Consumers will pay more for credit in the weeks ahead despite the softening of federal credit controls. Monthly payments on some charge accounts will be bigger. Interest rates on others will be higher. And membership fees for some cards will increase.
That was the message yesterday from officials for Sears, Roebuck and Co., Montgomery Ward and other major companies that were asked to explain how they will respond to the latest Federal Reserve Board action.
The board, faced with signs of a worsening recession, took steps Thursday to cut in half the impact of controls that were imposed on March 14.
But credit officials said that the cost of complying with government rules initially and the continuation of a portion of those rules prevents them from returning to their lower payment schedules.
Moreover, "with some controls still there, the intent is still there to keep consumer credit spending at a reasonable level," said Jackie Bitowt, a Sears spokesman. "We are just trying to stay within that level," she said.
But consumer officials promptly criticized the reasons given by the companies. "They took advantage of a credit squeeze on consumers to apply new procedures that are for their own interest," said Sandra Willett, executive vice president of the Natinal Consumers League.
She predicted that company plans to raise credit costs will further reduce consumer confidence in business and industry.
Credit card companies initially were told by the Federal Reserve to place 15 percent of any consumer credit increases in a noninterest-bearing account with the Fed. Under the new rules, they are required to deposit only 7.5 percent of the increases.
The federal action came just as some firms were notifying customers of payment changes made to conform to the 15 percent rule.
Major companies surveyed yesterday who said they are going forward as planned include:
Sears, the nation's largest retailer with 26 million charge accounts, will raise its monthly minimum payments after the completion of the July billing cycle. The increase will add $2 to existing payment requirements for customers in 46 states, including Maryland and Virginia. Payment plans will remain the same in California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Minnesota because of state regulations.
Montgomery Ward & Co., which has 18 million accounts, will increase interest rates July 1 in 12 states. They are Delaware, Kentucky, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Wisconsin and Arizona. The amount of the increases vary, depending on the state ceiling on interest rates.
American Express, which has 8 million accounts in the United States, will increase membership fees to $35 for cardholders renewing on or after July 1. The fee has been $25.
Cardholders aged 65 or older will continue to pay $25, however. Finance charges for the American Express installment plan for airplane tickets will increase to 18 percent annually, from the present 12 percent, beginning Aug. 1.
J.C. Penny, which has 16 million charge accounts, will continue to require a minimum purchase of $200 before customers qualify for its timed credit acounts for major purchases. In the past, the minimum purchase for that account was $19. No miminum is required, however, for charge purchases on the regular J.C. Penney account.
Many banks that issue Visa and Masterr Charge cards also placed higher charges on the heels of the credit controls. In states where membership fees are permitted such as California, some banks have announced plans to collect annual charges while others impose individual transaction fees.
In the Washington area, the First Virginia Bank sent out letters this week to 350,000 charge card holders notifying them of ann increase in the interest rates for cash advances. The bank has been charging 12 percent annually for advances; after July 1, the rate for new and old advances will be 15 percent.
Many Washington area retailers say they are not making any changes in their charge account interest rates or payment schedules. Woodward & Lothrop, for example, has been running advertisements to reassure customers that its credit prices and policies will remain the same.