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Your Monthly Credit Card Minimum Payments May Double

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The Good News and the Bad

If, like many Americans, you've been incurring credit card debt based on being able to afford the monthly minimum payment rather than whether your income and expenses can support the purchase of a particular item, you may be in trouble. For years, low monthly minimum credit card payments have encouraged us to spend more than we really can afford. Now it's time to pay the piper.

Under pressure from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (which regulates national banks), the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Office of Thrift Supervision, some national banks will soon be increasing minimum monthly credit card payments so they are closer to 4% rather than the current average of around 2%. Some major banks have already increased the minimum payments and others are about to follow suit.

In the long run, an increase is actually good news for consumers, but in the short-term, it could be devastating for people who have overextended themselves.

The Bad News

The bad news is that you soon may have to come up with more cash each month in order to make your monthly minimum credit card payments. If you're the average American, with $10,000 in credit card debt, your minimum monthly payments are probably currently around $200 (2% of your balance). Under the new guidelines, sometime this year, your minimum payments may go up to as much as 4% of your balance, or $400 on a $10,000 credit card balance. If that's the case, will you be able to come up with the additional $200? In addition, minimum payments and your interest costs will continue to rise as interest rates go up.

The Good News

Paying 2% of your balance each month barely covers the interest, and leaves very little to apply to your actual balance. That's why, if you owe $2,000 or more, and you only pay the minimum balance of 2% each month, it will take you approximately 30 years to pay off your balance even if you never charge another penny.

Under the new guidelines, the minimum payment will have to cover the interest and have enough left over so you could pay off your balance in 10 to 12 years if you didn't add any new charges. This is good because you'll get out of debt sooner and you'll pay a lot less interest over the years (thousands of dollars for many people).

What To Do

First, think twice before you add that purchase to your credit card. If you charged your $2500 spring break trip to your credit card or if you and your spouse just splurged for a $2500 flat screen television and charged it to your credit card, at 18% interest it would take you 34 years and six months to pay it off if you paid a 2% minimum balance and never charged another penny to your credit card. In that time, you'd pay $6,421 in interest in addition to the $2500 original cost. When you make a purchase on credit, know what the true cost to you will be if you don't pay it off right away.

Second, if you're in the habit of paying the minimum monthly payment on your credit cards, now is the time to go through your budget with a fine-toothed comb and identify areas to cut costs so you'll be prepared for the increased minimum payments if your credit card company puts them into effect.

Finally, calculate your current minimum payment percentage on each major credit card. Divide the minimum payment from your last statement by the most recent balance. Then you may want to call your credit card company and ask them what their intentions are regarding the recommended increase in the minimum payment percentage.

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