As I was surfing around American Express's Web site recently -- checking my morning balance -- it hit me. Even though I am aware of it, you may not be aware that your credit-card company keeps track of your every Web site move.
That's right. If there is a link for a platinum card upgrade, as there is on my "summary of accounts" page on American Express's site, and you click it, rest assured that American Express has a record of your interest in the card. Credit-card companies are methodical. They're data hounds. If it can be tracked, they're tracking it. Indeed, it wouldn't surprise me if my clicks generate targeted offers -- both online and off.
Still, in addition to monitoring my innocuous moves, card companies are also monitoring things that have a direct impact on how they may view me as a customer. And that's what you may not realize. Which is why I am writing today.
Rather than use someone else to make my point (there's always someone to choose from), I figured that I'd use an example from my own "experience box." Last summer, right before the credit climate got really tough, I was making my credit-limit-increase rounds. Like clockwork, I was hitting the "love" button on my credit-card companies' sites. The love button, for those of you who don't know, is the credit-line-increase-request link that can be found on many credit-card sites. Well, let's just say that I hit one too many buttons. Clank. Bang. Slam.
That's the sound of my USAA accounts getting suspended. I didn't know they were suspended until I tried to make a purchase with one of the cards (a phone call would have been nice). Declined. Declined? I called to find out what was going on with the card. Turns out that I was declined because USAA wanted to find out a few things. One, it wanted to know what my income was. Two, it wanted to know why I had requested a credit-line increase so regularly on the account (about once a month). And, three, it wanted to know why my limits at USAA were so dang high! Where was all of this coming from? USAA told me that it monitors online requests for credit-line increases. My request triggered the suspension. Who knew.
I disclosed my income. I didn't have a good excuse for the frequency of my credit-line-increase requests (because the button was there? Hehe). And I blamed USAA for the high limits on my cards (their underwriting allowed those high limits). Anyhow, the bottom line is that my accounts likely would not have been suspended if not for me playing around with the credit-line-increase link so often. I blame myself for that. USAA knew to the exact click how many times I had requested an increase. I was surprised. I've hit the button just once since then.
To be sure, USAA is not alone. Citibank also monitors credit-line-increase requests through its Web site. If you're hitting that request button at Citibank's site on a regular basis, you should realize that Citi is keeping track of those clicks. I imagine that all of my credit card companies monitor this particular metric. Since my experience with USAA, I've laid off the buttons -- with all of my creditors.
For those of you wondering, USAA and Citibank both allow credit-line increases -- through their Web sites -- without a hard inquiry. The only time that Citibank does a hard pull is when you get the online form and fill it out. Otherwise, the increase is granted without a hard inquiry showing up on your credit report. Because there is no hard pull, one can see why it's so tempting to abuse the credit-line-increase button on a regular basis. There's no harm in trying when there's no impact to your score, right? That's what I used to think. Now I know better.
Like Citibank and USAA, Bank of America, American Express, and many other credit card companies also allow credit-line increases through their Web sites -- all without hard pulls (Chase is a rare exception; it requires a hard pull for any credit-line-increase request). I imagine that quite a few of my readers are hitting those love buttons on a regular basis (at least once a month). I'm all for credit-line increases, but, especially in this credit environment, you should do it on a less-frequent basis.
And for those of you wondering: USAA ultimately cut my limits by about 70 percent. That's the price I paid for hitting the button one too many times. Therefore, do yourself a favor. Temper your enthusiasm when it comes to your credit-card company's love button.
You should assume that your credit-card companies are watching (and counting) your every click.