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American Express

 

Benefits of Being an American Express Card Member

  • Save up to 25% on business expenses 
  • Get a fee-free first year – a savings of $125
  • Free Round Trip Domestic Airline Ticket
  • Earn points that can be used for vacations of your choice
  • Use points to redeem merchandise such as plasma TVs, ipods, and sports equipment

 

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The American Express Gold Business Credit Card is the flagship product of the American Express Company. As a card holder you can use the American Express Gold Business Credit Card to make purchases such as office supplies, travel costs, or any other business expenses. The American Express Gold Business Credit Card provides unequivocal quality and service. 


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Testimonials

"I like the fact that I can use the rewards points that I earned paying business expenses to go on free vacations."

-Dave C.

"I enjoy the great service and prestige that come with being a member of American Express. For example, last month I stayed in a five star hotel for FREE!"

-Ben M.

 

  

Do you own a business? Would you like to earn great rewards while paying for your business expenses? If this sounds like you, then the American Express Business Gold Rewards card is the card for you. This post covers the basic information about this card and why it is an ideal card for business owners.

American Express Business Gold Rewards Card: The Basics

  • $125 annual fee, waived the first year
  • Enrollment in Membership Rewards Program
  • No pre-set limit
  • Earn one point per dollar spent, with no expiration date or limit on points

The Most Rewarding Business Card

For business owners with good credit who pay off their balances each month, the Rewards Business Gold card cannot be beat. The Gold Rewards Card allows you to accumulate rewards points for each dollar you spend on the card. The American Express Rewards Program is renowned as one of the best in the business for its flexibility and tremendous selection of services and merchandise for which members may redeem their points.

Point Accumulation Made Easy

The Gold Rewards Card by American Express makes it easier than any other card to accumulate reward points. Aside from the points you can earn with your spending, the American Express Gold Rewards card for businesses allows you to earn additional points for your patronage of selected merchants. And, when you sign up for the card, you get 25,000 bonus points to redeem for a round-trip domestic airline ticket, 5,000 bonus points after your first purchase, 5,000 bonus points for hitting $20,000 in spending, 20,000 bonus points for reaching $50,000 in spending, and 10,000 bonus points for renewing the card for a year. In fact, if you spend an average of $5,000 per month, you could earn up to 100,000 bonus points in just the first year!

Other Perks

The benefits of having the Business Gold Rewards card even extend beyond the point redemption program. By being a cardholder, you can get discounts from American Express partners, including AT&T, Hertz, and FedEx. American Express also offers special services to cardholders, like auto rental insurance, purchase protection, emergency and travel assistance, and up to $100,000 in insurance against travel accidents.



Credit Cards


A credit card is a system of payment named after the small plastic card issued to users of the system. A credit card is different from a debit card in that it does not remove money from the user's account after every transaction. In the case of credit cards , the issuer lends money to the consumer (or the user) to be paid to the merchant. It is also different from a charge card (though this name is sometimes used by the public to describe credit cards), which requires the balance to be paid in full each month. In contrast, a credit card allows the consumer to 'revolve' their balance, at the cost of having interest charged. Most credit cards are the same shape and size, as specified by the ISO 7810 standard.

How credit cards work
An example of the front of a typical credit card :

   1. Issuing bank logo
   2. EMV chip
   3. Hologram
   4. Card number
   5. Card brand logo
   6. Expiry Date
   7. Cardholder's name

An example of the reverse side of a typical credit card :

   1. Magnetic Stripe
   2. Signature Strip
   3. Card Security Code

A user is issued credit after an account has been approved by the credit provider, and is given a credit card , with which the user will be able to make purchases from merchants accepting that credit card up to a pre-established credit limit. Often a general bank issues the credit , but sometimes a captive bank created to issue a particular brand of credit card , such as American Express , Chase, Wells Fargo or Bank of America issues the credit.

When a purchase is made, the credit card user agrees to pay the card issuer. The cardholder indicates their consent to pay, by signing a receipt with a record of the card details and indicating the amount to be paid or by entering a Personal identification number (PIN). Also, many merchants now accept verbal authorizations via telephone and electronic authorization using the Internet, known as a Card not present (CNP) transaction.

Electronic verification systems allow merchants to verify that the card is valid and the credit card customer has sufficient credit to cover the purchase in a few seconds, allowing the verification to happen at time of purchase. The verification is performed using a credit card payment terminal or Point of Sale (POS) system with a communications link to the merchant's acquiring bank. Data from the card is obtained from a magnetic stripe or chip on the card; the latter system is in the United Kingdom commonly known as Chip and PIN, but is more technically an EMV card.

Other variations of verification systems are used by eCommerce merchants to determine if the user's account is valid and able to accept the charge. These will typically involve the cardholder providing additional information, such as the security code printed on the back of the card, or the address of the cardholder.

Each month, the credit card user is sent a statement indicating the purchases undertaken with the card, any outstanding fees, and the total amount owed. After receiving the statement, the cardholder may dispute any charges that he or she thinks are incorrect (see Fair Credit Billing Act for details of the US regulations). Otherwise, the cardholder must pay a defined minimum proportion of the bill by a due date, or may choose to pay a higher amount up to the entire amount owed. The credit provider charges interest on the amount owed (typically at a much higher rate than most other forms of debt). Some financial institutions can arrange for automatic payments to be deducted from the user's bank accounts.

Credit card issuers usually waive interest charges if the balance is paid in full each month, but typically will charge full interest on the entire outstanding balance from the date of each purchase if the total balance is not paid.

For example, if a user had a $1,000 outstanding balance and pays it in full, there would be no interest charged. If, however, even $1.00 of the total balance remained unpaid, interest would be charged on the $1,000 from the date of purchase until the payment is received. The precise manner in which interest is charged is usually detailed in a cardholder agreement which may be summarized on the back of the monthly statement. The general calculation formula most financial institutions use to determine the amount of interest to be charged is APR/100 x ADB/365 x number of days revolved. Take the Annual percentage rate (APR) and divide by 100 then multiply to the amount of the average daily balance divided by 365 and then take this total and multiply by the total number of days the amount revolved before payment was made on the account. Financial institutions refer to interest charged back to the original time of the transaction and up to the time a payment was made, if not in full, as RRFC or residual retail finance charge. Thus after an amount has revolved and a payment has been made that the user of the card will still receive interest charges on their statement after paying the next statement in full (in fact the statement may only have a charge for interest that collected up until the date the full balance was paid...i.e. when the balance stopped revolving).[1]

The credit card may simply serve as a form of revolving credit, or it may become a complicated financial instrument with multiple balance segments each at a different interest rate, possibly with a single umbrella credit limit, or with separate credit limits applicable to the various balance segments. Usually this compartmentalization is the result of special incentive offers from the issuing bank, either to encourage balance transfers from cards of other issuers, or to encourage more spending on the part of the customer. In the event that several interest rates apply to various balance segments, payment allocation is generally at the discretion of the issuing bank, and payments will therefore usually be allocated towards the lowest rate balances until paid in full before any money is paid towards higher rate balances. Interest rates can vary considerably from card to card, and the interest rate on a particular card may jump dramatically if the card user is late with a payment on that card or any other credit instrument, or even if the issuing bank decides to raise its revenue. As the rates and terms vary, services have been set up allowing users to calculate savings available by switching cards, which can be considerable if there is a large outstanding balance (see external links for some on-line services).

Because of intense competition in the credit card industry, credit providers often offer incentives such as frequent flyer points, gift certificates, or cash back (typically up to 1 percent based on total purchases) to try to attract customers to their program.

Low interest credit cards or even 0% interest credit cards are available. The only downside to consumers is that the period of low interest credit cards is limited to a fixed term, usually between 6 and 12 months after which a higher rate is charged. However, services are available which alert credit card holders when their low interest period is due to expire. Most such services charge a monthly or annual fee.

 Grace period

A credit card's grace period is the time the customer has to pay the balance before interest is charged to the balance. Grace periods vary, but usually range from 20 to 30 days depending on the type of credit card and the issuing bank. Some policies allow for reinstatement after certain conditions are met. Usually, if a customer is late paying the balance, finance charges will be calculated and the grace period does not apply. Finance charge(s) incurred depends on the grace period and balance, with most credit cards there is no grace period if there's any outstanding balance from the previous billing cycle or statement (ie. interest is applied on both the previous balance and new transactions). However, there are some credit cards that will only apply finance charge on the previous or old balance, excluding new transactions.

The merchant's side
An example of street markets accepting credit cards

For merchants, a credit card transaction is often more secure than other forms of payment, such as checks, because the issuing bank commits to pay the merchant the moment the transaction is authorized, regardless of whether the consumer defaults on their credit card payment (except for legitimate disputes, which are discussed below, and can result in charge backs to the merchant). In most cases, cards are even more secure than cash, because they discourage theft by the merchant's employees.

For each purchase, the bank charges a commission (discount fee), to the merchant for this service and there may be a certain delay before the agreed payment is received by the merchant. The commission is often a percentage of the transaction amount, plus a fixed fee. In addition, a merchant may be penalized or have their ability to receive payment using that credit card restricted if there are too many cancellations or reversals of charges as a result of disputes. Some small merchants require credit purchases to have a minimum amount (usually between $5 and $10) to compensate for the transaction costs, though this is not always allowed by the credit card consortium.

In some countries, like the Nordic countries, banks guarantee payment on stolen cards only if an ID card is checked and the ID card number/civic registration number is written down on the receipt together with the signature. In these countries merchants therefore usually ask for ID. Non-Nordic citizens, who are unlikely to possess a Nordic ID card or driving license, will instead have to show their passport, and the passport number will be written down on the receipt, sometimes together with other information. Some shops use the card's PIN code for identification, and in that case showing an ID card is not necessary.

 Parties involved

     Cardholder: The owner of the card used to make a purchase; the consumer.
     Card-issuing bank: The financial institution or other organization that issued the credit card to the cardholder. This bank bills the consumer for repayment and bears the risk that the card is used fraudulently. American Express and Discover were previously the only card-issuing banks for their respective brands, but as of 2007, this is no longer the case.
     Merchant: The individual or business accepting credit card payments for products or services sold to the cardholder
     Acquiring bank: The financial institution accepting payment for the products or services on behalf of the merchant.
     Independent sales organization: Resellers (to merchants) of the services of the acquiring bank.
     Merchant account provider: This could refer to the acquiring bank or the independent sales organization, but in general is the organization that the merchant deals with.
     Credit Card association: An association of card-issuing banks such as Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, etc. that set transaction terms for merchants, card-issuing banks, and acquiring banks.
     Transaction network: The system that implements the mechanics of the electronic transactions. May be operated by an independent company, and one company may operate multiple networks. Transaction processing networks include: Cardnet, Nabanco, Omaha, Paymentech, NDC Atlanta, Nova, Vital, Concord EFSnet, and VisaNet.[2]
     Affinity partner: Some institutions lend their name to an issuer to attract customers that have a strong relationship with that institution, and get paid a fee or a percentage of the balance for each card issued using their name. Examples of typical affinity partners are sports teams, universities and charities.

The flow of information and money between these parties — always through the card associations — is known as the interchange, and it consists of a few steps.

Transaction steps

Authorization: In the event of a chargeback (when there's an error in processing the transaction or the cardholder disputes the transaction), the issuer returns the transaction to the acquirer for resolution. The acquirer then forwards the chargeback to the merchant, who must either accept the chargeback or contest it.

Secured credit cards

A secured credit card is a type of credit card secured by a deposit account owned by the cardholder. Typically, the cardholder must deposit between 100% and 200% of the total amount of credit desired. Thus if the cardholder puts down $1000, he or she will be given credit in the range of $500–$1000. In some cases, credit card issuers will offer incentives even on their secured card portfolios. In these cases, the deposit required may be significantly less than the required credit limit, and can be as low as 10% of the desired credit limit. This deposit is held in a special savings account. Credit card issuers offer this as they have noticed that delinquencies were notably reduced when the customer perceives he has something to lose if he doesn't repay his balance.

The cardholder of a secured credit card is still expected to make regular payments, as he or she would with a regular credit card, but should he or she default on a payment, the card issuer has the option of recovering the cost of the purchases paid to the merchants out of the deposit. The advantage of the secured card for an individual with negative or no credit history is that most companies report regularly to the major credit bureaus. This allows for building of positive credit history.

Although the deposit is in the hands of the credit card issuer as security in the event of default by the consumer, the deposit will not be debited simply for missing one or two payments. Usually the deposit is only used as an offset when the account is closed, either at the request of the customer or due to severe delinquency (150 to 180 days). This means that an account which is less than 150 days delinquent will continue to accrue interest and fees, and could result in a balance which is much higher than the actual credit limit on the card. In these cases the total debt may far exceed the original deposit and the cardholder not only forfeits their deposit but is left with an additional debt.

Most of these conditions are usually described in a cardholder agreement which the cardholder signs when their account is opened.

Secured credit cards are an option to allow a person with a poor credit history or no credit history to have a credit card which might not otherwise be available. They are often offered as a means of rebuilding one's credit. Secured credit cards are available with both Visa and MasterCard logos on them. Fees and service charges for secured credit cards often exceed those charged for ordinary non-secured credit cards, however, for people in certain situations, (for example, after charging off on other credit cards, or people with a long history of delinquency on various forms of debt), secured cards can often be less expensive in total cost than unsecured credit cards, even including the security deposit.

Sometimes a credit card will be secured by the equity in the borrower's home.[3][4] This is called a home equity line of credit (HELOC).

Prepaid credit cards

A prepaid credit card is not really a credit card, as no credit is offered by the card issuer: the card-holder spends money which has been "stored" via a prior deposit by the card-holder or someone else, such as a parent or employer. However, it carries a credit-card brand (Visa or MasterCard) and can be used in similar ways. As more consumers require a suitable solution to rebuilding credit, recent changes have allowed some credit card companies to offer pre-paid credit cards to help rebuild credit. They are hard to find and have higher APR fees and higher interest costs.

After purchasing the card, the cardholder loads it with any amount of money and then uses the card to spend the money. Prepaid cards can be issued to minors since there is no credit line involved. The main advantage over secured credit cards is that you are not required to come up with $500 or more to open an account. Also most secured credit cards still charge you interest even though you are not actually "borrowing" any money. With prepaid credit cards you are not charged any interest but you are often charged monthly fees after an arbitrary time period. Many other fees also usually apply to a prepaid card.[5]

Prepaid credit cards are often marketed to teenagers for shopping online without having their parents complete the transaction.

Because of the many fees that apply to obtaining and using credit-card-branded prepaid cards, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada describes them as "an expensive way to spend your own money"[6]. The agency publishes a booklet, "Pre-paid cards"[7], which explains the advantages and disadvantages of this type of prepaid card.

Features

As well as convenient, accessible credit, credit cards offer consumers an easy way to track expenses, which is necessary for both monitoring personal expenditures and the tracking of work-related expenses for taxation and reimbursement purposes. Credit cards are accepted worldwide, and are available with a large variety of credit limits, repayment arrangement, and other perks (such as rewards schemes in which points earned by purchasing goods with the card can be redeemed for further goods and services or credit card cashback).

Some countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, limit the amount for which a consumer can be held liable due to fraudulent transactions as a result of a consumer's credit card being lost or stolen.

Security

A smart card, combining credit card and debit card properties. The 3 by 5 mm security chip embedded in the card is shown enlarged in the inset. The gold contact pads on the card enable electronic access to the chip.

The low security of the credit card system presents countless opportunities for fraud. This opportunity has created a huge black market in stolen credit card numbers, which are generally used quickly before the cards are reported stolen.

The goal of the credit card companies is not to eliminate fraud, but to "reduce it to manageable levels"[8], such that the total cost of both fraud and fraud prevention is minimized[citation needed]. This implies that high-cost low-return fraud prevention measures will not be used if their cost exceeds the potential gains from fraud reduction.

Most internet fraud is done through the use of stolen credit card information which is obtained in many ways, the simplest being copying information from retailers, either online or offline. Despite efforts to improve security for remote purchases using credit cards, systems with security holes are usually the result of poor implementations of card acquisition by merchants. For example, a website that uses SSL to encrypt card numbers from a client may simply email the number from the webserver to someone who manually processes the card details at a card terminal. Naturally, anywhere card details become human-readable before being processed at the acquiring bank, a security risk is created. However, many banks offer systems where encrypted card details captured on a merchant's webserver can be sent directly to the payment processor.

Controlled Payment Numbers are another option for protecting one's credit card number: they are "alias" numbers linked to one's actual card number, generated as needed, valid for a relatively short time, with a very low limit, and typically only valid with a single merchant.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Postal Inspection Service are responsible for prosecuting criminals who engage in credit card fraud in the United States, but they do not have the resources to pursue all criminals. In general, federal officials only prosecute cases exceeding US $5000 in value. Three improvements to card security have been introduced to the more common credit card networks but none has proven to help reduce credit card fraud so far. First, the on-line verification system used by merchants is being enhanced to require a 4 digit Personal Identification Number (PIN) known only to the card holder. Second, the cards themselves are being replaced with similar-looking tamper-resistant smart cards which are intended to make forgery more difficult. The majority of smartcard (IC card) based credit cards comply with the EMV (Europay MasterCard Visa) standard. Third, an additional 3 or 4 digit code is now present on the back of most cards, for use in "card not present" transactions. See CVV2 for more information.

The way credit card owners pay off their balances has a tremendous effect on their credit history. All the information is collected by credit bureaus. The credit information stays on the credit report, depending on the jurisdiction and the situation, for 1, 2, 5, 7 or even 10 years after the debt is repaid.

Profits and losses

In recent times, credit card portfolios have been very profitable for banks, largely due to the booming economy of the late nineties. However, in the case of credit cards, such high returns go hand in hand with risk, since the business is essentially one of making unsecured (uncollateralized) loans, and thus dependent on borrowers not to default in large numbers.

Costs

Credit card issuers (banks) have several types of costs:

Interest expenses

Banks generally borrow the money they then lend to their customers. As they receive very low-interest loans from other firms, they may borrow as much as their customers require, while lending their capital to other borrowers at higher rates. If the card issuer charges 15% on money lent to users, and it costs 5% to borrow the money to lend, and the balance sits with the cardholder for a year, the issuer earns 10% on the loan. This 5% difference is the "interest expense" and the 10% is the "net interest spread".

Operating costs

This is the cost of running the credit card portfolio, including everything from paying the executives who run the company to printing the plastics, to mailing the statements, to running the computers that keep track of every cardholder's balance, to taking the many phone calls which cardholders place to their issuer, to protecting the customers from fraud rings. Depending on the issuer, marketing programs are also a significant portion of expenses.

Charge offs

When a consumer becomes severely delinquent on a debt (often at the point of six months without payment), the creditor may declare the debt to be a charge-off. It will then be listed as such on the debtor's credit bureau reports (Equifax, for instance, lists "R9" in the "status" column to denote a charge-off.) It is one of the worst possible items to have on your file. [citation needed] The item will include relevant dates, and the amount of the bad debt.[9]

A charge-off is considered to be "written off as uncollectable." To banks, bad debts and even fraud are simply part of the cost of doing business.

However, the debt is still legally valid, and the creditor can attempt to collect the full amount. This includes contacts from internal collections staff, or more likely, an outside collection agency. If the amount is large (generally over $1500 - $2000), there is the possibility of a lawsuit or arbitration.

In the US, as the charge off number climbs or becomes erratic, officials from the Federal Reserve take a close look at the finances of the bank and may impose various operating strictures on the bank, and in the most extreme cases, may close the bank entirely.

Rewards

Many credit card customers receive rewards, such as frequent flier points, gift certificates, or cash back as an incentive to use the card. Rewards are generally tied to purchasing an item or service on the card, which may or may not include balance transfers, cash advances, or other special uses. Depending on the type of card, rewards will generally cost the issuer between 0.25% and 2.0% of the spend. Networks like Visa or MasterCard have increased their fees to allow issuers to fund their rewards system. However, most rewards points are accrued as a liability on a company's balance sheet and expensed at the time of reward redemption. As a result, some issuers discourage redemption by forcing the cardholder to call customer service for rewards. On their servicing website, redeeming awards is usually a feature that is very well hidden by the issuers. Others encourage redemption for lower cost merchandise; instead of an airline ticket, which is very expensive to an issuer, the cardholder may be encouraged to redeem for a gift certificate instead. With a fractured and competitive environment, rewards points cut dramatically into an issuer's bottom line, and rewards points and related incentives must be carefully managed to ensure a profitable portfolio. There is a case to be made that rewards not redeemed should follow the same path as gift cards that are not used: in certain states the gift card breakage goes to the state's treasury. The same could happen to the value of points or cash not redeemed.

Fraud

Where a card is stolen, or an unauthorized duplicate made, most card issuers will refund some or all of the charges that the customer has received for things they did not buy. These refunds will, in some cases, be at the expense of the merchant, especially in mail order cases where the merchant cannot claim sight of the card. In several countries, merchants will lose the money if no ID card was asked for, therefore merchants usually require ID card in these countries.

The cost of fraud is high; in the UK in 2004 it was over £500 million.[10] Credit card companies generally guarantee the merchant will be paid on legitimate transactions regardless of whether the consumer pays their credit card bill.

"Soft fraud" is fraud committed by the customer himself: getting a card and using it with no intention ever to repay the balance. Such customers are called "diabolicals" by the credit card companies; they try to avoid them at all cost.

Security

An additional feature to secure the creditcard transaction and prohibit the use of a lost creditcard is the MobiClear solution. Each transaction is authenticated through a call to the user mobile phone. The transaction is released once the transaction has been confirmed by the cardholder pushing his/her pincode during the call.

Revenues

Offsetting costs are the following revenues:

Interchange fees

Interchange fees are charged by the merchant's acquirer to a card-accepting merchant as component of the so-called merchant discount rate (also referred to as "merchant service fee"). The merchant pays a merchant discount fee that is typically 2 to 3 percent (this is negotiated, but will vary not only from merchant to merchant, but also from card to card, with business cards and rewards cards generally costing the merchants more to process), which is why some merchants prefer cash, debit cards, or even cheques. The majority of this fee, called the interchange fee, goes to the issuing bank, but parts of it go to the processing network, the card association (American Express, Visa, MasterCard, etc.), and the merchant's acquirer. With a corporate card, the interchange is also often shared by the company in whose name the card is issued as an incentive to use that issuer's card instead of someone else's.

The interchange fee that applies to a particular merchant is a function of many variables including the type of merchant, the merchant's average transaction amount, whether the cards are physically present, if the card's magnetic stripe is read or if the transaction is hand-keyed or entered on a website, the specific type of card, when the transaction is settled, the authorized and settled transaction amounts, etc. For a typical credit card issuer, interchange fee revenues may represent about fifteen percent of total revenues, but this will vary greatly with the type of customers represented in their portfolio. Customers who carry high balances may generate low interchange revenue due to credit line limitations, while customers who use their cards for business and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on their cards while paying off balances every month will have very healthy interchange revenues.

Industry jargon for customer categories

Customers who do not pay in full the amount owed on their monthly statement (the "balance") by the due date (that is, at the end of the "grace period") and are not in a promotional period owe interest ("finance charges") are known in the industry as "revolvers." Those who pay in full (pay the entire balance) are known in the industry as "deadbeaters", "transactors," or "convenience users". Those that shift usage of their credit cards or transfer balances frequently are known in the industry as "rate surfers", "rate tarts" or "gamers."

Interest on outstanding balances

Interest charges vary widely from card issuer to card issuer. Often, there are "teaser" rates in effect for initial periods of time (as low as zero percent for, say, six months), whereas regular rates can be as high as 40 percent. In the U.S. there's no federal limit on the interest or late fees credit card issuers can charge; the interest rates are set by the states, with some states, like South Dakota, having no ceiling on interest rates and fees, inviting some banks to establish their credit card operations there. Other states, like Delaware, have very weak usury laws. The teaser rate no longer applies if the customer doesn't pay his bills on time, and is replaced by a penalty interest rate (for example, 24.99%) that applies retroactively. So customers should be wary of these offers, that usually contain some traps. Cash withdrawals will never carry the teaser rate, for example.

Note that some issuers will charge interest even if the balance was paid off in full by the due date. This practice is called double cycle billing, and is becoming rare in the industry.

Fees charged to customers

The major fees are for:

     Late payments
     Charges that result in exceeding the credit limit on the card (whether done deliberately or by mistake), called overlimit fees
     Returned cheque fees or payment processing fees (eg phone payment fee)
     Cash advances and convenience cheques (often 3% of the amount)[11]. Transactions in a foreign currency (as much as 3% of the amount). A few financial institutions do not charge a fee for this.
     Membership fees (annual or monthly), sometimes a percentage of the credit limit. Issuers love monthly fees as it allows them to charge substantial amounts without the customer realizing how expensive the charge really is (a monthly amount is perceived as half the price of the equivalent annual fee)[citation needed]
     Foreign Exchange Premium

Canada

The Government of Canada maintains a database of the fees, features, interest rates and reward programs of nearly 200 credit cards available in Canada. This database is updated on a quarterly basis with information supplied by the credit card issuing companies. Information in the database is published every quarter on the website of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC).

Information in the database is published in two formats. It is available in PDF comparison tables that break down the information according to type of credit card, allowing the reader to compare the features of, for example, all the student credit cards in the database.

The database also feeds into an interactive tool on the FCAC website. The interactive tool uses several interview-type questions to build a profile of the user's credit card usage habits and needs, eliminating unsuitable choices based on the profile, so that the user is presented with a small number of credit cards and the ability to carry out detailed comparisons of features, reward programs, interest rates, etc.

History

The credit card was the successor of a variety of merchant credit schemes. It was first used in the 1920s, in the United States, specifically to sell fuel to a growing number of automobile owners. In 1938 several companies started to accept each other's cards.

The concept of using a card for purchases was invented in 1887 by Edward Bellamy and described in his utopian novel Looking Backward. Bellamy uses the explicit term "Credit Card" eleven times in his novel (Chapters 9, 10, 11, 13, 25 and 26) and 3 times (Chapters 4, 8 and 19) in its sequel, Equality.

The concept of paying merchants using a card was invented in 1950 by Ralph Schneider and Frank X. McNamara in order to consolidate multiple cards. The Diners Club, which was created partially through a merger with Dine and Sign, produced the first "general purpose" charge card, which is similar but required the entire bill to be paid with each statement; it was followed shortly thereafter by American Express and Carte Blanche. Western Union had begun issuing charge cards to its frequent customers in 1914.

Bank of America created the BankAmericard in 1958, a product which eventually evolved into the Visa system ("Chargex" also became Visa). MasterCard came to being in 1966 when a group of credit-issuing banks established MasterCharge. The fractured nature of the US banking system meant that credit cards became an effective way for those who were travelling around the country to move their credit to places where they could not directly use their banking facilities. In 1966 Barclaycard in the UK launched the first credit card outside of the US.

There are now countless variations on the basic concept of revolving credit for individuals (as issued by banks and honored by a network of financial institutions), including organization-branded credit cards, corporate-user credit cards, store cards and so on.

In contrast, although having reached very high adoption levels in the US, Canada and the UK, it is important to note that many cultures were much more cash-oriented in the latter half of the twentieth century, or had developed alternative forms of cash-less payments, like Carte bleue, or the EC-card (Germany, France, Switzerland, among many others). In these places, the take-up of credit cards was initially much slower. It took until the 1990s to reach anything like the percentage market-penetration levels achieved in the US, Canada or UK. In many countries acceptance still remains poor as the use of a credit card system depends on the banking system being perceived as reliable.

In contrast, because of the legislative framework surrounding banking system overdrafts, some countries, France in particular, were much faster to develop and adopt chip-based credit cards which are now seen as major anti-fraud credit devices.

The design of the credit card itself has become a major selling point in recent years. The value of the card to the issuer being related to the Customer's usage of the card. This has led to the rise of Co-Brand and Affinity cards - where the card design is related to the "affinity" (a university, for example) leading to higher card usage. In most cases a percentage of the value of the card is returned to the affinity group.

Controversy

There is some controversy about credit card usage in recent years. Credit card debt has soared, particularly among young people. Since the late 1990s, lawmakers, consumer advocacy groups, college officials and other higher education affiliates have become increasingly concerned about the rising use of credit cards among college students. The major credit card companies have been accused of targeting a younger audience, in particular college students, many of whom are already in debt with college tuition fees and college loans and who typically are less experienced at managing their own finances. A recent study by United College Marketing Services has shown that student credit lines have increased to over $6,000. Credit card usage has tripled since 2001 amongst teenagers as well. Since eighteen year olds in many countries and most U.S. states are eligible for a card without parental consent or employment, the likelihood of increased balances, unwise use of credit and damaged credit scores increases.

A 2006 documentary film titled Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders deals with this subject in detail.[12]

According to Larry Chiang of United College Marketing Services, an example of a credit card class action was where issuers were "rolling back" posting times to extract more late fees.[citation needed] The due dates were "rolled back" from 1pm to 10am because mail was delivered in the afternoon so due dates were actually rolled back to charge more late fees. The following banks are listed (with the amounts penalized) in this one particular class action.

     Providian: US$405 million
     Bank One: US$40 million
     Chase: US$22.2 million
     Citibank: US$15.5 million

Another controversial area is the universal default feature of many North American credit card contracts. When a cardholder is late paying a particular credit card issuer, that card's interest rate can be raised, often considerably. Universal default allows creditors to periodically check cardholders' credit portfolios to view trade, thus allowing the institution to decrease the credit limit or increase rates on cardholders who may be late with another credit card issuer. Being late on one credit card will potentially affect all the cardholder's credit cards. Citibank has changed and does not practice this anymore, while others do still [citation needed].

Another controversial area is the trailing interest issue. Trailing interest is the practice of charging interest on the entire bill no matter what percentage of it is paid. U.S Senator Carl Levin raised the issue at a U.S Senate Hearing of the woes of millions of Americans who are slaves to hidden fees, compounding interest and cryptic terms. Their woes were heard in a Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing which was chaired by Senator Levin who said that he intends to keep the spotlight on credit card companies and that legislative action may be necessary to purge the industry.[13]

One fairly recent change in credit cards is the annual fee feature, where the card holder will have to pay a certain yearly fee, he must purchase his credit card. In the 1990's some credit cards could still be retained for free, there was no annual charge (sometimes as high as $80.00). But with the restructuring of Direct Merchant's Bank, many credit card companies switched from free to fee. Wells Fargo, a large banking institute that used MasterCard prior to the Direct Merchant's Bank debacle, switched to Visa for its credit and debit cards. This was coincidental with the Citibank takeoff, an institute who is also Visa..[citation needed]

In the United States, some have called for Congress to enact additional regulations on the industry; to expand the disclosure box clearly disclosing rate hikes, use plain language, incorporate balance payoff disclosures, and also to outlaw universal default. At a congress hearing around March 1, 2007 Citibank announced it would no longer practice this, effective immediately. Opponents of such regulation argue that customers must become more proactive and self-responsible in evaluating and neogotiating terms with credit offerers. Some of the nation's influential top credit card issuers, who are among the top fifty corporate contributors to political campaigns, successfully opposed it.


Payment Allotment

Credit card companies will apply your payment to a balance with a lower interest rate before a balance with a higher interest rate. If you have a balance from a transfer with an interest rate of 2% and a balance from point of sale purchases with an interest rate of 8%, your payment will affect the purchase balance only after the transfer balance has been paid in full.

Hidden costs

Merchants pay a negotiated fee -- typically 1-3% for larger merchants and 3-6% for smaller merchants -- to process credit payments. They must also bear the cost of providing a point-of-sale solution to enable the acceptance of card transactions and other card services related expenses. Credit card issuers understand full well that if card holders were aware of and made to pay these additional costs with their purchases it would tend to discourage credit card usage. As a consequence, businesses who accept credit cards often must sign a "merchant agreement" or contract with the acquirer that stipulates that they are not allowed to offer different prices for card and non-card transactions (sometimes referred to as surcharging) despite the additional costs to the business for accepting the cards. The prohibition on surcharging or cash discounts is enforced by law in some countries, although some governments are beginning to lift this restriction (see below).[citations needed]

Some critics have observed that this results in what is effectively a hidden expense on all transactions conducted by merchants who accept credit cards since they must build the cost of transaction fees into their overall business expense. Furthermore, cash and other non-credit card using customers are in effect made to subsidize credit card user purchases. The cost of the convenience and protections enjoyed by card holders and the profits taken from transaction fees by the card industry (which has come to rely increasingly on this revenue stream over the years) is in part borne by the non-card purchaser. Critics further note that the customers most likely to pay in cash are probably the least able to afford the additional expense, the argument going that card holders are more likely to be affluent and non-card holders less so.[citations needed]

A counterargument is that there are also costs to the merchant in other forms of payment. For cash payments these include frequent trips to the bank or use of an armored delivery service, theft, and employee error, such that cash is actually not cheaper for the merchant than credit cards. This argument is probably specious under most circumstances, however, considering that many merchants would offer a discount for cash-paying customers were they allowed, and indeed, do so where it is legal. The fact that laws exist or have existed that prohibit such practices and that the major card issuers strongly discourage such practices can be taken as an indicator that cash transactions do not have as much cost associated with them as credit card transactions.[citations needed]

To illustrate, some companies offer incentives or bonus coupons for using cash, such as Canadian Tire Money. Australia is currently acting to reduce this by allowing merchants to apply surcharges for credit card users.

In the United Kingdom, merchants won the right through The Credit Cards (Price Discrimination) Order 1990[14] to charge customers different prices according to the payment method, but few merchants do so (the most notable exceptions being budget airlines, travel agents and UK government agencies, such as the DVLA). The United Kingdom is the world's most credit-card-intensive country, with 67 million credit cards for a population of 59 million people.[15]

In the United States, until 1984 federal law prohibited surcharges on card transactions. Although the federal Truth in Lending Act provisions that prohibited surcharges expired that year, a number of states have since enacted laws that continue to outlaw the practice; California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas have laws against surcharges. Regardless of what state one resides in or purchases a product, however, both Visa and MasterCard have publicly stated that surcharges on credit card transactions are against the rules. [16]

There also exists an economic argument that credit card use increases the "velocity" of money in an economy. The result, according to the quantity theory of money, is an effective increase in the money supply, as more money is flowing through the economy at a given time.

Credit card numbering


The numbers found on credit cards have a certain amount of internal structure, and share a common numbering scheme.

The card number's prefix, called the Bank Identification Number, is the sequence of digits at the beginning of the number that determine the bank to which a credit card number belongs. This is the first six digits for Mastercard and Visa cards. The next nine digits are the individual account number, and the final digit is a validity check code.

In addition to the main credit card number, credit cards also carry issue and expiration dates (given to the nearest month), as well as extra codes such as issue numbers and security codes. Not all credit cards have the same sets of extra codes nor do they use the same number of digits.

Credit cards in ATMs

Many credit cards can also be used in an ATM to withdraw money against the credit limit extended to the card but many card issuers charge interest on cash advances before they do so on purchases. The interest on cash advances is commonly charged from the date the withdrawal is made, rather than the monthly billing date. Many card issuers levy a commission for cash withdrawals, even if the ATM belongs to the same bank as the card issuer. Merchants do not offer cashback on credit card transactions because they would pay a percentage commission of the additional cash amount to their bank or merchant services provider, thereby making it uneconomical.

Many credit card companies will also, when applying payments to a card, do so at the end of a billing cycle, and apply those payments to everything before cash advances. For this reason, many consumers have large cash balances, which have no grace period and incur interest at a rate that is (usually) higher than the purchase rate, and will carry those balance for years, even if they pay off their statement balance each month.

Credit cards as funding for entrepreneurs

Credit cards are a creative, yet often risky way for entrepreneurs to acquire capital for their start ups when more conventional financing is unavailable. It is rumoured that Larry Page and Sergey Brin's start up of Google was financed by credit cards to buy the necessary computers and office equipment, more specifically "a terabyte of memory". [17] Similarly, filmmaker Robert Townsend financed part of Hollywood Shuffle using credit cards.[18] Director Kevin Smith funded Clerks. in part by maxing out several credit cards. Richard Hatch also financed his production of Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming partly through his credit cards. Famed hedge fund manager Bruce Kovner began his career (and, later on, his firm Caxton Associates) in financial markets by borrowing from his credit card.

Collectible credit cards

A growing field of numismatics (study of money), or more specifically Exonumia (study of money-like objects), credit card collectors seek to collect various embodiments of credit from the now familiar plastic cards to older paper merchant cards, and even metal tokens that were accepted as merchant credit cards. Early credit cards were made of celluloid, then metal and fiber, then paper and are now mostly plastic.

Charga-Plate

The Charga-Plate is an early predecessor to the credit card. They were issued by large-scale merchants, much like department store credit cards of today. In some cases, they were kept in the store. When an authorized user made a purchase, the clerk retrieved the plate from the store's files and then processed the purchase. This made it possible for stores to allow more specialized employees of their customers to use the cards, in addition to corporate officers and executives, who would normally have expense accounts and corporate credit cards. For example, an art-supply store that opened an account with a research institute might allow graphic artists employed by the institute to buy art supplies for ongoing projects. It would not be necessary for the research firm to issue a credit card to the artist: instead, a supervisor would simply say, "Go to Universal Art Supply and buy those supplies." The employee would go to the store and choose the appropriate supplies, and they would be charged to Central Institute for Research's account.

External links

     Choosing and Using Credit Cards - Consumer credit card advice from the Federal Trade Commission
     Avoiding Credit and Charge Card Fraud - More advice from the Federal Trade Commission
     Talk Your Way Out of Credit Debt - NPR Story on how to negotiate with creditors
     Steer Clear in College - NPR story on college credit card debt
     Secret History of the Credit Card - PBS/Frontline/New York Times documentary on credit cards
     Credit Cards at the Open Directory Project

Credit card associations

     American Express
     Discover
     MasterCard
     Visa




American Express


American Express Company
American Express logo
Type  Public (NYSE: AXP)
Founded  1850
Headquarters: New York, New York
Key people Kenneth Chenault, Chairman & CEO
Industry:  Finance and Insurance
Products: Financial services
Revenue: $27.136 billion USD (2006) [1]
Net income: $3.707 billion USD (2006) [2]
Employees: 65,800 (2005)
Slogan  Do More
Website  
www.americanexpress.com

American Express (NYSE: AXP), sometimes known as " AmEx " or " Amex ", is a diversified global financial services company, headquartered in New York City. The company is best known for its credit card , charge card and traveler's cheque businesses .

The company's common stock trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol "AXP." It is one of the 30 stocks that comprise the Dow Jones Industrial Average and is ranked as the 74th largest company by Fortune. In 2007, Business Week and Interbrand ranked American Express as the 15th most valuable brand in the world, estimating the brand to be worth US$20.87 billion.

The current CEO is Kenneth Chenault, who took over in 2001.
  
History:
Early history

American Express was founded in 1850, in Buffalo, New York, as a joint stock corporation that was a merger of the express mail companies owned by Henry Wells (Wells & Company), William Fargo (Livingston, Fargo & Company), and John Butterfield (Butterfield, Wasson & Company), as an express business American Express first established its headquarters in a building at the intersection of Jay Street and Hudson Street in the TriBeCa section of Manhattan, and enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the movement of express shipments (Goods, Securities, Currency, etc.) throughout New York State. In 1874, American Express moved its headquarters to 65 Broadway in what was becoming the Financial District of Manhattan, a location it was to retain through two buildings.

  American Express Buildings

In 1854, the American Express Co. purchased a lot on Vesey Street in New York City as the site for its stables. The company's first New York headquarters were in an impressive marble Italianate palazzo at 55-61 Hudson Street between Thomas Street and Jay Street (1857-58, John Warren Ritch), which had a busy freight depot on the ground story with a spur line from the Hudson River Railroad. A stable was constructed nearby at 4-8 Hubert Street , between Hudson Street and Collister Street(1866-67, Ritch & Griffiths), five blocks north of the Hudson Street building.

In 1880, American Express built a new warehouse business behind the Broadway Credit Building at 46 Trinity Place, between Exchange Alley and Rector Street. The designer is unknown, but it has a façade of brick arches that are redolent of pre-skyscraper New York. American Express has long been out of this building, but it still bears a terra cotta seal with the American Express Eagle. In 1890-91 the company constructed a new ten-story building by Edward H. Kendall on the site of its former headquarters on Hudson Card Street.

By 1903, the company had assets of some $28 million but had not begun its credit card business , and was second only to the National City Bank of New York among financial institutions in the city. To reflect this, the company purchased the Broadway buildings and site.

The 23-story, neo-classical, American Express Co. Building, was constructed in 1916-17 to the design of James L. Aspinwall, of the firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Tucker, the successor to the architectural practice of the eminent James Renwick, Jr.. The building consolidated the two lots of the former buildings with a single business address: 65 Broadway. This building was part of the "Express Row" section of lower Broadway at the time. The concrete-and-steel-framed building has an H-shaped plan with tall slender wings arranged around central light courts, a type of credit plan employed from the 1880s through the 1910s to provide offices with maximum light and air. Faced in white brick and terra cotta above a granite base, both facades employ the tripartite composition of base-shaft-capital then popular for the articulation of skyscrapers, with a colonnaded base and upper portion. The famous American Express Gold Eagle adorns the building twice: there is an asymmetric eagle on the lower arch, while a symmetric gold eagle adorns the arch atop the building. The Broadway entrance features a double-story Corinthian colonnade with large arched windows. The building completed the continuous masonry wall of its block-front and assisted in transforming Broadway into the " credit card canyon" of neo-classical masonry office towers familiar to this day.

American Express sold this building in 1975, but retained travel services here, but relocating its gold business credit card services elsewhere. The building was also the headquarters over the years of other prominent firms, including investment bankers J.& W. Seligman & Co. (1940-74), the American Bureau of Shipping, a maritime concern (1977-86), and currently J.J. Kenny, and Standard & Poors, who has renamed the building for itself.

American Express extended its reach nationwide by arranging affiliations with other express companies, (including Wells, Fargo – the replacement for the two former companies that merged to form American Express.) railroads, and steamship companies[2]. In 1882, American Express started its expansion in the area of financial services by launching its money order business[2]. to compete with the US Post Office's money orders. This product quickly spread to Europe where no such financial product existed.

 American Express today

Current CEO Kenneth Chenault took over leadership of American Express from Harvey Golub, CEO from 1993 to 2001. Prior to that, it was headed by James D. Robinson III from 1977 to 1993.

Sometime between 1888 and 1890, J.C. Fargo took a trip to Europe and returned frustrated and infuriated. Despite the fact that he was president of American Express and that he carried with him traditional letters of credit, he found it difficult to obtain cash anywhere except in major cities. Mr. Fargo went to Marcellus Flemming Berry and asked him to create a better solution than the traditional letter of credit. Mr. Berry created the American Express Travelers Cheque which was launched in 1891 in denominations of $10, $20, $50, and $100.[6]

The travelers cheque established American Express as a truly international company. In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, American Express offices in Europe were among the few companies to honor the letters of credit (issued by various banks) held by Americans in Europe, despite other financial institutions having refused to assist these stranded travellers.

American Express became one of the monopolies that President Theodore Roosevelt had the Interstate Commerce Commission investigate during his administration. The interest of the ICC was drawn to its strict control of the railroad express business. However, the solution did not come immediately to hand.[2]. The solution to this problem came as a coincidence to other problems during World War I.

During the winter of 1917, the US suffered a severe coal shortage and on December 26 President Woodrow Wilson commandeered the railroads on behalf of the US government to move US troops, their supplies, and coal. Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo was assigned the task of consolidating the railway lines for the war effort. All contracts between express companies and railroads were nullified and McAdoo proposed that all existing express companies be consolidated into a single company to serve the country's needs. This ended American Express's express business, and removed them from the ICC’s radar. The result was a new company called the American Railway Express Agency company formed in July 1918. The new entity took custody of all the pooled equipment and property of existing express companies (the largest share of which, 40%, came from American Express, who had owned the rights to the express business over 71,280 miles of railroad lines, and had 10,000 offices, with over 30,000 employees).

 Travel Division

American Express established a Travel Division in 1915 that tied together all of the earlier efforts at making travel easier, and soon established its first travel agencies.

 Charge card services history
 This article or section may contain text that is an inappropriate mixture of prose and timeline.
Please help convert this timeline into prose or, if necessary, a list.

American Express executives discussed the possibility of launching a travel charge card as early as 1946, but it was not until Diners Club launched their own card in March 1950 that American Express began to seriously consider the possibility. At the end of 1957, American Express CEO Ralph Reed decided to get into the card business, and by the launch date of October 1, 1958 public interest had become so significant that they actually issued 250,000 cards prior to the official launch date. The card was launched with an annual fee of $6, $1 higher than Diners Club, to be seen as a premium product. The first cards were paper, with the account number and cardmember's name typed. It was not until 1959 that American Express began issuing embossed ISO 7810 plastic cards, an industry first.

In 1966, American Express introduced the Gold Card and in 1984 the Platinum Card, clearly defining different market segments within its own business, a practice that has proliferated across a broad array of industries. The Platinum Card was billed as super-exclusive and had a $250 annual fee (it is currently $450). It was offered by invitation only to American Express customers with at least 2 years of tenure, significant spending, and excellent payment history.

In 1987, American Express introduced the Optima card, their first credit card product. Previously, all American Express cards had to be paid in full each month, but Optima allowed customers to carry a balance (the charge cards also now allow extended payment options on qualifying charges based on credit availability). Although Optima is no longer heavily promoted, Optima and Optima Platinum cards are still available on the American Express website. Today American Express offers a wide range of other credit card products including co-branded cards like the JetBlue Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest Card, as well as other credit cards promoting customer rewards like the Blue from American Express Card and the Blue Cash Rebate Card.

In 1994, the Optima True Grace card was introduced. The card was unique in that it offered a grace period on all purchases whether a balance was carried on the card or not (as opposed to traditional revolving credit cards which charge interest on new purchases if so much as $1 was carried over.) The card was discontinued a few years later; however, the currently-available One from American Express card offers a similar feature called "Interest Protection."

In 1999, American Express introduced the Centurion Card which is often referred to as the "black card," catering to an even more affluent and elite customer segment. The card charged a $1,000 annual fee at the time of its introduction (today, it is $2,500 with an additional one-time initiation fee of $5000) and offered (and continues to offer) a variety of exclusive benefits. There have always been rumors of a super-exclusive card that gives American Express' richest and most powerful customers special perks. It was this rumor that caused Amex to profit off the word-of-mouth and sparked the launch of Centurion.[7]

The company made another addition to its products in 1999 by introducing Blue from American Express, which quickly became a popular card among young adults due to an appealing marketing campaign directed towards a youthful demographic. Based on a successful product for the European market, Blue had no annual fee, a rewards program, and a multi-functional onboard chip. A cashback version, "Blue Cash", quickly followed.

American Express also launched an exclusive agreement with Costco in 1999, replacing an earlier agreement with Discover Card. Under the agreement, American Express cards replaced Discover as the only credit/charge card accepted at the warehouse club in the US, and American Express became the first and only credit/charge card accepted at Costco's locations outside the US. To introduce Costco members to American Express, a no-annual-fee co-branded cashback credit card was also introduced. An added benefit of the agreement for the Costco member is the annual Costco membership fee is billed the American Express card. The agreement was highly successful and was renewed in 2004 for an additional 10 years.

As of 2005, the US Centurion card has a $2500 annual fee, while other American Express cards range between no annual fee (for Blue and many other consumer and business cards) and a $450 annual fee (for the Platinum Card.) Annual fees for the Green card start at $95, while Gold card annual fees start at $125.

In 2005, American Express introduced Clear, advertised as the first credit card with no fees of any kind. It also incorporates the ExpressPay technology premiered with the Blue card. Also in 2005, American Express introduced One, a credit card with a "Savings Accelerator Plan" that contributes 1% of eligible purchases into an FDIC-insured High-Yield Savings Account. Other cards introduced in 2005 included "The Knot" and "The Nest" Credit Cards from American Express, co-branded cards developed with the wedding planning website theknot.com. They have also introduced City Reward Cards that earn INSIDE Rewards points to eat, drink, and play at New York, Chicago and LA hot spots.

Also in 2005, American Express introduced ExpressPay, a MasterCard PayPass clone, based on a wireless RFID payment method, that requires a card to simply be waved in front of a special reader and not swiped. This technology replaced the smart chip on the Blue card. Many US merchant and restaurant partners including 7-Eleven, CVS/pharmacy, McDonald's, Regal Entertainment Group, and Ritz Camera, now offer ExpressPay at most or all of their locations. The technology was tested on the ski bus from Salt Lake City to local resorts.

In 2006, the UK division of American Express licensed the Product Red brand and began to issue a Red Card. With each card member purchase the company contributes to good causes through The Global Fund to help African women and children suffering from HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

In 2007, American Express again raised the annual fee for their American Platinum charge cards, moving the Personal cards fee to $450, and the Business division to $395. With the increase, customers now receive four complimentary companion coach tickets per calendar year. Additionally, a long rumored "relationship" fee of $5,000 to establish a Centurion card was added. The annual fee of $2,500 remains the same, however. In late 2007, they announced their new Plum Card as the latest addition to their card line. The card provides a 2% early pay discount or up to two months defer pay on purchases. The first 10,000 cards will be issued to members on December 16.[8]

Features: Some versions of the card include various features such as Damage waiver on cars rented with the card, and accident insurance during travel bought with the card.

 The "Boston Fee Party"

From the early 1980s until the early 1990s, American Express was known for cutting its merchant fees (also known as a "discount rate") to merchants and restaurants if they accepted only American Express and no other credit or charge cards. This prompted competitors such as Visa and MasterCard to cry foul for a while as the tactics "locked" restaurants into American Express.

However, in 1991, several restaurants in Boston started accepting and encouraging the use of Visa and MasterCard because of their far lower fees as compared to American Express's fees at the time (which were about 4% for each transaction versus around 1.2% at the time for Visa and MasterCard). A few even stopped accepting American Express credit and charge cards. The revolt, known as the "Boston Fee Party" in reference to the Boston Tea Party, quickly spread nationwide to over 250 restaurants across the US, including restaurants in other cities such as New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In response, American Express decided to reduce its discount rate gradually to compete more effectively and add new merchants to its network such as supermarkets and drugstores. Many elements of the exclusive acceptance program were also phased out so American Express could effectively encourage businesses to add American Express cards to their existing list of payment options.

Currently, American Express' average US merchant rate is about 2.5%, while the average Visa/MasterCard credit card US merchant rate is about 2% (Visa/MasterCard signature debit cards are at 1.7%). Some merchant sectors, such as quick-service restaurants including McDonald's, have special reduced rates to accommodate business needs and profit margins.

Not all the changes from 1991 have taken wind: A very small number of restaurants in major cities still exclusively accept American Express because the vast majority of their customers primarily use Amex cards. Likewise, Neiman Marcus accepts only American Express and their store card; however, the current exclusive agreement with American Express is due to expire soon and may not be renewed as an exclusive agreement. Costco also has an exclusivity agreement with American Express; however, Costco's agreement with Amex was the result of a long negotiation process for exclusive acceptance with multiple parties that also included Visa, MasterCard, and Discover.

 Financial services history

During the 1980s, American Express embarked on its dream to become a financial services supercompany. In mid-1981 it purchased Shearson Loeb Rhoades Inc the second largest securities firm in the US. In 1984 it purchased the 90-year old Investors Diversified Services, bringing with it a fleet of financial advisors and investment products. Also in 1984, American Express acquired the investment banking and trading firm, Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb, and added it to the Shearson family, creating Shearson Lehman/American Express. In 1988, the Firm acquired E.F. Hutton, forming Shearson Lehman Hutton until 1990, when the Firm's name became Shearson Lehman Brothers. When Harvey Golub took the reins in 1993 he negotiated the sale of Shearson's retail brokerage and asset management business to Primerica and in following year, spun-off of the remaining investment banking and institutional businesses as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

In April 1992, American Express spun off its subsidiary, First Data Corp., in an IPO. Then, in October 1996, the company distributed the remaining majority of its holdings in First Data Corp., reducing its ownership to less than 5%.

In December 2000, American Express agreed to acquire the credit card portfolio of Bank of Hawaii, then a division of Pacific Century Financial Corp. Bank of Hawaii, along with its sister bank, Pacific Century Bank, became the first U.S. banks to issue American Express cards when the deal was completed the following year. In January 2006, American Express sold its Bank of Hawaii card portfolio to Bank of America (MBNA). Bank of America will issue Visa and American Express cards under the Bank of Hawaii name.

In January 2004, American Express reached a deal to have its cards issued by a U.S. bank, MBNA America. Initially decried by MasterCard executives as nothing but an "experiment", these cards were released in October of 2004. Some said that the relationship was going to be threatened by MBNA's merger with Bank of America, a major Visa issuer and original developer of VISA. However, an agreement was reached between American Express and Bank of America on December 21, 2005. Under the terms of the agreement, Bank of America will own the customer loans and American Express will process the transactions. Also, American Express will dismiss Bank of America from its antitrust litigation against Visa, MasterCard and a number of U.S. banks. Finally, both Bank of America and American Express also said an existing card-issuing partnership between MBNA and American Express will continue after the Bank of America-MBNA merger. The first card from the partnership, the no-annual-fee Bank of America Rewards American Express card, was released on June 30, 2006.

Since then, Citibank, GE Money, and USAA have also started issuing American Express cards. Citibank currently issues several American Express cards including an American Airlines AAdvantage co-branded card, while GE is currently issuing a co-branded card for Dillard's. HSBC Bank USA is currently testing both HSBC-branded and Neiman Marcus co-branded American Express rewards credit cards, with a full rollout scheduled for late 2007 or early 2008. Also, UBS launched its Resource Card program for US Wealth Management clients issuing Visa Signature credit cards and American Express charge cards linked to their customers accounts and employing a single rewards program for the two cards.

In 2005, American Express released the American Express Travelers Cheque Card, a stored-value card that serves the same purposes as a traveler's cheque, but can be used in stores like a credit card. The card has since been discontinued as of October 31, 2007, due to "changing market conditions". All cardholders were issued refund checks for the remaining balances.

On 30 September, 2005, American Express spun off its American Express Financial Advisors unit as a publicly traded company, Ameriprise Financial, Inc.. Due to this, American Express revenues for 2005 are down around $5 billion, however, like-for-like they are up 10.5% in 2005. Also, on September 30, 2005, RSM McGladrey acquired American Express Tax & Business Services (TBS).

 Advertising

In 1975, David Ogilvy of Ogilvy & Mather developed the highly successful "Don't Leave Home Without It" ad campaign for American Express Traveler's Cheques, featuring Oscar-award-winning actor Karl Malden. Karl Malden served as the public face of American Express Travelers Cheques for twenty-five years. His television ads were a combination of suspense, excitement, news, and a compelling call to action. First, you would see a thief stealing money from some poor unsuspecting tourist's wallet or beach bag or hotel room. Then Karl would arrive on the scene looking like the cop he played in the famous television series, Streets of San Francisco. He would say, "This could happen to you!" And then the call to action: "Don't let a thief spoil your vacation. Get American Express Travelers Cheques. Don't leave home without them." After Karl Malden's departure, and the card was promoted over the traveller's cheques, American Express continued to use celebrities. A typical ad for the American Express Card showed a celebrity saying "Do you know me?", giving some hints, but the person's name was never mentioned except as imprinted on an American Express card. The "Don't Leave Home Without It" slogan was revived in 2005 for the prepaid American Express Travelers Cheque Card.

    * Sesame Street parodied the "Do you know me?/Don't Leave Home Without It" ad campaigns with two skits involving holding a grownup's hand while crossing the street. One skit had Forgetful Jones and the other had Bert and Ernie. Both skits ended with their names being embossed onto a card looking like an American Express card, and a voiceover saying "A grownup's hand. Don't cross the street without it."

The Adventures of Seinfeld & Superman
The Adventures of Seinfeld & Superman

To this day, American Express continues to use celebrities in their ads. Some notable examples include a late 1990s ad campaign with comedian Jerry Seinfeld, including the two 2004 webisodes in a series entitled "The Adventures of Seinfeld and Superman." In late 2004, American Express launched the "My life. My card." brand campaign (also by Ogilvy & Mather) featuring famous American Express cardmembers talking about their life. The ads have featured actors Kate Winslet, Robert De Niro, Ken Watanabe, Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, Comedian and talk show hostess Ellen DeGeneres, Professional golfer Tiger Woods, US Open tennis pros Venus Williams and Andy Roddick, Chelsea Football Club manager José Mourinho, and film directors Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, M. Night Shyamalan and most recently superstar Beyonce Knowles. In 2007, a two-minute black-and-white ad entitled "Animals" starring Ellen DeGeneres won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Commercial.

Many American Express credit card ads feature a sample American Express card with the name "C F Frost" on the front. This is not a fabricated name, as Charles F. Frost was an advertising executive.[9]

In addition, American Express was one of the earliest users of cause marketing, to great success. A 1983 promotion advertised that for each purchase made with an American Express card, American Express would contribute one penny to the renovation of the Statue of Liberty. The campaign generated contributions of $1.7 million to the Statue of Liberty restoration project. What would soon capture the attention of marketing departments of major corporations was that the promotion generated approximately a 28% increase in American Express card usage by consumers. Building on its earlier promotion, American Express later conducted a four-year Charge Against Hunger program, which generated approximately $22 million for a charity addressing poverty and hunger relief. In 2006, as part of Bono's Product Red, American Express launched the American Express Red Card. The card, currently available only in the United Kingdom, makes a donation to fight AIDS with every purchase made using the card. In May of 2007, American Express launched an initiative called the "membersproject" [3]. Cardholders were invited to submit ideas for projects and American Express is funding the winning (provide clean drinking water) project $2 million.

 Workplace

 Offices
American Express Tower (tallest, left) in New York City
American Express Tower (tallest, left) in New York City

In April 1986 American Express moved its headquarters to the 51-story Three World Financial Center in New York City. After the events of September 11, 2001, American Express had to leave its headquarters temporarily as it was located directly opposite to the World Trade Center and was damaged during the fall of the towers. The company began gradually moving back into its rehabilitated building in 2002.

The company also has major offices in Fort Lauderdale, FL; Salt Lake City, UT; Greensboro, NC and Phoenix, AZ. The main data center is located in Phoenix, with a secondary back-up facility in the Boston area.

Amex Canada is based just north of Toronto, in the City of Markham.

American Express has a European Service Center in Brighton, England. It is a large 1970s-built white tower block, surrounded by several other smaller offices around the city. The official UK HQ is located in London at Belgrave House on Buckingham Palace Road, SW1; other important UK offices are based in Sussex at Burgess Hill.

The Asia-Pacific Headquarters is located in Singapore, at 16 Collyer Quay.

The headquarters of the Latin America & Caribbean division is in Miami.

 Diversity

American Express was named one of the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers living in the U.S. in 2006 by U.S. based Working Mothers magazine.

 Acquisition of American Express Bank Ltd. by Standard Chartered plc

On 18th of September 2007, it was announced that Standard Chartered plc agreed to acquire American Express Bank Ltd, a commercial bank, from American Express Co, for an estimated $1.1 billion, through a friendly divestiture process. The transaction is currently subject to regulatory approvals. Lehman Brothers is advising American Express in this deal.

 Management and corporate governance

Key executives include:[10]

    * Kenneth Chenault: Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
    * Edward Gilligan: Group President - Global Corporate Services and International Payments
    * Alfred Kelly, Jr.: Group President - U.S. Consumer and Small Business Services
    * Dan Henry: Executive Vice President and acting Chief Financial Officer[11]
    * Jonathan Linen: Vice Chairman - American Express Company
    * L. Kevin Cox: Executive Vice President Human Resources and Quality
    * John D. Hayes: Executive Vice President Global Advertising & Brand Management, and Chief Marketing Officer
    * Louise Parent: Executive Vice President and General Counsel
    * Steve Squeri: Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer
    * Thomas Schick: Executive Vice President Corporate Affairs and Communications

Current members of the board of directors of American Express include:[12]

    * Daniel F. Akerson: Managing Director of The Carlyle Group
    * Charlene Barshefsky: Former United States Trade Representative
    * Ursula M. Burns: Senior Corporate Vice President and President of Business Group Operations Xerox Corporation
    * Kenneth I. Chenault: Chairman and CEO of American Express Co.
    * Peter Chernin: President and COO, News Corporation
    * Vernon E. Jordan, Jr.: Senior Managing Director with Lazard Freres & Co. LLC
    * Jan Leschly: CEO of Care Capital LLC
    * Richard C. Levin: President, Yale University
    * Richard A. McGinn: Former CEO of Lucent Technologies, Partner, RRE Ventures
    * Edward D. Miller: Former President and CEO of AXA SA
    * Frank P. Popoff: Chairman Chemical Financial Corp
    * Robert D. Walter: Chairman and CEO Cardinal Health
    * Ronald A. Williams: Chairman, CEO and President, Aetna, Inc.

 References

- Business Week/Interbrand 2006 Global Brand Survey 
- a b c d Kenneth T. Jackson: The Encyclopedia of New York City: The New York Historical Society; Yale University Press; 1995. P. 23. 
-  a b c New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; December 12, 1995, Designation List 269; LP-1932 
-  White, Norval & Willensky, Elliot; AIA Guide to New York City, 4th Edition; New York Chapter, American Institute of Architects; Crown Publishers/Random House. 2000. ISBN 0-8129-31069-8; ISBN 0-8129-3107-6. p.23. 
-  a b White, Norval & Willensky, Elliot; AIA Guide to New York City, 4th Edition; New York Chapter, American Institute of Architects; Crown Publishers/Random House. 2000. ISBN 0-8129-31069-8; ISBN 0-8129-3107-6. p.22. 
American Express Investor Relations, accessed 04 November 2006 
-   Business Wire: American Express Names Dan Henry as Acting CFO 
-   American Express Investor Relations, accessed 27 January 2007


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Small business

A small business may be defined as a business with a small number of employees. The legal definition of "small" often varies by country and industry, but is generally under 100 employees in the United States while under 50 employees in the European Union (In comparison, the American definition of mid-sized business by the number of employees is generally under 500 while 250 is for that of European Union). These businesses are normally privately owned corporations, partnerships, or sole proprietorships.

However, other methods are also used to classify small companies, such us annual sales (turnover), assets value or net profit (balance sheet), alone or in a mixed definition. These criteria are followed by the European Union, for instance (headcount, turnover and balance sheet totals).

Small businesses are common in many countries, depending on the economic system in operation. Typical examples include: convenience stores, other small shops (such as a bakery or delicatessen), hairdressers, tradesmen, solicitors, lawyers, accountants, restaurants, guest houses, photographers, small-scale manufacturing etc. Small businesses are usually independent.

The smallest businesses, often located in private homes, are called microbusinesses (term used by international organizations such as the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation) or SoHos. The term "mom and pop business" is a common colloquial expression for a single-family operated business with few (or no) employees other than the owners. When judged by the number of employees, the American and the European definitions are the same: under 10 employees.
Contents

Advantages of small business

A small business can be started at a very low cost and on a part-time basis. Small business is also well suited to internet marketing because it can be very manageable to serve a niche, something that would have been more difficult prior to the internet revolution which began in the late 1990s.

Adapting to change is crucial in business and particularly small business; not being tied to any bureaucratic inertia, it is typically easier to respond to the marketplace quickly. Small business proprietors tend to be intimate with their customers and clients resulting in greater accountability and responsiveness.

Several organizations also provide help for the small business, like Internal Revenue Service in Small Business and Self-Employed One-Stop Resource.[1]

 Problems faced by small businesses

Small businesses often face a variety of problems related to their size. A frequent cause of bankruptcy is undercapitalization. This is often a result of poor planning rather than economic conditions[2] - it is common rule of thumb that the entrepreneur should have access to a sum of money at least equal to the projected revenue for the first year of business in addition to his anticipated expenses. For example, if the prospective owner thinks that he will generate $100,000 in revenues in the first year with $150,000 in start-up expenses, then he should have no less than $250,000 available. Failure to provide this level of funding for the company could leave the owner liable for all of the company's debt should he end up in bankruptcy court, under the theory of undercapitalization.

In addition to ensuring that the business has enough capital, the small business owner must also be mindful of gross margin (sales minus variable costs). To break even, the business must be able to reach a level of sales where the gross margin exceeds fixed costs. When they first start out, many small business owners underprice their products to a point where even at their maximum capacity, it would be impossible to break even. The good news is that cost controls or a price increase can often resolve this problem.

In the United States, some of the largest concerns of small business owners are insurance costs (such as liability and health), rising energy costs and taxes. In the United Kingdom and Australia, small business owners tend to be more concerned with excessive governmental red tape.[citation needed]

Another problem for many small businesses is termed the 'Entrepreneurial Myth' or E-Myth. The mythic assumption is that an expert in a given technical field will also be expert at running that kind of business. Additional business management skills are needed to keep a business running smoothly.

 Marketing the small business

Common marketing techniques for small business include networking, word of mouth, customer referrals, yellow pages directories, television, radio, outdoor (roadside billboards), print and internet. Electronic media like TV can be quite expensive and is normally intended to create awareness of a product or service.

Many small business owners find internet marketing more affordable. Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing are two popular options of getting small business products or services in front of motivated Web searchers. Advertising on niche sites can also be effective, but with the long tail of the internet, it can be time intensive to advertise on enough sites to garner an effective reach.

 Franchise businesses

Franchising is a way for small business owners to benefit from the economies of scale of the big corporation (franchisor). McDonald's restaurants are an example of a franchise. The small business owner can leverage a strong brand name and purchasing power of the larger company while keeping their own investment affordable. However, some franchisees conclude that they suffer the "worst of both worlds" feeling they are too restricted by corporate mandates and lack true independence. McDonald's has even been sued by franchisees who feel they have been exploited with unreasonable costs for materials (cups, condiments etc.) they are required to purchase from the parent company.

 Mom and pop small businesses

In North American English small or micro businesses that are family-owned and family-operated may be termed Mom and pop businesses. People who speak of mom and pop businesses often refer to the unique perspective offered by patronizing a family business. Some encourage the unknown experience of entering a mom and pop establishment over patronizing franchise businesses, which typically offer comparable stores and similar consumer experiences, regardless of location. For example, mom and pop businesses are often highlighted in travel guides, because patronizing a family-owned and operated business allows a traveler to more fully experience and understand the people of another culture.

 Small business bankruptcy

When small business fails, the owner may file bankruptcy. In most cases this can be handled through a personal bankruptcy filing. Corporations can file bankruptcy, but if it is out of business and valuable corporate assets are likely to be repossessed by secured creditors there is little advantage to going to the expense of a corporate bankruptcy. Many states offer exemptions for small business assets so they can continue to operate during and after personal bankruptcy. However, corporate assets are normally not exempt, hence it may be more difficult to continue operating an incorporated business if the owner files bankruptcy.

 Certification and trust

Building trust with new customers can be a difficult task for a new and establishing business. Some organizations like the Better Business Bureau and the International Charter now offer Small Business Certification, which certifies the quality of the services and goods produced and can encourage new and larger customers. These services may require a few hours of work, but a certification may reassure potential customers. However, the most effective way to earn trust is through customer referrals.

 Contribution to the economy

Small Business is the major job provider in most economies. The top job provider is those with less than 10 employees, and those with 10 or more but less than 20 employees comes in as the second, and those with 20 or more but less than 50 employees comes in as the third.

 Sources of funding

Small businesses use several sources available for start-up capital:

    * Self-financing by the owner through Cash, equity loan on his or her home, and or other assets.
    * Loans from friends or relatives
    * Private stock issue
    * Forming partnerships
    * Angel Investors
    * SME finance, including Collateral based lending and Venture capital, given sufficiently sound business venture plans

Some small businesses are further financed through credit card debt - usually a poor choice, given that the interest rate on credit cards is often several times the rate that would be paid on a line of credit or bank loan. Many owners seek a bank loan in the name of their business, however banks will usually insist on a personal guarantee by the business owner. In the United States, the Small Business Administration (SBA) runs several loan programs that may help a small business secure loans. In these programs, the SBA guarantees a portion of the loan to the issuing bank and thus relieves the bank of some of the risk of extending the loan to a small business. The SBA also requires business owners to pledge personal assets and sign as a personal guarantee for the loan.

 International differences

The challenges facing small business owners vary from country to country, based on the overall business climate as well as the regulatory framework of each geographic location. It is extremely important for business owners to understand the legal requirements and obligations in their particular country of operation.

 References

   1.  http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/
   2.  http://www.sba.gov/smallbusinessplanner/start/financestartup/SERV_FINANBASICS.html

 See also

    * American Independent Business Alliance
    * Federation of Small Businesses
    * National Federation of Independent Business
    * Small Business Administration
    * Big Business
    * Big-box store

How will you use your credit card?

The first step in choosing a credit card is thinking about how you will use it.

If you expect to always pay your monthly bill in full--and other features such as frequent flyer miles don’t interest you--your best choice may be a card that has no annual fee and offers a longer grace period.

If you sometimes carry over a balance from month to month, you may be more interested in a card that carries a lower interest rate (stated as an annual percentage rate, or APR).

If you expect to use your card to get cash advances, you’ll want to look for a card that carries a lower APR and lower fees on cash advances. Some cards charge a higher APR for cash advances than for purchases.

What are the APRs?

The annual percentage rate--APR--is the way of stating the interest rate you will pay if you carry over a balance, take out a cash advance, or transfer a balance from another card. The APR states the interest rate as a yearly rate.

Multiple APRs
A single credit card may have several APRs:

One APR for purchases, another for cash advances, and yet another for balance transfers. The APRs for cash advances and balance transfers often are higher than the APR for purchases (for example, 14% for purchases, 18% for cash advances, and 19% for balance transfers).

Tiered APRs. Different rates are applied to different levels of the outstanding balance (for example, 16% on balances of $1–$500 and 17% on balances above $500).

A penalty APR. The APR may increase if you are late in making payments. For example, your card agreement may say, “If your payment arrives more than ten days late two times within a six-month period, the penalty rate will apply.”

An introductory APR. A different rate will apply after the introductory rate expires.

A delayed APR. A different rate will apply in the future. For example, a card may advertise that there is “no interest until next March.” Look for the APR that will be in effect after March.

If you carry over a part of your balance from month to month, even a small difference in the APR can make a big difference in how much you will pay over a year.

Fixed vs. variable APR
Some credit cards are “fixed rate”--the APR doesn’t change, or at least doesn’t change often. Even the APR on a “fixed rate” credit card can change over time. However, the credit card company must tell you before increasing the fixed APR.

Other credit cards are “variable rate”--the APR changes from time to time. The rate is usually tied to another interest rate, such as the prime rate or the Treasury bill rate. If the other rate changes, the rate on your card may change, too. Look for information on the credit card application and in the credit card agreement to see how often your card’s APR may change (the agreement is like a contract--it lists the terms and conditions for using your credit card).

How long is the grace period?

The grace period is the number of days you have to pay your bill in full without triggering a finance charge. For example, the credit card company may say that you have “25 days from the statement date, provided you paid your previous balance in full by the due date.” The statement date is given on the bill.

The grace period usually applies only to new purchases. Most credit cards do not give a grace period for cash advances and balance transfers. Instead, interest charges start right away.

If you carried over any part of your balance from the preceding month, you may not have a grace period for new purchases. Instead, you may be charged interest as soon as you make a purchase (in addition to being charged interest on the earlier balance you have not paid off). Look on the credit card application for information about the “method of computing the balance for purchases” to see if new purchases are included or excluded. Information on methods of computing the balance is in the section “How is the finance charge calculated?"

How is the finance charge calculated?

The finance charge is the dollar amount you pay to use credit. The amount depends in part on your outstanding balance and the APR.

Credit card companies use one of several methods to calculate the outstanding balance. The method can make a big difference in the finance charge you’ll pay. Your outstanding balance may be calculated

Over one billing cycle or two,

Using the adjusted balance, the average daily balance, or the previous balance, and

Including or excluding new purchases in the balance.

Depending on the balance you carry and the timing of your purchases and payments, you’ll usually have a lower finance charge with one-cycle billing and either
 

The average daily balance method excluding new purchases,
 

The adjusted balance method, or
 The previous balance method.

Minimum finance charge
Some credit cards have a minimum finance charge. You’ll be charged that minimum even if the calculated amount of your finance charge is less. For example, your finance charge may be calculated to be 35¢--but if the company’s minimum finance charge is $1.00, you’ll pay $1.00. A minimum finance charge usually applies only when you must pay a finance charge--that is, when you carry over a balance from one billing cycle to the next.
 

What are the fees?

Most credit cards charge fees under certain circumstances:
 

Annual fee (sometimes billed monthly). Charged for having the card
 

Cash advance fee. Charged when you use the card for a cash advance; may be a flat fee (for example, $3.00) or a percentage of the cash advance (for example, 3%)
 

Balance-transfer fee. Charged when you transfer a balance from another credit card (Your credit card company may send you “checks” to pay off the other card. The balance is transferred when you use one of these checks to pay the amount due on the other card.)
 

Late-payment fee. Charged if your payment is received after the due date
 

Over-the-credit-limit fee. Charged if you go over your credit limit
 

Credit-limit-increase fee. Charged if you ask for an increase in your credit limit
 

Set-up fee. Charged when a new credit card account is opened
 

Return-item fee. Charged if you pay your bill by check and the check is returned for non-sufficient funds (that is, your check bounces)
 

Other fees. Some credit card companies charge a fee if you pay by telephone (that is, if you arrange by phone for payment to be transferred from your bank to the company) or to cover the costs of reporting to credit bureaus, reviewing your account, or providing other customer services. Read the information in your credit card agreement to see if there are other fees and charges.


What are the cash advance features?

Some credit cards let you borrow cash in addition to making purchases on credit. Most credit card companies treat these cash advances and your purchases differently. If you plan to use your card for cash advances, look for information about
 

Access. Most credit cards let you use an ATM to get a cash advance. Or the credit card company may send you “checks” that you can write to get the cash advance.
 

APR. The APR for cash advances may be higher than the APR for purchases.
 

Fees. The credit card company may charge a fee in addition to the interest you will pay on the amount advanced.
 

Limits. Some credit cards limit cash advances to a dollar amount (for example, $200 per cash advance or $500 per week) or a portion of your credit limit (for example, 75% of your available credit limit).
 

How payments are credited. Many credit card companies apply your payments to purchases first and then to cash advances. Read your credit card agreement to learn how your payments will be credited.


How much is the credit limit?

The credit limit is the maximum total amount--for purchases, cash advances, balance transfers, fees, and finance charges--you may charge on your credit card. If you go over this limit, you may have to pay an “over-the-credit-limit fee.”
 

What kind of card is it?

Most credit card companies offer several kinds of cards:
 

Secured cards, which require a security deposit. The larger the security deposit, the higher the credit limit. Secured cards are usually offered to people who have limited credit records--people who are just starting out or who have had trouble with credit in the past.
 

Regular cards, which do not require a security deposit and have just a few features. Most regular cards have higher credit limits than secured cards but lower credit limits than premium cards.
 

Premium cards (gold, platinum, titanium), which offer higher credit limits and usually have extra features--for example, product warranties, travel insurance, or emergency services.


Does the card offer incentives and other features?

Many credit card companies offer incentives to use the card and other special features:
 

Rebates (money back) on the purchases you make
 

Frequent flier miles or phone-call minutes
 

Additional warranty coverage for the items you purchase
 

Car rental insurance
 

Travel accident insurance or travel-related discounts
 

Credit card registration, to help if your wallet or purse is lost or stolen and you need to report that all your credit cards are missing

Credit cards may also offer, for a price,
 

Insurance to cover the payments on your credit card balance if you become unemployed or disabled, or die. Premiums are usually due monthly, making it easy to cancel if the payments are higher than you want to pay or you decide you don’t need the insurance any longer.
 

Insurance to cover the first $50 of charges if your card is lost or stolen. Under federal law, you are not responsible for charges over $50.

Before you sign up to pay for any of these features, think carefully about whether it will be useful for you. Don’t pay for something you don’t want or don’t need.
 

How do I find information about credit cards?

You can find lists of credit card plans, rates, and terms on the Internet, in personal finance magazines, and in newspapers. The Federal Reserve System surveys credit card companies every six months. You’ll need to get the most recent information directly from the credit card company--by phoning the company, looking on the company’s web site, or reading a solicitation or application.

Under federal law, all solicitations and applications for credit cards must include certain key information, in a disclosure box similar to the one shown.

Annual percentage rate
(APR) for purchases
 

2.9% until 11/1/06
after that, 14.9%

Other APRs
 

Cash-advance APR: 15.9%
Balance-Transfer APR: 15.9%
Penalty rate: 23.9% See explanation below.*

Variable-rate informtion
 

Your APR for purchase transactions may vary.
The rate is determined monthly by adding
5.9% to the Prime Rate.**

Grace period for repayment
of balances for purchases
 

25 days on average

Method of computing the
balance for purchases
 

Average daily balance (excluding new
purchases)

Annual fees
 

None

Minimum finance charge
 

$.50

Transaction fee for cash advances: 3% of the amount advanced
Balance-transfer fee: 3% of the amount transferred
Late-payment fee: $25
Over-the-credit-limit fee: $25

  * Explanation of penalty. If your payment arrives more than ten days late two times withing a six-month period, the penalty rate will apply.
** The Prime Rate used to determine your APR is the rate published in the Wall Street Journal on the 10th day of the prior month.
 

APR for purchases. The annual percentage rate you’ll be charged if you carry over a balance from month to month. If the card has an introductory rate, you’ll see both that rate and the rate that will apply after the introductory rate expires.

Back to disclosure box

Other APRs. The APRs you’ll be charged if you get a cash advance on your card, transfer a balance from another card, or are late in making a payment. More information about the penalty rate may be stated outside the disclosure box--for instance, in a footnote. In this example, if you make two payments that are more than ten days late within six months, the APR will increase to 23.9%.

Back to disclosure box

Variable-rate information. Information about how the variable rate will be determined (if relevant). More information may be stated outside the disclosure box--for instance, in a footnote.

Back to disclosure box

Grace period for repayment of balances for purchases. The number of days you’ll have to pay your bill for purchases in full without triggering a finance charge.

Back to disclosure box

Method of computing the balance for purchases. The method that will be used to calculate your outstanding balance if you carry over a balance and will pay a finance charge.

Back to disclosure box

Annual fees. The amount you’ll be charged each twelve-month period for simply having the card.

Back to disclosure box

Minimum finance charge. The minimum, or fixed, finance charge that will be imposed during a billing cycle. A minimum finance charge usually applies only when a finance charge is imposed, that is, when you carry over a balance.

Back to disclosure box

Illustration of a billing statement with a magnifying glass on top.

Transaction fee for cash advances. The charge that will be imposed each time you use the card for a cash advance.

Back to disclosure box

Balance-transfer fee. The fee that will be imposed each time you transfer a balance from another card.

Back to disclosure box

Late-payment fee. The fee that will be imposed when your payment is late.

Back to disclosure box

Over-the-credit-limit fee. The fee that will be imposed if your charges exceed the credit limit set for your card.

Back to disclosure box

 

What are your liability limits?

If your credit card is lost or stolen--and then is used by someone without your permission--you do not have to pay more than $50 of those charges. This protection is provided by the federal Truth in Lending Act. You do not need to buy “credit card insurance” to cover amounts over $50.

If you discover that your card is lost or stolen, report it immediately to your credit card company. Call the toll-free number listed on your monthly statement. The company will cancel the card so that new purchases cannot be made with it. The company will also send you a new card.

Make a list of your account numbers and the companies’ phone numbers. Keep the list in a safe place. If your wallet or purse is lost or stolen, you’ll have all the numbers in one place. Take the list of phone numbers--not the account numbers--with you when you travel, just in case a card is lost or stolen.
 

What can you do about billing errors?

The federal Fair Credit Billing Act covers billing errors. Examples of billing error are
 

A charge for something you didn’t buy
 A bill for an amount different from the actual amount you charged
 A charge for something that you did not accept when it was delivered
 A charge for something that was not delivered according to agreement
 Math errors
 Payments not credited to your account
 A charge by someone who does not have permission to use your credit card

If you think your credit card bill has an error, take the following steps:

   1.Write to the credit card company within 60 days after the statement date on the bill with the error. Use the address for “billing inquiries” listed on the bill. Tell the company
      Your name and account number,
      That you believe the bill contains an error, and why you believe it’s wrong, and
      The date and amount of the error (the “disputed amount”).
   2.Pay all the other parts of the bill. You do not have to pay the “disputed amount” or any minimum payments or finance charges that apply to it.

If there is an error, you will not have to pay any finance charges on the disputed amount. Your account must be corrected.

If there is no error, the credit card company must send you an explanation and a statement of the amount you owe. The amount will include any finance charges or other charges that accumulated while you were questioning the bill.
 

What if the item you purchase is damaged?

The federal Fair Credit Billing Act allows you to withhold payment on any damaged or poor-quality goods or services purchased with a credit card--even if you have Illustration of an open box with a broken cup beside it. accepted the goods or services--as long as you have made an attempt to solve the problem with the merchant.

The sale must have been for more than $50 and must have taken place in your home state or within 100 miles of your home address. You should notify the credit card company in writing and explain why you are withholding your payment.

You may withhold the payment while the credit card company investigates your claim. If you pay the charges for the goods on your credit card bill before the dispute is resolved, you will lose your right to make a claim.

The information on this site is adapted from the brochure "Choosing a Credit Card." Single or multiple copies of the brochure are available without charge. Order the brochure by telephone, mail, or fax. Order online.

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4.5
Intro APR  Regular APR  Annual Fee  Reward Type
No Introductory Rate Available  7.4%  $0  n/app
Instant Approval Credit Cards
Instant approval credit cards work well for people that want to use their new line of credit without the usual 2-6 week waiting period.

Click here for a complete listing of instant approval credit cards.
  
 Bank of America Visa Signature® WorldPoints™ Rewards

View our blog post about the Bank of America Visa Signature WorldPoints Rewards  

The Bank of America Visa Signature® WorldPoints™ Rewards, issued by FIA Card Services, N.A., is designed for those with excellent credit who plan to take advantage of the reward program that it offers.

More Info about the Bank of America Visa Signature WorldPoints Rewards
 
5.0
Intro APR  Regular APR  Annual Fee  Reward Type
0% APR for 12 Billing Cycles  9.9%  $0  Point
No Credit / Bad Credit Credit Cards
If you've got a less than perfect credit score, these cards come with programs designed to help you meet your credit goals.

Click here for a complete listing of no credit / bad credit credit cards.
  
 Orchard Bank Platinum MasterCard®

 

The Orchard Bank Platinum MasterCard®, issued by HSBC Bank Nevada, N.A., is designed for those with an average or a limited credit history who do not wish to secure a credit card account with a deposit, as this is often the case with a secured card.

More Info about the Orchard Bank Platinum MasterCard
 
4.0
Intro APR  Regular APR  Annual Fee  Reward Type
0% APR for 6 Months  14.9%  $39**  n/app
Rewards Credit Cards
Earn points, prizes and other exciting goodies when you make purchases with a credit card from this category.

Click here for a complete listing of credit cards with reward programs.
  
 NFL Extra Points™ Platinum Plus® Visa® Card

View our blog post about the NFL Extra Points Rewards Card  

The NFL Extra Points™ Platinum Plus® Visa® Card, issued by FIA Card Services, N.A., is designed for NFL fans with good credit who plan to take advantage of the reward program that is offered.

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5.0
Intro APR  Regular APR  Annual Fee  Reward Type
0% APR for 12 Billing Cycles  9.99% / 15.99%  $0  Point
Cash Back Credit Cards
Put your purchasing power to work! You can earn cash back rebates and other cash incentives when you use one of these credit cards.

Click here for a complete listing of cash back credit cards.
  
 Capital One® No Hassle Cash(SM) Rewards - Excellent Credit

 

The Capital One® No Hassle Cash(SM) Rewards card for people with excellent credit is ideal for those who are looking for a card that offers a cash back reward program.

More Info about the Capital One No Hassle Premium Cash Card
 
4.0
Intro APR  Regular APR  Annual Fee  Reward Type
0%  13.4%  $0  Rebate
Student Credit Cards
Take advantage of these specially designed reward programs and earn cool prizes that are perfect for the college student lifestyle.

Click here for a complete listing of student credit cards.
  
 Citi® mtvU™ Platinum Select® Visa® Card for College Students

View our blog post about the Citi® mtvU™ Platinum Select® Visa® Card for College Students  

The Citi® mtvU™ Platinum Select® Visa® Card for College Students, issued by Citibank, is a credit card designed specifically for students and offers a unique reward program that awards students for using credit wisely and for receiving good grades.

More Info about the Citi mtvU Platinum Select Visa Card for College Students
 
3.5
Intro APR  Regular APR  Annual Fee  Reward Type
0% APR for 6 Months  15.74%  $0  Point
Business Credit Cards
If you're looking for a line of credit for a small to medium sized business, these cards are perfect for managing your business expenses.

Click here for a complete listing of credit cards for businesses.
  
 The Business Gold Rewards Card

View our blog post about the Business Gold Rewards Card!  

The Business Gold Rewards Card, issued by American Express®, is a charge card designed for business owners with good credit who plan to pay their business-related expenses in full each month and would like to participate in the Membership Rewards® program for no additional fee.

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4.0
Intro APR  Regular APR  Annual Fee  Reward Type
No Introductory Rate Available  n/app  $125**  Point
Balance Transfer Credit Cards
Consolidate many credit card bills onto one of these credit cards to take advantage of introductory rates and save big!

Click here for a complete listing of balance transfer credit cards.
  
 Citi CashReturns(SM) MasterCard®

View our blog post about the Citi CashReturns MasterCard  

The Citi CashReturns(SM) MasterCard®, issued by Citibank, is designed for those with very good credit who will take advantage of the interest-free introductory offer and the cash back reward program.

More Info about the CashReturns MasterCard from Citi
 
4.5
Intro APR  Regular APR  Annual Fee  Reward Type
0% APR for 12 Months  10.24%  $0  Rebate
Hotel & Airline Credit Cards
Earn points and miles toward future business trips or exotic vacation spots using one of the credit cards from this category.

Click here for a complete listing of hotel & airline credit cards.
  
 Capital One® No Hassle Miles(SM) Rewards - Excellent Credit

 

The Capital One® No Hassle Miles(SM) Rewards card for people with excellent credit is by far one of the best and least costly airline reward cards available.

More Info about the Capital One No Hassle Premium Miles Rewards Card
 
5.0
Intro APR  Regular APR  Annual Fee  Reward Type
0%  13.4%  $0  Mile
Prepaid Credit Cards
Get all the convenience of a regular credit card and spend at your own pace using one of the credit cards from the prepaid section.

Click here for a complete listing of prepaid credit cards.
  
 All-Access® MasterCard® Prepaid Card

View our blog post about the All Access MasterCard Prepaid!  

The All-Access® MasterCard® Prepaid Card, issued by MetaBank, is a stored value card designed for those who may have difficulty in obtaining an unsecured credit card.

More Info about the All-Access MasterCard Prepaid Card
 
4.5
Application Fee  Participation Fee  Annual Fee
$0  $0  $0
Your Credit Network Urges You to Use Your Credit Wisely!

When you get your first credit card, it can be very tempting to go on a spending spree buying all sorts of new things that you weren’t able to before. It’s difficult, but you must resist that temptation and use your credit wisely. But how to use it wisely? It’s not difficult - it just takes a little planning.

The first thing to remember is that you shouldn’t be spending more than you can afford. To figure that out, you need to have a budget. The details of making a budget are outside the scope of this article but, put simply, take your monthly income and then subtract your monthly expenses. The difference is your disposable income. This number determines how much you can afford to spend. Without a credit card, the only way to exceed this amount for a given month is to save money (spend less) in the previous months. A credit card can let you exceed your disposable income by letting you use some of your credit. Keep in mind that this will then increase your monthly expenses in the form of your credit card bill.

However, just because you can exceed your disposable income doesn’t mean you should. Eventually, you will reach your credit limit and won’t be able to spend any more on your credit card. This eliminates one of the best uses for a credit card: emergency spending. If you’re on vacation and your car breaks in the middle of nowhere, a credit card is a great way to pay for the repairs. Also, maxing out your credit cards isn’t a good idea if you’re trying to obtain other forms of credit, like car or home loan, as the ratio of credit extended to credit used is a factor in determining your eligibility for those loans.

It may sound like you shouldn't use your credit card except in emergencies, but that isn't necessarily the case; in fact, you should use your credit cards periodically. Repeatedly using your cards and paying them off in a timely manner demonstrates responsibility to the credit card companies which will lead to a higher limit and lower interest rates. A higher limit gives you a bigger cushion to pay for emergencies when they arise. As long as you’re not spending more than you can afford, there’s no reason not to pay with your credit card.


 

American Express is famous for offering two unique credit card types - those with a revolving credit line and those that must be paid in full at the end of the billing period. Cards of the latter type carry a "n/a" value in the Regular APR category as listed with each credit card below, whereas those with a line of credit will have an annual percentage rate listed. Do not mistake a "n/a" to mean that there is no interest rate associated with the corresponding card - this simply means that you must pay your balance in full or you may be subject to a large fee. See the terms and conditions for the credit card you choose before you apply to view the specifics of the payment program.

Credit cards weren't always the defining product/service of American Express; in fact, the company opened its doors in 1850 as a logistics/freight company in New York. This was during a time when the United States Postal Service was unable to deliver packages that were larger than a letter, which presented a business opportunity for companies like American Express to capitalize on a need for a reliable delivery service. Thus, American Express was born - and the relationships they developed with their partner companies early on laid the groundwork for a national financial services firm that would later offer the early versions of credit cards to more than 1 million account holders by the late 1950s. Today, American Express specializes in financial services centralized around a travel-planning background, which gives rise to many of the amazing American Express credit card offers with travel rewards listed below.

 The story of American Express is a fascinating one, filled with interesting and sometimes quirky characters who -- through a combination of brains, perseverance and luck -- shaped the company's development during the past century and a half.

The express company that forwarded freight and valuables evolved into a company that created and sold financial products like money orders and travelers cheques. Following an era of international expansion, the company became an entity perhaps best known for its charge card. Today, American Express is a global payments company.

The attributes that today are the hallmarks of the American Express brand -- trust, integrity, security, quality, customer service -- all have their roots in this compelling story. In this history, as well, are the genesis and development of the company's aspiration to become the world's most respected service brand.

 EXPRESSMEN JOIN FORCES
Established in 1850 in New York, American Express Company was among the first and most successful express delivery businesses to arise during the rapid westward expansion of the United States. The U.S. Postal Service at the time was slow, expensive and nonexistent in many areas. Nothing larger than a letter-sized envelope could be sent by mail, and certainly nothing valuable, as a fair number of deliveries were lost or stolen enroute.

The express companies served as a lifeline to the growing nation. Intrepid expressmen, typically on horseback or driving stagecoaches, traversed from the eastern cities to the western frontier, transporting correspondence, parcels, freight, gold and currency, among countless other goods. American Express quickly earned a reputation as the best in the fledgling industry – the company that delivered, literally.

Although in its early years American Express was not itself a financial services company, its largest and most consistent clients were banks. Delivering the banks’ typically small parcels – stock certificates, notes, currency and other financial instruments – was considerably more profitable than transporting larger freight. Soon the company would scale down its parcel and freight delivery business in favor of creating and selling its own financial products.

 

INNOVATION AND EXPANSION
In 1882, American Express launched the money order business, which proved an almost instant success. The company introduced the world’s first travelers cheque in 1891 and within ten years was selling more than $6 million in cheques annually.

In the course of building the money order and travelers cheque businesses, the company established correspondent banking relationships with a number of European banks that accepted and encashed the products. As a result, the American Express name became increasingly visible throughout Europe. In 1895, the company established its first European office, in Paris, at 6, rue Halévy, followed by the 1896 opening of an office at 3 Waterloo Place in London. By 1910, American Express had expanded to Southampton, Liverpool, Hamburg, Berlin, Bremen, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Naples and Genoa.

Although foreign exchange transactions were conducted as early as 1895 by the Paris office, the official initiation of the company’s overseas banking operations took place in 1904, when the Rotterdam office opened in Netherlands and began conducting commercial banking services.

Meanwhile, back in New York, millions of immigrants were entering the United States through Ellis Island. After uncovering several examples of flagrant swindling among the independent moneychangers on the premises, the U.S. Immigration Department awarded a contract to American Express in 1905 to provide official currency exchange services. Over the years, countless newcomers completed their first business transactions in the United States at the American Express teller’s window on Ellis Island.

A singular historic event – the outbreak of World War I in Europe – brought about the next dramatic transformation of American Express and more fully shaped it, willingly or unwillingly, into a travel services company.


WAR AND THE AGE OF TRAVEL
During the summer of 1914, approximately 150,000 American tourists were stranded when war engulfed Europe, many without access to funds. Banks had ceased to pay against foreign letters of credit or any other form of foreign paper. Panic-stricken travelers lined up inside and outside the offices of American Express in whatever city they happened to be visiting. American Express was able to cash all travelers cheques and money orders in full, enabling quick passage home for thousands. Many of those remaining were able to book passage home soon after a decision by American Express and a consortium of nine U.S. banks to ship $10 million in gold to Europe so that local banks could once again honor foreign drafts.

Throughout the war, American Express provided other services as well. The company was appointed official agent of the British government to deliver relief parcels, letters and money to British prisoners of war in Germany. Eventually, American Express was delivering 150 tons of packages a day to British prisoners in Bulgaria, Germany, Holland, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey. Employees also went into the prisoner of war camps to cash drafts for British and French prisoners, and made arrangements whereby they could receive money from home.

American Express officially entered the travel business in 1915. As one executive wrote to the company’s president earlier that year, “Already, we supply travelers with the tickets for their European tours; we receive and forward their mail; we provide reading and writing rooms for their convenience; we store and forward their baggage and packages; we engage their return steamship accommodations. In fact, we are doing already for travelers practically everything except that which is most remunerative to ourselves, namely, furnishing eastbound steamship tickets to Europe; providing hotel accommodations and conducting small parties desiring such a service.”

Within the decade, American Express was undertaking tours to Europe, South America, the Far East, the West Indies and other destinations around the globe. The company became synonymous with luxury travel after its successful charter in 1922 of the first around-the-world cruise, a four-month, 30,000-mile voyage of the Cunard liner, Laconia, with stops in Cuba, Panama, Honolulu, Japan, China, Java, Singapore, India, Cairo and the Mediterranean. (The Laconia went on to carry passengers around the world for another 20 years, before being torpedoed and sunk during World War II.)

American Express’ focus on travel continued through the next several decades. The sale of travelers cheques and money orders – and, more specifically, the float on them and the prudent and profitable investment of that float – generated the revenue that supported this phase of the company’s travel endeavors.

 MATTERS OF SURVIVAL
American Express nearly disappeared as an independent company in 1929. Chase National Bank had been quietly buying up shares of the company for several years. Not until Chase completed a tender offer for American Express did it come to light that its prospective buyer already owned 97 percent of the company.

Two unforeseen and unrelated events saved American Express from becoming fully absorbed by Chase. First, the majority of the owners of the remaining 4,702 shares of American Express balked at selling them, either refusing outright or demanding exorbitant prices. Second, in 1933, the U.S. Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act, which prohibited banks from engaging in nonbanking businesses. Chase was left with no choice but to divest the American Express investment it had acquired just a few years earlier.

Roiled by the Chase incident and battered by the Great Depression American Express struggled through the 1930s. Since it was not a financial institution, per se, the company continued operations during the U.S. bank holiday, and in some respects became a de facto banker for the American people. As in Europe at the outbreak of World War I, American Express offices maintained cash reserves that were sufficient to meet the demands of customers who wanted to encash their travelers cheques or money orders. The company even paid against competing products, many of which were otherwise virtually worthless since the issuing institutions had closed.

During 1938 and 1939, as the prospect of another world war loomed over Europe, there was still a sizable group of longtime American Express managers and employees who had worked for the company 25 years before, during World War I. Their past experiences – and their advance planning, in this instance – helped the company survive World War II.

Even before the official declaration of war, American Express had mounted extensive preparations to protect its financial and real estate assets, including its principal offices in Berlin, London, Paris, Rome and Rotterdam. Throughout Europe, American Express offices continued operating until the last possible moment in countries about to be invaded – often long after American embassies and consulates had been ordered to evacuate. Ultimately, the Berlin office at 3 Unter den Linden was destroyed, and the Rotterdam office sustained extensive damages.

In England, the Liverpool office and the company’s London headquarters in the Haymarket were hit by German bombs during the blitz, as was the Cornhill (London) office, which somehow managed to open the morning after a devastating air raid. Amid the wreckage, local employees posted an “Open for Business” sign and continued to work frantically, making travel arrangements for Allied military leaders and diplomats, and for the evacuation of British children to America and Canada.

Throughout the conflict, company officials feared not only for the safety of employees but also for the very underpinnings of the business. There were predictions that the war might prove to be the death knell for travelers cheques, as sales would plummet when the public ceased to travel. The exact opposite proved to be true. As U.S. soldiers joined the war effort, they were encouraged by the U.S. government to carry their accumulated pay in travelers cheques. Soldiers and sailors used millions of dollars’ worth of cheques; and despite the dire predictions, American Express’ business did not crumble.

Between the end of the war (when the company had 1,500 employees and 50 offices) and 1950, American Express rebuilt its business and enjoyed tremendous growth. By the time of the company’s centennial celebration in 1950, the American Express family had grown to include more than 5,500 employees working in 173 offices worldwide, and reported net income of more than $3 million.

As travel within and beyond the United States blossomed, the company’s volume of travel business grew and set new records.

What could not be overlooked, however, was consumers’ increasing use of a new device – the credit card – for travel and entertainment expenses. Opinions within American Express’ ranks differed about whether or not the company should issue a card. Aware that doing so could cannibalize travelers cheque sales, the company’s leaders eventually agreed that it was a better option than losing cheque sales to competitors’ cards.

THE CARD ERA
American Express issued its first charge card in 1958. Within five years, more than 1 million cards were in use at approximately 85,000 establishments within and outside the United States. Soon, the company began introducing local currency cards in markets outside the United States, adding programs that made it possible for cardmembers to extend payment on large travel expenditures, and launching additional products, such as the American Express Gold Card in 1966. Within ten years, the card business was growing steadily and generating a healthy profit. And, to the surprise of many, so was the company’s travelers cheque business.

In the late 1970s, American Express – like many other large companies of the era – was intent on becoming a global conglomerate, with huge, multifaceted businesses and diversified income streams that could protect the company in the event of hard times in one of its core businesses. During the next several years the company acquired several large acquisitions toward that end, including Shearson Loeb Rhoades, First Data Resources, Trade Development Bank, Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb, and Investors Diversified Services (rebranded American Express Financial Advisors in 1995 and spun off as Ameriprise, Inc. in 2005).

The synergies between the subsidiaries that American Express’ leaders had envisioned didn’t come to pass, however. By 1985, following the string of expensive acquisitions, American Express embarked on a somewhat different strategy – to continue to build the company’s core businesses from within and shed the noncore activities.

A few investments were unloaded, and it appeared as though the plan was working. American Express had a banner year in 1986, with earnings exceeding $1 billion for the first time in its history. Each of the company’s operating units posted record-breaking profits. Reflecting the triumphant mood was the cover of the 1986 annual report, which showed the new American Express Tower amid the fireworks of the nearby Statue of Liberty’s centenary celebration.

 TRYING TIMES
In 1987, American Express Bank added $950 million to its reserves against outstanding loans in Latin America. Later the same year, the U.S. stock market experienced its largest drop since the Great Depression; and in the aftermath, Shearson was rocked by a series of serious missteps and setbacks. The situation ultimately became so dire that in 1990, American Express repurchased all of Shearson’s remaining publicly traded stock for more than $1 billion and provided a critically necessary capital infusion.

Continuing problems at Shearson masked an ultimately more disturbing development. Serious problems were developing in the core American Express Card business. Despite the introduction in 1987 of a new revolving credit product in the United States, the company’s share of the U.S. card market fell during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Trouble was also brewing on the merchant front. In Boston in 1991, a group of restaurateurs, upset about what they felt were American Express’ unfairly high rates, staged a revolt that came to be known as the Boston Fee Party. Outside the United States, card suppression – when merchants try to dissuade customers from using the American Express Card – began to rise.

Years later, the company’s chief executive would say, in retrospect, “If not for the strength of our brand name, American Express would have collapsed by the late 1980s.”

 TURNAROUND AND GROWTH
American Express divested several businesses to strengthen the company’s balance sheet and concentrated on shoring up its core payment, travel and financial planning businesses. The 1984 acquisition of IDS (Investors Diversified Services) – which had initiated American Express’ transformation from what had become known as a card and travel company into a true financial services power – proved to be a valuable investment, particularly as other parts of the enterprise underwent major reengineering efforts to overhaul business processes and slash operating costs. The company eventually lopped $3 billion from its cost base, freeing up money to invest in a number of new products and services.

Rebuilding relationships with merchants became a top priority, as did significantly increasing American Express Card acceptance across a wide range of industries and geographical markets. The company also began forming a number of strategic partnerships with selected airlines, banks, retailers and other key businesses around the world. Proving highly successful, these alliances have enabled American Express and its partners to efficiently leverage their brands and business strengths while providing premium products and services to their mutual customers.

Within the decade, American Express was again operating from a position of strength. As the company celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2000, its earnings, market share, core businesses and share price were strong. Even so, the company began taking steps to counter several external economic issues on the horizon.

No one could have predicted the magnitude of the challenges to come.

 FULL CIRCLE
More than 4,000 American Express employees were in Lower Manhattan the morning of September 11, 2001. Eleven of them lost their lives that day. Eight were hospitalized with injuries, and dozens more lost family members, friends and loved ones.

Even as the horrifying events of that day unfolded, American Express business operations continued without interruption. People quickly shifted into emergency mode, adjusting schedules and procedures to meet the urgent needs of hundreds of thousands of travel customers, cardmembers and financial services clients – plus countless others the world over who needed help and had nowhere else to turn.

Directly across the street from ground zero, American Express’ headquarters building sustained considerable damage. Thousands of employees would work from interim locations for the following eight months, some longer.

The company’s mettle was tested time and time again in the months after 9/11, but employees pushed ahead with great focus, determination and resourcefulness. When it mattered most, American Express employees acted instinctively to help their customers, colleagues, neighbors and community.

Within a year of the tragedy, most of the New York workforce had reunited in Lower Manhattan. The company’s improved financial performance – despite the persistently harsh economic climate – was enabling it to step up growth initiatives to further strengthen its competitive position in the coming years. And while battling the toughest crisis in American Express’ history, employees had not only honored the company’s long-established commitment to providing extraordinary customer service, they had raised the standard.

Today, American Express has never been more competitive. It is a world leader in providing charge and credit cards to consumers, small businesses and corporations. It is the world's largest travel agency, offering travel and related consulting services to individuals and corporations around the world.

As it has throughout its long and varied past, American Express continues to deliver valuable and innovative services to its customers. It remains committed to its longstanding core values. And, as it was in 1850, it is poised to seize new opportunities in a rapidly changing industry and world.