Catching Errors
One way to avoid billing errors and unjustified fees is to carefully go through your monthly credit-card statement, making sure all the transactions are legitimate and that other charges -- finance charges, late or over-the-limit charges -- are justified.

The Fair Credit Billing Act applies to credit card and charge accounts and to overdraft checking (but not to checks or debit cards). You can use this act to defend against billing errors, unauthorized use of your account, goods or services charged to your account but not received or not provided as promised, and charges for which you request an explanation or written proof of purchase. Here are some important steps to take when you encounter one of these problems:

  • Write to your card issuer or creditor within 60 days after the first bill containing the disputed charge is mailed to you. (Even if more than 60 days has passed since you were billed for the item, you still might be able to dispute the charge if you only recently learned about the problem.)
  • In the letter, give your name, account number, the date and amount of the disputed charge and a complete explanation of why you are disputing the charge.
  • Send your letter to the address provided on the bill -- do not send the letter with your payment. (To be sure that your letter is received and that you will have a record of its delivery, you might want to send it by certified mail, with a return receipt requested.)
  • If you follow these steps, the creditor or card issuer must acknowledge your letter in writing within 30 days after receipt and must conduct an investigation within 90 days. While the bill is being investigated, you don't have to pay the amount in dispute. (The creditor or card issuer is not allowed to take action to collect the disputed amount, report the amount as delinquent or close or restrict your account during this time.)
  • If it is determined that there was an error or that you don't owe the amount you're being held responsible for, the card issuer must credit your account and remove any finance charges or late fees relating to the amount not owed. For any amount still owed, you have the right to an explanation and to copies of documents that prove you owe the money. If the bill is correct, you must be told in writing what you owe and why. You will owe the amount disputed plus any finance charges.

There are a number of non-profit and non-commercial organizations that provide credit information and assistance to consumers. Check out the National Consumer Law Center and U.S. Citizens for Fair Credit Card Terms.

So, now that you know all this, let's find out what it takes to qualify for a credit card in the first place.