The next time you're in the market for a new credit card, it's worth comparing more than interest rates and rewards.
Shopping around may enable you to dodge consumer-unfriendly "mandatory arbitration clauses," according to a new report from CreditCards.com. That fine print requires you to settle disputes via arbitration and prevents you from taking the company to court or joining a class-action lawsuit.
This summer, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a rule that would have banned banks, credit card issuers and other financial firms from including arbitration clauses in their customer agreements. But in late October, Senate Republicans voted to kill that rule before it took effect.
Mandatory arbitration clauses are already prohibited in mortgage contracts, under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Active military servicemembers and their dependents are also exempt from mandatory arbitration clauses in many financial products, under the Military Lending Act.
"Nobody goes shopping for a card with arbitration clauses as the primary thing on their mind, but it's another thing that's certainly worth considering," said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com. "The last thing you want to have happen if something goes wrong between you and a credit card issuer is to have your options limited."
Only nine of 30 credit card issuers have an arbitration clause in the cardholder agreement that cannot be avoided, the site found. The rest either don't have an arbitration clause or have policies that allow new cardholders to opt out. (See chart below.)
Ideally, narrow your search to credit cards that don't have an arbitration clause, period, said Lauren Saunders, associate director for the National Consumer Law Center, a consumer advocate. Banks that allow consumers to opt out from arbitration often only offer a short window to do so, and that process may not restore all of your rights, she said.
"What you really want is a bank that's willing to stand behind its product and not bury people's rights," Saunders said.
But if you do pick a card that provides an arbitration opt-out, make it a priority to do so.
"Nobody plans to sue their bank, but nobody wants their rights taken away, either," she said.