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Americans have noticed higher interest rates printed on credit card offers in the past year, but a leading consumer advocacy group says that the real cost of borrowing money hasn't changed. A new report by the Center for Responsible Lending suggests that stricter industry regulations required by the Credit CARD Act have revealed that credit card companies took in as much as $12 billion per year in formerly hidden fees and finance charges.

According to PR Newswire, the Center's researchers found that when consumers used special offers and teaser rates to avoid paying credit card interest, they often racked up significantly higher amounts of debt. Missing a payment or exceeding a credit limit would trigger penalty rates and service charges, significantly hiking the cost of carrying a balance for many cardholders.

Since the implementation of the Credit CARD Act, the researchers report, lenders have much less flexibility to change the terms of existing accounts. Customers once accustomed to seeing dozens of zero interest balance transfer offers might long for the good old days, but CRL officials say that today's printed rates more accurately reflect what most consumers will really pay for credit.