Annual credit card statements on the way
THE Government has announced that it will push credit card providers to send their customers new annual statements.
If all goes to plan the first yearly statements will be issued in December 2011 with the rest following in early 2012, according to a report from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).
Clarity for consumers
"These statements will inform consumers how they have used their card over the previous 12 months," BIS said.
The idea is that the annual statements will offer more clarity for consumers by providing a year's worth of information about their account at once, giving them a holistic view of their spending and promoting switching.
Seeing the whole cost of the account will help people budget for the total cost of credit since, BIS argue, monthly statements work in the opposite way: trying to play down the amount of interest and fees cardholders accrue.
What remains to be seen, however, is how useful these annual statements will actually be.
That is: what kind of information they'll include and how they plan to format it to help ensure that consumers actually read it and act on it.
Thus far it looks as though annual statements will include the following:
- Total cost of credit: the whole amount credit cardholders have paid for their borrowing over the entire year. It has also been suggested that the total cost could include the cost over the year as an APR equivalent: taking into account the number of days they have borrowed, actual rates of interest and any fees.
- Fees: any fees that have been paid on the account. As well as the above, the thinking behind this is that it's easy to forget how small fees - for, for example, defaulting on a payment - can add up over a whole 12 month period.
- Payment allocation: BIS suggest that annual statements which show how payments have been allocated, "could potentially be an effective illustration to consumers of the way in which repayment behaviour affects the cost of borrowing." However, it's not entirely clear how useful that would be, given that, as of January this year, all allocation of payments clauses must order payments from the highest rate to the lowest one.
- Help with switching: many current accounts are already required to offer their customers information on how they can move their accounts, should they so wish.
Card companies will also be required to produce online statements that allow consumers to access their past year's transactions.
Although many banks do this already, the forward thinking people at BIS are pushing for a version that consumers will be able to 'plug in' to price comparison and money management websites and applications in order to identify cheaper alternatives in the market.
The department's technological push is part of its MyData consumer empowerment initiative.
That will see big banking brands including Barclaycard, Mastercard and the Lloyds banking group contributing to a system that will allow consumers instant digital access to data collected by brands for the purposes of marketing.
At the moment, consumers seeking to access information held about them using the data protection act can find themselves waiting for up to 40 days.