I'll have one Visa credit card, hold the APR

By Andrea Karim. Last updated 9 June 2007. 5 comments

Why bother with middling details, like the interest rate? Just go ahead and get that card. Bank of America can help!

I do most of my banking at Bank of America. I don't adore Bank of America, but they've always been pretty good. Customer service is handy and friendly, and they've never really tried to screw me over. That's why I was surprised, while visiting my local branch, to see a big dry erase board behind the counter with the words "WANT 20,000 FREE AIR MILES? ASK US HOW!" written on it.

Of course, I want 20,000 air miles, but I figured that the catch would involve a credit card. As I waited for the teller to deposit and rearrange my cash, I looked down at the photocopied picture of the VISA card that they were offering.

I could use 20,000 bonus miles, I thought. Family reunion in Saskatoon. Those would come in handy.

The photocopied "flyer" taped to the countertop mentioned the 20,000 bonus miles. It mentioned how easy it was to apply. And that pretty much summed it up. There was nothing about the APR. Nothing about annual fees. Nothing about... anything.

You just had to ask! I looked around for a brochure or any other piece of paper that might feature the fine print. Nothing.

My teller saw me gazing down at the flyer and said, "That's a REALLY good deal."

"Yeah", I said, "That's a lot of bonus miles. Do you have any details? You know, about transaction fees, the interest rate, that kind of thing?"

"No. We don't have any. The interest depends on your credit."

"Well, sort of," I said, "But usually there's a basic APR, and applicants are either approved or denied based on credit score, right?"

"Well, with this one, the rate varies depending on your credit."

"OK, my credit is fantastic. What would my rate be?"

"You have to apply to find out."

"You want me to apply for a credit card with none of the information that a smart consumer would want before applying? I think you legally have to give me information about the APR." I have no idea if this is true, but it sounded good.

"Sorry, we don't have anything."

So, I go online and Google the card. It's the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature. Terms and conditions are buried under another link that opens in a tiny window (very typical). Check it out.

Yup. 15% APR if you're good, but over 18% if you're bad. Also, there's a $75 annual fee.

What type of credit card are you interested in?
How much do you spend per month?
Do you carry a balance?

The average "good" APR for credit cards in the US is just over 13%. I'm going to go ahead and say that 13% is still crap - 10% is a good APR. 15% is certainly pushing the limit for me, and 18% is insane.

Determined that my bank CAN'T POSSIBLY be in the business of encouraging people to make stupid financial decisions, I went back to the same branch today and found another teller.

"Do you have any details on this Visa card?"

She sighed really heavily. "No. Well, we have a...." You could tell she was NOT in the mood to help me on this issue. She walked to the back room and retrieved a credit card pamphlet from a file cabinet.

"Here. But it doesn't say anything about the bonus miles."

Indeed, it does not. What she gave me was a brochure that listed some details of various credit cards offered through Bank of America.

Interestingly enough, the Alaska Airlines Visa has an APR of 13.49% as listed in the brochure (which only applies to the Signature/Platinum cards - you get 16.49% if your credit kind of sucks). Also, these are all variable APRs, which means that the rate can change daily, as they are tied to the prime rate set by the Federal Reserve.

I'm not entirely sure who to believe - the brochure or the web site. Chances are that the brochure is out of date. But I'm still a tad peeved that I even had to go to this much trouble to find out what the APR is - why wasn't that information posted clearly alongside all of the signs telling me about the bonus miles?

I'm not implying that Bank of America is going out of its way to be negligent in providing customers with the financial details of a promotional card offer, but... well, actually, I guess that is what I am saying. To be honest, I'm not sure if they are under any obligation to provide this info, but it just seems like good business practice to be open and honest about what a customer is getting herself into.

(Picture by Shawn Lea.)

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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Paul Michael's picture

are all below 10%, most are 6.99%. 15% is silly, 18% ridiculous.  One of my friends had a store card with an APR of 29%. I was shocked.

Guest's picture
Flexo

I'm sure the branch (and certain non-teller employees) gets some kind of kickback for each completed application... they are salespersons (though tellers are understandably reluctant, as they probably won't get commissions), and use salesperson tactics... which means not easily providing full information before you apply.

Guest's picture

I also wouldn't mind 20,000 bonus miles but i really hesitate to apply. I think the more enticing a credit card offer looks, the more traps it has. It can be just a promoting device, too. Anyway, if they don't have a clear list of all the features, I won't have an application with them, I guess.

Guest's picture
Guest

Being a credit card company, you should start with the assumption that people are going to assume the worst of you. So, why would you do something like this that makes you look even shadier.

Guest's picture
allen

Of course they don't want to give you that info, but I don't see how they aren't required to give it to you? Maybe it's one of the [many]loopholes left... *sigh*