Who is John Tsuris?

I don't know either. Actually, "John Tsuris" is a pseudonym coined for just this occasion, in an effort to avoid tempting the Fates. Mr Tsuris, according to two mailings received here in late September, lives at my address; this would seem unlikely, since I have lived at this address for six years, and if he had been the previous resident, I presumably would have received items of this nature in 1996, not now. What I do know about Mr Tsuris is that he has a credit profile described by the industry as "sub-prime". Way sub-prime. And the two offerings sent to him reflect this.

Envelope number one contains an offer for a Gold (not some more mundane metal, mind you, but Gold) MasterCard from First Premier Bank of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, approved by one "D. Nicholsan". Much is made of this: "You are not required to open a savings account or send a security deposit as a condition for your new Gold MasterCard." The terms for this card range from not too bad (18.9 percent APR, 25-day grace period on new purchases) to stiff ($50 annual fee) to preposterous ($119 "acceptance fee", $72 annual "participation fee" over and above the $50).

Assuming Mr Tsuris were to accept this offer, he would be issued, it says here, "a MasterCard with at least a $250.00 credit limit." Not a whole lot for a Gold card, I'd say. More to the point, his first bill will include that $119 acceptance fee, that $50 annual fee, and one-twelfth ($6) of the participation fee, a total of $175; if his limit is $250, that means he starts with $75 worth of credit. He might do better sending that $175 to a bank issuing secured cards. At least he'd stand a chance of getting it back some day.

Envelope number two goes a bit farther: it contains a card of some sort. It's a First National Card, bearing a big blue "1", a nice shot of Lady Liberty, and a sixteen-digit number. In fact, it looks almost Visa-like, but that's the extent of the similarity. The First National Card, issued by CCA (the letters are never expanded into actual words) of Las Vegas, Nevada, comes with a limit of $6500 at zero percent interest. Of course, the Card can be used only to buy stuff from CCA, and while there may be no finance charges involved, there is a minimum down payment of 30 percent plus shipping and handling. And there's an annual fee: $99. What's more, there are "annual benefits": the "Credit Protection Shield", which defers payments for six months in the case of layoffs or permanent disability, and the "Purchase Security Guard", which waives payment for purchased items stolen within thirty days of purchase. (The latter might be useful in Mr Tsuris' putative neighborhood.) Buying either of these costs $99.99 a year.

One of the "great benefits" described on the front of the letter reads: "CREDIT ESTABLISHMENT WITH CCA TO BUILD YOUR CREDIT". This might not be such a bad deal if it actually did that. But it doesn't. Per the fine print on the back:

"CCA does not represent expressly or by implication that enrollment in our program will help anyone establish or re-establish their credit, except with CCA. At your request, we can report your CCA account in good standing as a positive credit reference to any creditor of your choice."

Including, one assumes, First Premier Bank.

Perhaps needless to say, Mr Tsuris will not be applying for either of these deals. But the mailbox will be monitored, and if any more of this stuff comes in, you'll get to read the gory details.

Update, 8/03: First Premier's ubiquitous Mr Nicholsan has now offered me basically the same pitch as described above, albeit with a better interest rate (9.9 percent on purchases) and even more fees: the annual fee has dropped to $48, but there's now an "account set up fee" of $29 and a "program fee of $95", which replace the "acceptance fee". And they've put a notice in bold in the middle of the fine print which states baldly, "If you are assigned the minimum credit limit of $250 your initial available credit will be $72 ($52 if you choose the additional card option)." Oh, and there are a few other fees that can be charged, too: $3.95 for Net access to your account — this is the first time I've ever seen anyone charging for that for a mere credit card — $25 for Express Delivery of replacement cards, and $25 every time they increase your credit limit. I realize that these people cater to individuals who probably shouldn't even be allowed to have cash, let alone MasterCards, but geez.

Update, 6/06: An email from a person identifying himself as a former employee of CCA gives their address as 1050 East Sahara Avenue, Suite 100, Las Vegas, Nevada 89104; telephone 702-732-3694. Also, this page, written by another such, expands CCA to "Capital Credit Alliance," gives an address in the same building but Suite 401 — the emailer said they had at least three whole floors, so this isn't an inconsistency — and another telephone number, 702-289-2717. Neither of them had any kind words for the firm.

The Vent

1 October 2002

Updated 23 June 2006

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