AmEx dangles $300 carrot to cardholders to pay off and close accounts0

8:40 2/25/2009, Noreen Perrotta, Consumer Reports Money & Shopping Blog
Credit card companies are closing dormant accounts and trying new tactics to get their customers to pay back their balances, but American Express is holding out a carrot to cardholders who can pay theirs down quickly. AmEx is offering $300 to certain customers who carry a balance and use their cards only infrequently. The customers will have to close their account and pay back the balance by April 30.

There’s no real catch here. If you get the offer and decide to accept, you’ll receive a $300 prepaid card good through May 31, 2010, which you can use for purchases, but not for cash withdrawals at ATMs. If you accept the offer but can’t pay down your full balance by April 30, you won’t get the $300 prepaid card and you must continue to make at least the minimum payments until the balance is paid off. Oh, and your account will still be closed.

AmEx, like other credit card companies, is trying to shed some of its riskier customers, but at least they’re doing it in a nicer way than other card issuers. Last month, Chase added a $10 monthly service charge to customers who have carried large balances for over two years while making little progress in paying them off. They’re also raising those cardholders’ minimum monthly payments from 2 percent of their balance to 5 percent. We’ve seen other cases where credit card issuers arechanging account termsfor some customers.

Closing any credit card account or other line of credit can ding yourcredit scoretemporarily, but how much depends on your individual situation. If you have lots ofcredit cardsand plenty of available credit it might not have a negative impact. In fact, it could possibly help your score because you’re paying down a balance. But if you have only a few cards, or little available credit, closing the account can increase your overall debt-to-available credit ratio, which is used to calculate your credit score.

Only customers who receive the AmEx mailing can apply, by using an RSVP code. You can see a copy of the mailing being sent out atCreditMattersBlog.com.—Chris Fichera

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