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13 Mar 2019

'Left in the lurch by Saga' - what happens when a lender scraps your credit card?

Saga's Platinum credit card will be withdrawn in two weeks

This January, over-50s financial services provider Saga axed its Platinum credit card, giving cardholders just two months' notice to clear their debts. Now, with two weeks to go, customers have been left in the dark on what will happen to any outstanding balances.

Richard, 60, from Hampshire, is one of those customers. He took out the Saga card years ago because of the low interest rate (11.9% APR) and fee-free spending abroad - two features which no doubt contributed to its 69% Which? customer score in 2017.

Due to the low interest rate, Richard used the card frequently. Now it's on its way out, he told Which? he feels stuck.

He said: 'I feel we've been left in the lurch by Saga and there's no [equivalent] alternative at the moment I could go to.'

Read on to find out about your options if you're a Saga customer, and what to do if your lender does withdraw your credit card at short notice.

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Saga Platinum credit card withdrawn

Saga announced it was removing its credit card from the marketafter the end of its longstanding partnership withAllied Irish Bank (AIB) - the Platinum card's provider. It informed customers of the cancellation on 15 January.

In an accompanying letter from AIB, cardholders were told their balance would become 'due and owing in full' if it was not paid off or transferred to another credit card by 28 March. After that, an unspecified 'third party' would be handed the balance.

This announcement caused distress among customers, and several of them reached out to Which? Money with their concerns.

Richard found the letter particularly worrying, so he wrote to Saga for more information.In a letter from Saga dated 21 January, he was told AIB would be in contact 'within the next few weeks' to clarify his concerns. More than seven weeks later, he has still heard nothing.

Richard found Saga's response disappointing.

He said: 'They didn't offer anything over and above what the letter from AIB said.'

It was, he said, as if he was being told: 'You're in AIB's hands, not ours - not Saga's.'

'I didn't feel that was the right response from Saga,' he said. 'It didn't give me a warm or comfortable feeling as a Saga customer.'

Jeff Bromage, managing director of Saga Personal Finance, said: 'I recognise that the Saga Credit Card is a product that our customers have enjoyed and valued over many years. I am therefore extremely sorry it will close on 28th March.'

What will happen to customers' debts?

Which? asked both Saga and AIB to confirm what would happen to customers' debts if they failed to repay by 28 March.

Saga told Which? the loan book was currently up for sale and no buyer had yet been confirmed.

Mr Bromage said: 'While many customers have already paid off or transferred their balances, customers with outstanding balances understandably have questions and concerns.

'AIB are currently engaged in a process with a number of interested third party bidders to sell their loan book.

'Whether or not there is a sale, FCA regulations require firms to comply with the principles of Treating Customers Fairly and responsible lending rules. These include providing affordable repayment plans for customers in financial difficulty. If a suitable third party is selected, cardholders will be informed of next steps once the sale has completed.'

AIB told Which? they were currently working 'with a number of interested third-party bidders' but no buyer had been announced at this stage.

The Saga Platinum credit card terms and conditions assure cardholders that when the agreement ends, 'there will be no other costs incurred by you in respect of termination of this Agreement.' This means the purchaser of the loan book won't be allowed to charge you additional fees or interest.

Richard was worried about the possibility of the loans being sold to a collection agency.

'They didn't discount a debt collection agency, nor did they say it would be a debt collection agency,' he said. 'From the letter that I saw, it could be anybody that they pass the debt to.'

Saga encouraged any cardholders who had concerns to call their dedicated helpline on01345 646 0025.

What should you do if your lender closes your credit card?

Though credit cards are not withdrawn frequently, it's still important to know what to do if you find yourself in a similar situation, or if you are a Saga Platinum customer yourself.

Your options essentially amount to paying off the balance, or transferring your balance to a new card.

Pay off the balance

Ideally, you'd pay off the balance in full by the date specified - though with two weeks remaining, this may be unrealistic.

You can use our credit card repayment calculator to work out how long it might take to clear your debt.

When another company takes over your debt, it should inform you as soon as possible what steps you need to take.

If you're worried about paying off your balance, contact a free debt advice organisation for impartial, personalised help and support.

Transfer your balance

Some credit cards will accept a balance transfer, which allows you to move debt from one credit card to another. Many of these cards offer a 0% interest-free period, during which you can try to pay down your debt.

You can find out how it works and what the best deals currently available are in our guide to0% balance transfer credit cards.

However, there's no guarantee you'll be accepted for a balance transfer, no matter how good your financial situation.

And if you're rejected, be wary about immediately applying again. As we explore in our in-depth credit-scoring investigation, applying and being turned down for multiple credit cards in a short space of time can have a negative effect on your credit rating.

For Richard's part, though he tried to apply for a 0% deal, he wasn't successful - possibly because he already holds a number of other cards. Fortunately, he was able to transfer most of his outstanding balance onto the Barclaycard he already had open, though he is unhappy with its 'substantially [higher] interest rate.'

The Saga card offered a highly attractive rate for overseas spending, so borrowers may struggle to find an equivalent deal. We round up the low-rate deals available in our guide to the best travel credit cards.

If you're unsure which type of card to choose, you can use our credit card selector tool to figure out which type of credit card might best suit your circumstances.