Saturday, October 11, 2008

Minimum Payments

In the UK, there has recently been increasing concern about the minimum payments required on outstanding credit card balances. Until the mid-1990s the required minimum monthly payment was generally 5% of the outstanding balance, but competition in the last 15 years to attract customers has led to this figure being eroded on the premise that the minimum monthly payment to service a debt will be lower. Typically, credit card companies now only require a monthly minimum payment of between 2% and 3% of the outstanding balance, or a fixed cash fee, whichever is the greater. For example, on a debt of £1,000, the card holder can expect to pay back only £20 - £30 per month.

Unfortunately, some people are not aware of how long it can take to repay a debt when only paying the minimum each month. An example of this: by paying 2.5% of the debt each month, while accruing interest at 14% (in line with modern credit card interest rates), it can take over 14 years to pay back an original debt of £1,000, and roughly £10,500 will have been paid back.

It has recently been suggested that credit card companies include a warning on their statements discouraging customers from paying only the minimum, however few companies have so far acted upon this. Companies which do include a warning tend not to inform customers how long full repayment will take, i.e. they discourage users from making just minimum payments but do not explain why. Less financially savvy customers may ignore these empty warnings as a result.

Starting in 2006, most US credit card companies regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency have been required to increase customers' minimum payments to cover at least the interest and late fees from the prior statement plus 1% of the outstanding balance. The reason is to avoid a negative amortization situation which may result when the previous 3% minimum was enforced. Negative amortization is when the payment to the creditor fails to cover the amount of interest charged during that period. This causes the consumer's credit card balance to continually increase.

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