Sneaky Credit Card Penalties!

Went in to pay my AMEX card as I usually do each month (on time), and saw this gem of a notice highlighted in my face as I went to click the “pay” button:

“If we do not receive your Minimum Payment Due by the Payment Due Date of 09/08/17, you may have to pay a late fee of up to $38.00 and your APRs may be increased to the Penalty APR of 29.99%.”

Umm.. WHAT?? A Penalty APR? 29.99%?? Is that a warning or a threat to your perfectly-paying loyal customer for the past 7 years straight? I know I never give you any interest fees, but damn – didn’t know it was going to be like that.

Interestingly enough, I’ve been learning all about these “penalty APRs” lately as we’re putting together our list of favorite credit cards we’ll be releasing here on the blog soon, but the whole time I just assumed this stuff was for other people – not me. You know, for those going on benders left and right and maxing out their cards on lottery tickets and bling while they live in their vans down by the river.

But for ME? J. Money?? Pshh… Who do you take me for?

Answer: someone who will apparently be paying $40 late fees and 30% interest rates if they F up at any time! Haha… (And new companions of all those van dwelling party friends it seems too ;))

Of course, good luck trying to pry away my credit cards when they make my life simpler and reward me with niceties like free cash back, but it’s a good reminder to continue staying vigilant as ain’t no one immune to this nonsense out there.

In fact, here are some other reminders to keep in mind as well if you’re trying to stay on the good side of the Credit Card Police. Because here’s the crazy part – all of these fees are perfectly legal!!

  1. ALWAYS – no matter what – pay at least the minimum owed on your cards every single month. Don’t give them a chance to bend you over – do whatever it takes! UPDATE: Good tips in the comments today y’all – especially on setting up automatic payments to at least take care of the minimums in case you forget! I always forget that one as I manually log in and pay off my balances each month (to force myself to double check everything!).
  2. If you DO slip up, which you will – because you’re human – call them up right away and beg put on your sweetest, most sexiest voice, and ask them to please waive it for you as you’ve been a loyal customer and plan on giving them more and more of your hard earned money over time. If they say no, ask to speak to a manager and then repeat (if the manager says no, hang up and try again!).
  3. Make sure you’re aware of all these sneaky stipulations your card can attach! I’m not sure if this is a new thing for AMEX or if it’s always been there and I’m just now noticing it (you know when you start seeing stuff over and over again once you learn about it for the first time?) but whatever the case, know that not *all* credit cards implement these types of penalty rates. So it may make sense to start searching around for a new one if the potential downsides outweigh the temporary inconvenience of switching. Which leads us to the last item…
  4. Make sure you REALLY know yourself well! If you know you’re going to miss out on payments, or have a good chance of blowing money before you’ve even earned it, stay as far away from credit cards as you possibly can. There are plenty of other ways to get through life without them, and despite what companies or “experts” say, avoiding debt is much more important than your credit score or extra rewards. Don’t even risk it!

As for me and my AMEX card, well, I won’t be canceling it anytime soon as I still trust myself enough to play by the rules, but they’re not gonna win any Best Friends award anytime soon… And one day they just may find themselves on the cutting block if need be!

The credit card game is getting real out there, fam. Watch them backs.

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  1. jestjack August 21, 2017 at 6:04 AM

    Sadly, it seems the mindset at Amex has changed. I don’t know if it’s because of the “Costco rejection” or profit pressures. I consider myself a “good/bad customer”….good as I pay my bill on time…bad as they don’t make $ on late fees and/or interest. In the last year I have had “shoddy service” from the “travel assistance folks” at Amex, encountered “snarky” CSR’s via e-mail, had REAL problems “cashing” in some of my “rewards” (cashing in is not an option…no checks…but rather an account credit….eventually) and finally having to jump thru MANY hoops when challenging an unauthorized charge from a car rental company. AND I pay just under $100 a year in fees for the “opportunity”. Because of this pretty sure we are gonna downgrade the card to one with no fee and then if service problems persist…we’re out! Too many other CC companies out there…..

    1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 6:47 AM

      Oh man, sorry to hear. I honestly can’t remember *any* company I had great customer service through recently actually? It feels like no one is prioritizing it anymore? Even more incredible when it comes from places that are online only as it’s our only lifeline to them!

      1. super August 21, 2017 at 9:29 AM

        @J$ “I honestly can’t remember *any* company I had great customer service through recently actually?”

        Really? I get awesome customer service from Peapod, Amazon, Staples, my dog food delivery (, my car dealership… That’s so interesting that you have the opposite experience.

        1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 9:44 AM

          Well that’s good! Maybe I don’t shop enough to notice :)

          1. super August 21, 2017 at 10:24 AM

            Yes, that’s certainly one reason! I have health issues that mean online shopping over in person, but it’s too easy to go overboard with online shopping.

          2. Adriane August 21, 2017 at 8:57 PM

            People typically don’t notice good service. They notice bad or amazing service. If the job is done correctly with minimal problems, you probably haven’t had great service, just the minimum. Which is unfortunate. Being in the banking industry, the customers that came back to me were because of great service, not just okay service.

            1. J. Money August 22, 2017 at 8:18 AM

              I’d agree with that.

  2. Ember @ An Intentional Lifestyle August 21, 2017 at 6:29 AM

    So we did the Dave Ramsey plan to get out of debt. We did keep one credit card for online purchases and stuff like that. Recently, we have been discussing getting a card to use so we can earn points for travel. But I get a bit freaked out, since I don’t want to pay that 29% interest rate because I forgot. BUT I’ve seen so many people use it to get those cash or travel perks. It’s so tempting! This whole post is my fear though. I do believe I’ll be doing more research into the whole thing. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 6:52 AM

      Well, the good thing is that even if you do mess up and have to pay a fee, I’d imagine you won’t have too much of a balance on the cards if you’re being diligent so it would only sting a little :) But you’re right – anytime you’re trying to milk the system for rewards you have to be really on top of things as they’re fully aware of the game being played too!

    2. Lance @ My Strategic Dollar August 21, 2017 at 8:09 AM

      For starters, I would call your credit card company and negotiate a lower APR. More often than not they are willing to lower it to keep you as a customer…as long as you are in good standing.

      Also – I don’t agree with this part of Dave Ramsey’s plan. If you’re good with your money, don’t overspend and can pay your credit card off every month then you should have one. If having a credit card doesn’t entice you to spend more then you should absolutely go after the rewards.

    3. super August 21, 2017 at 9:32 AM

      My AmEx has an autopay feature; you can choose between a minimum payment, or the posted balance, or the full balance. The minimum payment should keep you out of trouble those crazy penalty APRs, but also not accidentally max out any bank accounts.

  3. PaulM August 21, 2017 at 7:11 AM

    I have two cards — one with Citi, which supposedly “never sleeps”. Well I guess they were tired one day while I was away because the hotel denied my card (it I didn’t even have a balance!). I tried calling Citi to find out why but to no avail. I was told to call back the next day but my kindly hotel manager could not wait that long so I had to use the other card. I later found out it was canceled in error and a new one was later issued.

    If you travel or don’t carry cash, I strongly recommend that you carry at least two cards even if you think you are abiding by the rules, just in case.

    I look forward to your review of the best CCs out there and what new hidden ways they’re using to relieve us of more of our money

    1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 9:45 AM

      “call back the next day” – wowwww…

  4. Ms. Frugal Asian Finance August 21, 2017 at 7:25 AM

    Ahh this post speaks to me. I even wrote about my $350 credit card mistake. It was partly my fault and partly the bank rep’s negligence. But it still makes me so upset when I think about it. I stopped using my credit card for 4-5 years. Now I use it cautiously to earn rewards and build my credit history. It’s been working out well so far.

    1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 9:46 AM

      4-5 years with no card – that’s impressive! I probably wouldn’t have gone back if I was a-okay without them :)

  5. Mr. Freaky Frugal August 21, 2017 at 7:39 AM

    Mrs. FF and I always pay our rewards credit cards – the only ones we have – each month. We always set up automatic payment for each card so we won’t be late.

    A couple of years ago, there was one automatic card payment that I accidentally deleted. That was painful with the interest and penalties as you describe. I should have taken your advice and called the credit card company to beg for mercy. I didn’t do that but it did teach me to be hyper vigilant now. :)

    1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 9:47 AM

      Smart with auto-payments. For some reason I get joy out of manually logging in and paying them off each month :) I guess cuz it helps me stay accountable and forces me to double check stuff before paying off.

  6. My Sons Father August 21, 2017 at 7:42 AM

    Unfortunately, I had to learn the sneaky nature of credit card companies the hard way when I was in my early to mid 20’s. I cleaned up my mess and went over a decade without any credit cards. I recently got a new card to try my hand at travel hacking, but I’m not sure I’ll keep it. As Dave Ramsey says, if you play with a snake long enough, you’ll eventually get bit.

    1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 9:53 AM

      Haha true that.

    2. super August 21, 2017 at 10:29 AM

      Dave Ramsay is awesome for the emotional motivation and system for paying off debt, but he can be pretty black-and-white without need. Credit cards aren’t like snakes that will eventually bite you, they’re more like horses – they are functional, carry you where you need, but you have to care for them regularly, and they’ll bite or kick you if you get careless. But getting bit by a horse is a painful lesson rather than deadly.

      You know what’s a snake that will bite you? Gambling. There’s no good way to win, it will destroy you eventually, and even if you find a way to count cards, the house has shady criminals who will break your knees.

      1. Richard Ryan August 21, 2017 at 2:44 PM

        “Dave Ramsay is awesome for the emotional motivation and system for paying off debt, but he can be pretty black-and-white without need. Credit cards aren’t like snakes that will eventually bite you …”


        While I think DR is great for card-a-holics who are drowning in debt, his one-size-fits-all anti-card hysteria is just that — irrational fear.

        Yeah, I could cut my hand off misusing my chainsaw, but that means I probably should not have had a chainsaw. I doesn’t mean no one should have a chain saw.

        Credit cards are tools, no more, no less. They can be used properly or improperly.

        1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 2:53 PM

          So let me get this straight….

          We should be avoiding the snakes by riding a horse while jugging chainsaws? ;)

  7. Mrs. Adventure Rich August 21, 2017 at 7:58 AM

    Sheesh, 30% + $38, that’s insane! While we have kept a perfect record with our credit cards since getting married, Mr. AR had some credit card debt from before we met (that we subsequently paid off like our life depended on it!). I don’t think it ever hit close to the numbers here though!

  8. Kelly August 21, 2017 at 7:58 AM

    I/we too are working our way out of debt.. & yes, you get a card paid off & it seems such an “easy fix” to put $$ onto “IT” to help pay another off sooner but there are even MORE hidden fees on balance transfers..E..V..I..L.. sigh… no easy fixes RIGHT??

    1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 9:54 AM

      Heart and hustle are the only things you can count on :)

  9. Leo T. Ly August 21, 2017 at 8:24 AM

    I couple of weeks ago, I paid my credit card bill on time, but I missed the full payment by a penny. It must have been a typo on my part. So I called up my card company and explained because I did not want a penny to cost me tens of dollars. I was relieved that the customer service rep was nice enough to waive the fee for me. Always start the conversation nicely when you are begging for forgiveness.

    1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 9:59 AM

      Daaaaang…. for ONE PENNY! Good job not only catching it, but then taking the time to ask for forgiveness!

  10. Paul August 21, 2017 at 8:37 AM

    I have the old version of the blue cash, the one without an annual fee. However, idk if its just me but my AMEX seems to be accepted at fewer stores as time goes on (Maybe its just where I shop). The Costco switch to Visa was a huge kick right in the grundel as I had to get a VISA card to shop there or worse…. not have a Costco membership…

    Also, beware of 12 months no interest. It tempts you into making minimum payments and then 11 months later you realize all that back interest is coming to get you.

    1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 10:00 AM

      That’s the same Amex card I have – Blue w/ no fees (I only use it for Business – my personal card is with USAA)

      1. Paul August 21, 2017 at 2:07 PM

        I would love to have USAA. Technically we are eligible BUT my wife’s dad is convinced state farm is giving him the best rate and refuses to call USAA…. I tried to get him to join once and he wouldn’t hear of it. I guess he hates saving money. If I could just get him to call and get a quote I’m sure he would switch. Then we could join….

        1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 2:54 PM

          ACK! Tell him to just sign up for a savings account or any of the other billion accounts they offer, then once you’re in liquidate it :) Better yet – give him $100 to put in it to motivate him! haha…

  11. Rose August 21, 2017 at 8:48 AM

    Yup, I noticed those penalties are creeping up, I also saw one card that stated if I was late on not just their card, but a different credit card, they had the right to raise the APR on theirs. WTH?

    I remember the days of mailing in your credit card payment or calling at the last minute and pay an extra charge to pay via phone. Today – technology and auto pay are my friend and protector:)

    All my cards are set up to auto pay the minimum each month, just in case I ever forget or am unable to pay on time. I’ve become hyper vigilant, changed all my due dates to the third of the month.

    1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 10:03 AM

      “if I was late on not just their card, but a different credit card, they had the right to raise the APR on theirs. ”

      WHA??? That’s super crazy! I guess they could access that info from credit check stuff?

  12. Mr Crazy Kicks August 21, 2017 at 9:07 AM

    Wow, playing rough! I’ve screwed up a couple times missing my payment. Each time I was able to get them to drop the penalty with a quick call :)

    Even if I didn’t get the one or two penalties wiaved, I wouldn’t mind paying it too much considering how many rewards and free flights I’ve reaped. Not to mention it was my fault for forgetting :)

    1. PaulM August 21, 2017 at 9:30 AM

      I’m more worried about whether a missed payment penalty triggers an alert that may affect your credit score. Does anyone know if this happens?

      1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 10:03 AM

        Good question! I feel like it has to happen a cple times for anything to trigger, but totally making that up…

      2. beth August 25, 2017 at 11:47 AM

        I think the trigger doesn’t happen until you are at least 30 days late. I’ve accidentally been a day or two late before (which is the reason I now only use cards with the autopay feature) and never had any hits to my credit. They only time I had a hit for late payment was when circumstances got crazy and I missed a payment for a whole month. That one hit my credit score by about 40 points!

        1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 2:28 PM

          Ouch! But sounds about right w/ the lateness…

  13. Mrs. Picky Pincher August 21, 2017 at 9:33 AM

    Yesssss, read those credit card packets like you’re selling away your soul! And always pay attention when a bank says they’ve made an update or change to your agreement. That’s how you end up with “penalty APRs” and other weird crap. Hopefully people are at least paying the minimums, but if you have a tough month, these policy changes could ruin you!

  14. ZJ Thorne August 21, 2017 at 9:37 AM

    That jump to 29% is bonkers! I’m with you in seeing less and less good customer service in the past 6 months unless I’m shopping locally. It’s weird. Just like it’s weird that companies’ bottom lines are so great and unemployment is so low, but wages have stagnated. Not everyone is benefiting right now.

  15. Dads Dollars Debts August 21, 2017 at 10:15 AM

    I just started auto-payments for my credit card 2 months ago. It is kind of weird because I am used to paying it off on day one of my cycle. Now the auto-payment is set for the last due date. Throughout the month I check my account and see the balance being twice as high as it used to be and wonder why we are spending so much. Then my brain reminds me it is just that we have yet to pay last months bill down….still a bit nerve racking for 5 seconds.

    1. New Father Finance August 21, 2017 at 12:40 PM

      I had the same reaction when I went from paying my CC during my normal month-end finance cycle to automatic payment. I had been so used to seeing $0 balances that having a ~$500-$1000 balance even after the payment just felt wrong. However, I always keep enough money in my checking account to pay off the entire balance if I have to. It made the idea of paying on the last day less nerve-wracking.

      1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 2:55 PM

        I would totally freak too haha… I wonder if you could set up double monthly payments automatically or something?

  16. Chris @ Duke of Dollars August 21, 2017 at 11:30 AM


    I love taking advantage and getting free money from credit card companies, so like you, it hasn’t been an issue ever for me either. I will definitely keep this in mind when friends or family ask me about credit cards in the future.

    30% still defies my perception of credit card companies. I knew they could be bad, but that is evil!

  17. Mr. Tako August 21, 2017 at 11:38 AM

    Credit cards are kindof like making a deal with the devil — if you screw up it’s going to hurt. Most assuredly, everyone is going to screw up sooner or later!

    I used to be 100% anti-credit cards, but I’ve come around in recent years as the sign-up rewards have gotten better.

    Now, I occasionally dance with the devil in the pale moonlight.

    1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 2:59 PM

      It’s fun to get a little naughty at times ;)

  18. Mrs. BITA August 21, 2017 at 12:44 PM

    Automatic payments all the way: fight the beast with technology. We churn credit cards, and once you have a certain number, the only way to stay on top of it all is to not rely on yourself to consistently get it right.

  19. O August 21, 2017 at 12:54 PM

    Nice catch, that’s a pretty crazy penalty :O Something else I learned of within the past year that everyone should also watch out for – apparently if you use your cash back mechanism to get (positive) credit toward your credit card balance, and then pay the rest via checking account or whatever, the bank can definitely get pissed at you JUST for using two separate payments to pay it off. Fortunately it was a tiny amount of cash back so the minimum payment absolutely went through, but I got billed for the amount of interest charged on the amount ($75ish?) that I paid using my cash back ‘points’ – and even after spending 2-3 days on the phone with them, they would not refund me the 50 cents or so they charged. I was angry but of course, this is all legal too…
    Anyway, moral of the story – pay your credit card in one lump sum payment coming from your checking account or whatever – and redeem any cash back into there, before you apply it to paying off the credit card. Ridiculous how this thing that should have been so simple ended up costing me. It’s just some cents, so I gave up on the issue after arguing with multiple people on the phone about it, but I am still angry. :(

    1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 3:01 PM

      Weird! Can’t say I’ve heard of that one before?

  20. A dime at a Time August 21, 2017 at 1:02 PM

    Wow. I, too, had no idea rates went that high. I did 21-month interest-free balance transfer just a few days ago to help the push in getting my credit cards paid off. Paying these things off is a battle, and all these new penalties make it all the more challenging.

  21. Lily @ The Frugal Gene August 21, 2017 at 2:44 PM

    I loveeeee all my plastics. But I don’t have to deal with them as my husband sets it on auto. This is all awesome advice, CC hacking can be very rewarding if done right and a total pain in the butt if done wrong. Discounted meals in this world are hard to come by so I’ll still sign on the devil’s dotted line. Cause I know we’re responsible Financial Angels.

  22. Nevada Smith August 21, 2017 at 2:49 PM

    I try to be responsible with my credit cards. Today, I have just 1 with a balance. After I pay it off, I think I’ll just be using my debit cards & join the 100% anti-credit card club.

    All the best,

    1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 3:01 PM

      Rock on! No shame in that!

  23. Jeff @ MaximumCents August 21, 2017 at 4:19 PM

    Not really a big If you happen to mess up. You can usually call the card company and get the fee reversed. Also the 29% APR is for the whole year. If you catch the mistake after one week that’s only 0.56%.

    You should change your #1 to pay off the card in full each month. There’s no reason to pay the minimum and a 25% standard APR. If you have to pay the minimum you can’t afford what you bought and should cancel your cards.

    1. J. Money August 22, 2017 at 8:20 AM

      Agreed on the latter, however you still need to pay off the cards before you can cancel them so I still like the #1 tip of at least paying the minimum so you don’t screw yourself even more :)

      Great point on the APR stuff though – I always get confused about that, and I’m a $$$ blogger!

  24. Bernd August 21, 2017 at 5:49 PM

    I am curious why you would pay your bills manually and risk forgetting them? I have a checking/giro account for my income and all my credit card bills are usually taken from this account via “Lastschrift”/direct debit. Is that uncommon to do? All the checking accounts I know have way lower credit fees than credit card companies.

    kind regards,

    1. J. Money August 22, 2017 at 8:22 AM

      I pay most my bills automatically, but for credit cards and rent I like to manually pay to a) make it sting a little and b) force myself to pay attention to all the transactions every month (as far as the credit card anyways). It’s probably a smart move to at least automate the “minimum payment” portion of it, but don’t want to tempt myself to forget or get lazy and not go back to pay in full as well as go over all the transactions for the month :)

  25. Working Optional August 21, 2017 at 6:39 PM

    I ended up putting some of my card payments on “auto-pay”, just easier that way.

    Also, have had luck with Chase in getting late fees rolled back – in the rare cases that my online bill pay arrived a day later or I completely forgot to make the payment.

  26. MyMoneyDesign August 21, 2017 at 7:19 PM

    Fees?? Ain’t that some B.S.!

    Oh well. If you tally up all the free points / miles / travel I’ve been awarded this year from credit card hustling, those penalties wouldn’t even come close. I’m sure its the same for you.

    They may have won the battle, but we will win the WAR!

    1. J. Money August 22, 2017 at 8:23 AM

      Haha… I’m pretty sure they’re winning the war overall, but a select few of us in the population are indeed crushing them ;)

  27. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life August 22, 2017 at 12:34 PM

    What is THAT, AmEx?? I have always had stellar service from them and that’s why I decided to stick with them for all our home reno costs which runs into the many thousands. If I had any issues with products or refunds or anything, I knew they’d take care of me and they already have, more than once without more than a 2 minute claim form (

    I definitely make more money from them than I pay them. I pay no interest and just an annual fee which I make back 5x over every year, BUT they aren’t losing money on me technically, they still get the fees they’re paid from the merchants. And in the meantime, there are always competitors, which I think they know, especially in the premium card range, like my new beloved Chase Sapphire Reserve card ;)

    1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 7:41 AM

      Haha yeah – I hear that Sapphire card is good! Always coming up in our research and loved by bloggers :)

  28. JoeTaxpayer August 22, 2017 at 12:42 PM

    I have 2 cards I use regularly (no, the 10% card is on ice, no deals since, but I still drool at the idea it may turn up again from another bank) and decided my best bet was to add a monthly payment to my bill-pay settings on my regular checking account. It’s just a safeguard that if I ever messed up, I’d have a month’s interest, but no risk of penalty, extra fee, public humiliation, etc.

    1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 7:42 AM

      Gotta watch out for that public humiliation! haha

  29. Joe August 22, 2017 at 1:16 PM

    I haven’t slipped up in about 3 years now. Last time, I called right away and they remove the charge.
    I think they usually forgive a mistake once per year. Now, I have “pay credit card” on my Google calendar.

  30. Belle August 22, 2017 at 3:56 PM

    I laughed out loud wayyyyyy too hard @ your “The credit card game is getting real out there, fam. Watch them backs.”

    I, too, have a AMEX, & I’m on the fence of saying GOODBYE. That annual fee is… PAINFUL. Looking for something else.

    1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 7:44 AM

      Glad you liked my realness ;)

      My Amex card doesn’t come with an annual fee, but it also doesn’t come w/ all the fancy perks either like yours and other mentions of it here. No shame in keeping your eyes open for better ones!

  31. Josh August 22, 2017 at 10:06 PM

    I like to cash in my discover rewards dollars for restaurant gift cards. I took some friends out to eat once on their dime, and I got to thinking, “this meal was funded by those that can’t or don’t pay their bills in full every month.” It’s a little like Robin Hood, but in reverse!

    1. JoeTaxpayer August 23, 2017 at 8:04 AM

      Josh – that’s a fun way to trick yourself into saving money to splurge. No big deal, I don’t mind picking up the tab for friends either.
      For the last 18 years, my rewards have funded a 529 college saving account, the balance is now over $36K, enough to fund over a year at the average school. It adds up fast.

      1. J. Money August 25, 2017 at 7:45 AM

        Daaaayum Joe – that’s incredible!

  32. The Side Gig Guru August 23, 2017 at 2:42 PM

    I recently ‘caught’ a clause in a potential credit card that said if you’re late, even one day, on payments twice then they jack up the APR. I’m forgetful, so thank God I caught it ;)