STAND YOUR GROUND: College "Affinity" Credit Cards - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Andy Wise

STAND YOUR GROUND: College "Affinity" Credit Cards

Colonel Reb's picture is missing from the card.

Maybe that's because he wants nothing to do with the minefield of 'gotcha's' in the terms and conditions of the Ole Miss VISA card.

The card is one of those college "affinity" credit cards.  Those are credit cards offered either through a college/university or through a school's alumni association as a part of a contract with a financial institution.  Typically, the arrangement allows for a percentage of each purchase to be donated to either the school or alumni association. 

The Ole Miss VISA card is part of a contract between the Ole Miss Alumni Association and Bank of America.  The association would not release the percentage it receives from purchases on the card due to a confidentiality agreement with Bank of America.

The alumni association provided us a brochure of the card, which is marketed to students, alumni and Ole Miss supporters.  The Action News 5 Investigators visited the student union, where we showed students the brochure. 

The first red flag ... is the low introductory annual percentage rate (APR).  The Ole Miss VISA card offers a 1.99 percent introductory rate.

But it's only applicable to cash advance checks and balance transfers, not to purchases.  Consumer advocates, including www.lowcards.com, say you should never draw cash on a credit card from an ATM or with a cash advance check.  Not only do you get hit with interest, but you also might get nailed with a convenience fee.

And what about those balance transfers?  We asked Ole Miss freshman Michelle Tomes to read the fine print on those.  The card's terms indicate there's a fee for balance transfers on top of the interest rate.

"Minimum: $10, maximum: $75," Tomes reads off the terms.  "They do like to add the fine print, don't they?"

Yes, they do.  In fact, consumer advocates warn all consumers, particularly college students, to read the fine print of college "affinity" credit cards.  They say you should especially look out for two things: 

* 2-CYCLE BILLING.  The Ole Miss card does not do this, but some college cards will compound interest over MULTIPLE billing cycles instead of ONE.  That can double your interest payments.

* PENALTY PRICING.  This would be penalty or "default" APR's for missing a minimum payment or going over your credit limit.

"Any kind of a default on that could automatically kick in a very steep increase in the annual percentage rate on the account," says Brian Collins, head of First Tennessee Bank's bank card center.

Ole Miss student Lauren White had to brace herself before she read the default APR on the Ole Miss card.

"29.99 percent?! That's terrible!" she blurted.

That's not unusual for many credit cards, much less college "affinity" cards, according to Bill Hardekopf, President/CEO of lowcards.com. 

"You could see your interest rates get into a default APR situation where they might go from 15, 16 percent all the way up to 28, 30, 32 percent, which can be extremely costly," Hardekopf says.

The actual APR for purchases on the Ole Miss VISA card is 9.99 percent or 15.99 percent, depending on whether you have a "Platinum Plus" account or just a "Preferred" account.

About the percentage of purchases the Ole Miss Alumni Association receives, spokesperson Tim Walsh told us in an e-mail, "I will say it is a very, very small percentage of each purchase.  And, the University receives none of any interest that a card holder might have on his or her account."  

 

 

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