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Citi: Spend more to cut rate

NEW YORK — For Citibank credit card holders, there is one way to escape the bank's rate hikes currently under way: Meet a monthly spending requirement.

Those who meet the spending minimum — in some cases $750 a month — will be able to get a rebate on their total interest charges for that month. The rebate could cover some or all of the interest rate hike.

Without giving specifics, Citi said the monthly spending requirements and interest rate increases will vary depending on the cardholder's credit history.

About half of its customers will be able to erase 50 percent to all of their rate increases through the rebates. Citi said its rebates will be based on interest charges for an entire balance, not just monthly charges.

The change by Citi, which had 92 million credit cards in circulation last year, second only to Chase, which had 119.4 million, comes as the industry rushes to adjust to sweeping reforms starting in February that will limit when and how much card issuers can hike interest rates. Citi said the actions were necessary given elevated losses from souring loans and "regulatory changes that eliminate repricing for that risk."

Consumers could need to spend more than they otherwise would to qualify for the interest rate savings.

That's the case for Lindsey Pappas, 25, a public relations professional in San Francisco. She received a letter from Citi Wednesday that her interest rate was being raised to 19.99 percent from 14.99 percent.

If she spends $750 a month, however, she can get a refund for part of the higher interest rate charges.

The problem is that Pappas is trying to pay off a $5,000 balance on the card, so she tries not to charge any money on it.

"I'm just going to have to deal with the higher interest rate. Spending that much would be irresponsible," she said.

Citi's move is just the latest in a series of rate hikes, lowered limits and other term changes credit card customers have seen in the past year. Customers who never carry a balance, and therefore don't incur financing charges, have not been spared.

Last month, for example, Bank of America said it used "risk and profitability" in selecting accounts on which to test annual fees of between $29 and $99.

Citi's move, meanwhile, is likely intended to generate greater interchange fees, which banks reap from merchants when customers use credit or debit cards, said Ben Woolsey, director of consumer research for CreditCards.com. If customers spend more to qualify for lower rates, Citi will benefit from the additional transactions.

Most customers who choose to refuse Citi's new terms will be allowed to continue under their old interest rates until their cards expire. Other accounts will be deactivated.

Chase drops arbitration clause

JPMorgan Chase is dropping a clause from its credit card contracts that required disputes with customers to be handled through binding arbitration. The move opens the door for customers to potentially bring class-action and other lawsuits. Bank of America took a similar step three months ago. Banks say arbitration is less costly for everyone than lawsuits, but consumer groups have criticized the practice as tilted in favor of banks.

Citi: Spend more to cut rate 11/20/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 20, 2009 10:41pm]
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