Dr. Carin Van Gelder was furious when she opened her credit card bill and found out the interest rate on her MasterCard had suddenly shot up, even though she always paid on time.

"It went up to almost 20 per cent and there was no reason, I couldn't imagine why there was a reason," she said.

A Consumer Reports National Research Center survey found a high rate of credit-card complaints:

  • 14 per cent had their credit limits lowered recently,
  • 29 per cent were hit with new fees or penalties,
  • And 38 per cent said their interest rates had been hiked.

"Our survey found that fewer people are satisfied with credit-card companies than with almost any other service we assess," Kim Kleman of Consumer Reports said.

After several hours on the phone and threatening to cancel the card, Dr. Van Gelder successfully got her interest rate back down to 12 per cent.

"Calling up and complaining can be very effective. According to our survey, about half the time people got at least some of what they wanted," Kleman said.

If negotiating doesn't work, look for a card with better terms.

The website moneytools.ca is run by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

There you can use the "credit card selector" tool to help you find the card with the features you want along with the lowest fees and rates.

"There are now often one-time fees on balance transfers, so before you switch to a new card make sure you check that," Kleman said.

And also check if the new card carries an annual fee. That kind of charge is making an unwelcome comeback.

Moneytools.ca can also show you how much it really costs if you only make the minimum payment every month. And it has practical tips on how to pay down your balances much faster.

In the new year, it will be required by law to disclose how long it will take you to fully repay your balance if you only make the minimum payment on your monthly credit card statement.

That will be a real eye opener especially after the holiday shopping season.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Chris Olsen.