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Credit Cards

A credit card system is a type of retail transaction settlement and credit system, named after the small plastic card issued to users of the system. A credit card is different from a debit card in that the credit card issuer lends the consumer money rather than having the money removed from an account. It is also different from a charge card (though this name is sometimes used by the public to describe credit cards) in that charge cards require that the balance be paid in full each month. In contrast, a credit card allows the consumer to 'revolve' their balance, at the cost of having interest charged. Most credit cards are the same shape and size, as specified by the ISO 7810 standard.

How Credit Cards Work

A user is issued a credit card after an account has been approved by the credit provider (often a general bank, but sometimes a captive bank created to issue a particular brand of credit card, such as American Express Centurion Bank), with which they will be able to make purchases from merchants accepting that credit card up to a pre-established credit limit.

When a purchase is made, the credit card user agrees to pay the card issuer. Originally the user would indicate his/her consent to pay, by signing a receipt with a record of the card details and indicating the amount to be paid, but many merchants now accept verbal authorizations via telephone and electronic authorization using the internet.

Electronic verification systems allow merchants (using a strip of magnetized material on the card holding information in a similar manner to magnetic tape or a floppy disk) to verify that the card is valid and the credit card customer has sufficient credit to cover the purchase in a few seconds, allowing the verification to happen at time of purchase. Other variations of verification systems are used by ecommerce merchants to determine if the user's account is valid and able to accept the charge.

Each month, the credit card user is sent a statement indicating the purchases undertaken with the card, and the total amount owed. The cardholder must then pay a minimum proportion of the bill by a due date, and may choose to pay the entire amount owed or more. The credit provider charges interest on the amount owed (typically at a much higher rate than most other forms of debt).

Credit Card Interest Rates

Credit card issuers usually waive interest charges if the balance is paid in full each month, but typically will charge full interest on the entire outstanding balance from the date of each purchase if the total balance is not paid.

For example, if a user had a $1,000. outstanding balance for purchases and pays the entire $1,000. there would be no interest charged. If, however, even $1.00 of the total balance remained unpaid, interest would be charged on the full $1,000 from the date of purchase until the payment is received. The precise manner in which interest is charged is usually detailed in a cardholder agreement which may be summarized on the back of the monthly statement.

The credit card may serve as a form of revolving credit, or the user may choose to apply any payments toward recent rather than previous debt. Interest rates can vary considerably from card to card, and the interest rate on a particular card may jump dramatically if the card user is late with a payment on that card or any other credit instrument. As the rates and terms vary, services have been set up allowing users to calculate savings available by switching cards, which can be considerable if there is a large outstanding balance.

Credit Card Profit Margins

Because profit margins in the credit card industry can be quite high, credit providers often offer incentives such as frequent flier miles, gift certificates, or cash back (typically 1 percent) to try attract customers to their program.

Low interest credit cards or even 0% interest credit cards are available. The only downside to consumers is that the period of low interest credit cards is limited to a fixed term, usually between 6 and 12 months. However, services are available which alert credit card holders when their low interest period is due to expire. Most such services charge a monthly or annual fee.

Credit Card Information Courtesy of Wikipedia