While opening today's mail, I came across a nice balance transfer offer from one of my credit cards... but with a sneaky catch. Now let me just say this: Using credit cards is optional. Anyone who doesn't like their rates or fees shouldn't use them. Credit cards have a cost, and it's often high. But no one makes any of us use them.

With that in mind, I have to say that I don't like the sneaky things the credit card companies do. That includes little known catches, like requiring your payment to arrive before noon, or it's not posted on that day. Or adding confusing language to your agreement that makes it impossible for you to know how much you're actually going to owe the credit card company.

Or this one: Enticing you into a balance transfer or cash advance with terms that are unusual or confusing. Today's balance transfer offer looked great. There was a 1.99% rate until September 2008. But wait. This wasn't the usual term that gives you the rate through your closing date in September. This one gives you the special rate until the first day of your September 2008 statement. Which means that the rate really ends in August, because that's when your September statement starts. Of course "September" was in nice bold print.

See? I don't like these kinds of terms that I believe are deliberately confusing. So once again, I caution consumers against using credit cards. There is a responsible way to use them, and a very cautious way to use them. Any other way, and you're playing with fire.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.

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