Store purchases could punish credit holders

Published: Jul. 9, 2009 at 7:42 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2009 at 7:22 PM EDT
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(NBC) - What a person buys and where they buy it could have a devastating effect on a credit score.

A recent investigation found credit companies may be looking at where a cardholder is shopping and determine an interest rate from there.

Every time a customer pays in a thrift store or consignment shop or other discount store with a credit card, the credit card company may know about it, and some will use the information to punish the cardholder.

A government probe revealed some credit card companies have been tracking purchases in bargain stores to determine if customers may be in financial trouble and pose a credit risk.

That means shoppers, like Kelly Mawhinney, who likes to pick up used clothing for her family, could have her credit limit capped, interest rate raised or suffer a bad credit score.

"I think that's ridiculous. I mean we're all just being conservative about our spending, and I'm being conservative in the sense that I like to buy used things and reused things instead of buying brand new," Mawhinney said.

A great deal on jeans didn't sit well with Alisha Sumner when she learned her credit card purchase could hurt her credit score.

"I should be able to buy whatever I want whenever I want, and nobody should track that. Nobody should track that but my husband and I," Sumner said.

"The demand is up, but the donations are down," Salvation Army Maj. Jim Smith said.

The Salvation Army said card issuers have no business preying on their customers.

"It's discriminatory to me. These people are going to be suffering on both ends. Their dollar isn't going to be worth as much," Smith said.

"No. I don't think that's right," Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-FL, said.

Kosmas said a new credit card law signed by President Barack Obama in May will help crack down on banks.

"Some of their practices were inappropriate and now we've made them illegal," Kosmas said.

In the short term, consumer credit counselors said cardholders should ease up on credit purchases.

"Cash certainly is one way to get around having the eye of the creditor looking over your shoulder all the time," said Consumer Credit Counseling Service spokesman Richard Schram.

Mawhinney said she'll try to use case for bargain shopping to keep the bank off her back.

"I think they're penalizing the people who are working class, and that's not really fair," Mawhinney said.

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