Are Credit Card Offers Too Good To Be True?

7-point-9 percent and a fixed rate.

Sounds like a pretty good credit card offer! Rich Heitz got a similar offer and sent it in, thinking he had a fixed rate until, "They jumped it to 29.9 percent, for no reason at all."

Vickie Hall was shocked when her "fixed rate" suddenly doubled, "No, I was never late, or I never went over my credit limit." Welcome to the world of credit card rules. Where words like "pre-approved" and "fixed rate" don't always mean what you might think.

"Fixed rates are not really fixed," says Howard Strong, a consumer attorney who wrote a book about tricks of the credit card trade. His conclusion: "The banks are very deceptive." That's a common complaint that Kay Robinson hears with the Tyler Better Business Bureau, "People think that banks are deceptive by making an offer that isn't truly what it seems to be," she explains. "In reality, they're just fishing for customers."

Remember: a credit card is like a loan. And by signing up, you agree to the bank's rules, which must be disclosed by law...even if only in fine print. Many credit card offers give footnotes. Follow the fine print to the bottom and it says your "fixed rate" is "subject to change". Then there's the word "pre-approved". Vicki says judging by the letter she received, the 7.9 percent rate was locked in, right? "I think that's what they want you to think, but I don't think that's true at all." When Vickie accepted a preapproved offer, she got a rejection letter back. In other cases, when the card does arrive, it sometimes has a higher interest rate than the one promised.

Kay Robinson explains why, "Sometimes the rate they offer you is what you get, sometimes not. It's based on your credit report or credit score." All these offers,credit checks and rate increases are completely legal. Strong and other consumer advocates believe the federal government needs to do more to control credit card marketing so the rules are very clear.

Both Vickie and Rich will tell you, your best defense is knowing what you're up against.