Many credit card companies will try to convince you to open an account by promising not to change your credit card rates. Unfortunately, this isn’t a promise they intend to keep.

A 2008 survey conducted by Consumer Action found, “77 percent of surveyed credit card issuers answered ‘Yes’ to the question ‘Can you increase my APR or change my terms any time for any reason?’ This includes all top ten issuers–even Citibank which pledges not to change a customer’s terms before the card’s expiration date.”

This survey was conducted from February 26-April 9, 2008. Consumer Action’s survey included 41 different credit cards from 22 financial institutions.

Four of the top ten credit card issuers said consumers’ credit card rates can change due to factors outside consumers’ control. Outside factors that may change credit card rates include “market conditions,” “the economy,” and “business strategies.”

Consumer Action is a non-profit consumer advocacy group based in San Francisco. Linda Sherry, Consumer Action’s director of national priorities, conducted the 2008 survey with assistance from Virginia Tech students. She says, “What this means to even the best customers is that a perfect payment history is not a safeguard.”

Basically, your credit card rates can change whenever the credit card companies feel like changing them.

In this year’s survey, ten institutions – or 45 percent – of the banks answered “yes” when asked, “Do you raise my interest rate because of my credit record with other credit cards or lenders?”

(Six of the top ten issuers – Chase, Citi, Discover, HSBC, US Bank and Washington Mutual – are included in this list.) That means that even if you pay on time every month, your credit card rates could go up based on your activities on another card.

The survey found several other factors that could cause credit card rates to increase. These factors included worsening credit scores, paying another company late, too many credit cards, default payments and several other factors.

Once your credit card rate goes up, how long does it take to return to the original credit card rate? According to the survey, “eight issuer reps could not provide an answer; four said no, you couldn’t return to the original credit card rate.”

Most issuers indicated the credit card rate could be lowered, but said it was necessary for the cardholder to call customer service and ask for an account review.

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