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Card Issuers Offer Perks to Borrowers

By Ron SchererStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 21, 1996



NEW YORK

Don't pay off that credit card bill! Just keep paying those wallet-squeezing 18.65 percent interest rates.

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At least that's the message that comes from the issuers of the Ford Citibank Card. They are running a contest that is offering prizes, including a $35,000 vehicle for card members who carry over balances.

Although it's not necessary to carry over a balance, it increases your odds of winning. Every $100 of your monthly total balance gets translated into one entry into the contest. But, if you carry over a balance that doubles the number of entries. "Let's say you spent $200 this month, and carried over a $300 balance. For a total balance of $500. Instead of 5 entries, you'd have a total of 10 entries," says the Ford Citibank brochure stuffed into recent statements.

Consumer advocates believe the Ford Citibank program is a bad tactic - from the consumer's point of view. "We have been critical of each of the programs that encourages consumers to carry debt at a time when so many people cannot handle the debt they have - add Ford to the list of issuers practicing irresponsible business marketing tactics," says Ruth Susswein, executive director of the Bankcard Holders of America, a nonprofit group in Washington.

Aside from Ford Citibank, other card issuers that are trying to encourage consumers not to pay off their balances include Citibank, which offers a lower interest rate for balances over $2,500, Chase, with a similar offer, and Fleet Bank.

Joy Wolfe, a spokeswoman for Ford Motor Company says, "We would not support anything that was negative from the standpoint of a responsible consumer."

Citibank says the contest is a marketing tool to try to keep consumers from transferring their balances to other issuers. "We want customers to spend within their means, but it's up to each person to decide if they want to pay in full," says Maria Mendler, a spokeswoman for the bank.