September 20, 2020

Bucks: Card Protections for Small Businesses

Bank of America's business card doesn't charge over-the-limit feesCourtesy Bank of AmericaBank of America’s business card doesn’t charge over-the-limit fees.

Each month, Americans get more than 10 million business credit card pitches in their home mailboxes. The cards are aimed at small businesses and sole proprietors, but they generally lack the new protections that apply to consumer cards, a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts says.

That means holders of the cards are subject to a host of potentially harmful terms, like high-interest penalty rates imposed without warning. The Card Act of 2009 banned such practices for cards marketed primarily as consumer accounts, but it doesn’t apply to those labeled for “business” use — even though the holders are individually liable for the account balances, just as “ordinary” consumers are. The impact of higher rates can be significant with a business card because the small business owner usually is responsible for charges on any card linked to the account.

Nick Bourke, director of Pew’s Safe Credit Cards Project and the main author of the report, says in a video that Pew “is urging policy makers to extend the protections of the Credit Card Act whenever a credit card account can hold a person individually liable.”

The report analyzed disclosure documents from the 12 largest credit card issuers, which control about 85 percent of the small business credit card market.

Some issuers, notably, Bank of America and Capital One, have voluntarily applied some consumer protections from the Card Act to their business cards. Bank of America, for instance, has eliminated over-the-limit fees on its business cards. And both companies have adopted procedures that apply payments first to balances with higher interest rates, like cash advances. Those banks are the exception, however. That means, in general, the Pew report says, “Households that use these products remain vulnerable to potentially harmful practices.”

For instance, 67 percent of business cards charged an over-the-limit fee, typically $39. And an equal percentage applied penalty rates for late payments or over-the-limit spending. The typical penalty rate was 29.4 percent.

Older, more affluent people get a higher percentage of business card pitches. But even households with annual incomes of less than $25,000 — a level near the federal poverty rate for a family of five — got a significant volume of solicitations.

The authors of the Pew report recommend that issuers should at least be required to alert applicants that the business cards don’t carry the same protections as consumer cards do.

It’s likely, Mr. Bourke said in a brief interview, that some individuals end up using “business” cards as their personal plastic, but it’s unclear how often that actually happens.

Have you responded to a business credit card solicitation that arrived in your mailbox? Have you encountered any of the penalties associated with them?

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=1a3d5c10d6a98ca1c29955f112729ac9

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