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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Lender’s outrageous offer comes without hint of shyness

Judy Croft, of Spokane, has a stack of plastic, and the endless monthly statements that come with them.

She takes full responsibility for abusing her credit cards, numbering more than 10 and loaded with debt she does not even want to calculate.

But it did not take anything in the way of addition to tell the 65-year-old semi-retiree the latest card offer festering in her mailbox did not belong in her collection.

First Premier Bank mailed her a Platinum MasterCard with an initial credit limit of $300 – and a 79.9 percent annual interest rate.

No, the decimal point is not misplaced.

And that’s not all. The annual fee, deducted right up front so interest starts accumulating immediately, is $75. If her credit limit is raised, the bank takes 50 percent in fees.

Think about that for a moment. You are taking out a loan, the bank takes half, but you pay interest on the full amount.

Bill Hardekopf, chief executive of LowCards.com, an industry watchdog, says the First Premier offer has all the warning signs of a bad deal: high fees, high interest, and low credit limit.

“That is an amazing thing – that they will get any takers,” he says.

Since the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act was enacted in May, the industry has apparently lost all self-control in its efforts to wring every last cent out of consumer wallets before the law takes effect next year. Fees and interest rates have been raised, and cards canceled.

Just last week, Citibank customers trying to refuel their cars had their cards rejected. Citi had canceled co-branding agreements with several of the biggest oil companies. Many notices mailed to customers Monday were probably still in the mail when the cancellations took effect Wednesday.

Is there any question why Americans have come to revile the banking industry?

For Croft, the First Premier offer was the topper.

“Who’d want that card,” she asks. “I’d go down to the Food Bank and beg first.”

Croft is no beggar. At 65 years, she draws a Qwest pension and Social Security payments that add up to about $2,500 a month.

She says her bills got out of hand when her daughter needed rehabilitation for pain killer abuse. She’s back home, but Croft provides most of the care for her 5- and 10-year-old grandchildren, one of whom is autistic.

To supplement her income, she has been working two graveyard shifts a week in housekeeping at Northern Quest Casino. She added a third day last week.

Croft says the extra income will be applied to debt repayment. She, like millions of other card customers, started receiving notices that interest rates were going up almost as soon as the Credit Card Act was signed. To avoid the hikes, she agreed to have her cards canceled. She will repay balances due at the old rate.

So far, she says, three have been paid off. One charged the prime rate, plus 26 percent, or just over 30 percent interest. A bargain compared with First Premier.

There are many more to go.

“I’m wondering if I’ll live long enough to pay them all off,” says Croft. “Obviously, I’m not going to take any more.”

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