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Originally published Saturday, August 14, 2010 at 8:53 PM

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Watch for new fees as consumer laws take effect

Business as usual at banks is becoming a thing of the past now that the federal government has laid down new laws for lenders. So don't neglect the notices in the mail from credit cards — you could be hit with a charge you didn't realize was coming.

McClatchy Tribune News Service

Business as usual at banks is becoming a thing of the past now that the federal government has laid down new laws for lenders. That means how we manage our accounts is more important than ever.

The laws for credit cards, part of consumer-protection legislation, are aimed at regulating the industry. Banks have estimated the changes in how they can charge customers will eliminate an estimated $390 million in credit-card revenue.

Naturally, when a company can't charge for one thing, it looks to charge for another to make up revenue. This is why it's important to watch your account for changes.

What some customers already are seeing are:

• Increased or new annual fees.

• Increased interest rates.

• Increased late-payment fees.

• Shortened billing cycles to require faster payments (minimum is now 21 days).

• Added fees for not using the card or not charging a minimum amount.

• Higher fees for using the card outside of the country.

More could follow, so don't neglect the notices in the mail from credit cards — you could be hit with a charge you didn't realize was coming. If you are, call the credit-card company immediately and dispute it. Many can be persuaded to waive the fee for first-time offenders. If you are hit with new fees, it may be time to shop around for a new credit card. Beware, however: If you anticipate applying for a large loan soon, new credit could count against you.

The fee contagion is spreading, not just through credit cards but also into checking accounts. The days of free checking are threatened as more banks are starting to charge monthly account fees, fees for paper statements, fees for using tellers, etc. The banks want to reduce their expense of operating checking accounts by getting customers to use ATMs and Internet banking.

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Other interesting regulations added by consumer-protection laws include:

• Consumers must now be provided, on request, their credit score if turned down for a loan or given a higher interest rate. Insurance companies and landlords also must provide the score if prices are higher because of lower credit scores.

• Prepayment penalties on adjustable mortgages are no longer allowed. Mortgage-origination fees are now capped at 3 percent.

• The federal government and colleges and universities can limit what you charge on your credit cards. This means you may not be allowed to put tuition or tax payments on your card.

• It is now legal for stores to offer discounts to shoppers who pay with cash instead of charging a purchase. So if you have the cash, ask about a discount.

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