- one of many reasons credit card companies raise interest rates to astronomical levels.
When the next credit card statements arrived at her Southfield, Mich., home, Lynne made of point to check how much she was paying.
"I was shocked," she says. "One was over 30% and one was 27%."
She knew that the credit card at 27% had been at 13%, at one point.
So how long had it been going on?
She had no idea.
"I have all the old bills, but I didn't look," Lynne says.
Knowing that what was in the past couldn't be changed, she decided to save herself the agony and channel her anger into action.
She first called the card she had opened years before, when she was still single. Lynne had kept that account in good standing for years, before the demands and expense of marriage and children unsettled her customary bill-paying schedule.
She was quickly able to negotiate the rate down to 12%.
"They were really nice to work with, but it was because I'd been a customer for so long," says Lynne.
Unfortunately, the second company wasn't as eager to negotiate. That card had originally been her husband's, who has always been "more laid back about paying bills.''
The company wouldn't lower the rate unless the Schreibers agreed to have the minimum monthly payment automatically deducted from their checking account.
"I was little bit uneasy about that," notes Lynne. "I'm not comfortable giving people access to my checking account but I figured it was the only option."
She now receives a notice from that credit card company each month, advising her well in advance of the minimum amount due and the date on which it will be withdrawn.
It's been six months since the universal default debacle, and Lynne offers these tips for those caught in a similar situation:
- Take action. "Get on the companies," Lynne advises. Even when they try to bully you, don't back down. And remember: There's always someone else to talk to. If you don't get satisfaction from the first customer service representative, ask for a supervisor.
- Be aware. Don't expect a big, hard-to-miss notice when your credit cards throw you into universal default. Check every statement to see how much you're being charged -- especially if you're afraid of what you'll find. "You have to want to notice," Lynne says.
- Lose all sentimental attachment to your credit cards. Lynne ditched the card she'd had for years, even though the company lowered her rate, in favor of a no-interest-for-six-months deal with a new company.
- Pay your bills on time, even if you can only afford the monthly minimum. Lynne's not taking any chances with her new credit card. "When that bill comes, I send it out immediately," she says.
- Change your ways. Lynne has forced herself into the habit of paying cash, writing a check or using her debit card for purchases, and always asks herself if she can really afford -- or needs -- an item. "I don't use credit cards anymore because of all of this," she says.
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