The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Thursday, May 19, 2022

How Credit Card Companies Calculate Your Minimum Payments

How Credit Card Companies Calculate Your Minimum Payments

credit card advice

Eric Bank

Written by: Eric Bank

Eric Bank

Eric Bank has been covering business and financial topics since 1985, specializing in taking complex subject matters and explaining them in simple terms for consumer audiences. In addition to his work on CardRates.com, Eric has appeared regularly on Credible.com, eHow, WiseBread, The Nest, Get.com, Zacks, Chron and dozens of other outlets. A former software engineer, Eric holds an M.B.A. from New York University and an M.S. in finance from DePaul University.

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Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian is a Content Editor who brings her journalism experience in business and consumer finance to ensure CardRates news articles and reports have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. Her primary goal is to assure editorial content meets the highest level of quality and precision.

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One of the first things you should consider when exploring new credit cards are their methods for calculating minimum payments because there are multiple techniques the credit card companies use.

The minimum payment is the amount you must fork over each month based upon your unpaid balance, interest and fees. The Credit CARD Act of 2009 created new rules regarding how issuers must report information about minimum payments.

Percentage Methods

Typically, credit card companies charge a percentage of the unpaid balance as the minimum payment. You’ll want to look in the card’s terms and conditions for this figure. For example, if you owe $1000 on a card with a 2.5 percent figure, that means you have to cough up a $25 minimum payment for the month.

Some of that payment will apply toward interest, and the rest will go to reducing your debt (in a very meager way). If you miss a payment, your issuer might raise your percentage and/or charge you a fee. The first late fee in a six-month period is capped at $25 by the CARD Act.

Interest Methods

Some credit card companies may figure your minimum payment only on the interest you owe. The interest rate is advertised up front as the card’s APR, or annual percentage rate.

Figure about 1/12 of that rate is your monthly interest charge. If you have a 12 percent APR and a $1,000 balance, you might only have to pay 1/12 of 12 percent, or 1 percent, equal to $10.

Note that this doesn’t pay down any of your principal, making the debt very expensive in the long run. Some cards tack on an additional amount, say another 1 percent, to ensure you are paying at least a little to reduce your balance.

If your card charges different interest rates on different activities (purchases, balance transfers, cash advances), the CARD Act requires that any money paid above the minimum must be applied to the highest-interest items first.

Fixed Minimums

Almost every issuer has an absolute minimum monthly payment amount. If your balance exceeds this amount, you will have to pay the absolute minimum, even if it’s more than what you’d owe under the methods already discussed.

The fixed minimum must be disclosed in the credit card’s terms and conditions, which you should read and understand before signing up for the card.

Effects of the CARD Act

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 made sweeping changes to the ways credit card issuers can behave and the information they must provide.

Obama Signing the Credit Card Act of 2009

President Obama signing the Credit CARD Act of 2009 into law on May 22, 2009.

Regarding minimum payments, the Act requires:

  • Issuers must disclose how long it will take you to pay off your balance if you make only minimum payments. You might find the answer shocking: measured in decades rather than years.
  • Issuers must disclose how much you’d have to pay each month to eliminate your balance in three years, including the interest costs.

Set Your Own Minimum

If you can only pay the minimum each month, then you are overextended and need to cut your spending, consolidate your debt or take other steps so you can pay more than the monthly minimum.

Set a target date to clear your current balance and make monthly payments accordingly. Otherwise, you might end up paying double or triple the prices of purchases because of interest and fees.

Image credits: credittipstoday.com, ausubel.com

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