By Tech Editor Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Discover, the credit card company, has been fined by the US government and will pay $200 million to credit card holders whom the feds say were pressured or tricked into buying add-on services.

“Debt protection” is an insurance offered by some credit card companies.  If, for example, you lose your job or have a health problem and can’t make your minimum payment, they’ll cover it — for a fee.

But for the billions paid into this safety net, says Gerri Detweiler, the director of consumer education at, “the benefit to consumers was a very small fraction of that.”

Detweiler says, “You’re much better off taking the money you would have spent on those programs, paying off your debt faster — and of course then you don’t have to worry about those minimum payments.”

The government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says Discover, through its telemarketing, misled customers about the benefits and left them thinking the protection plan was free.

American Express says it also expects to have to pay up over its add-on practices.  Capital One already has been fined.

“We’re going to see a lot of card issuers either having to modify these programs or, like Bank of America, just decide not to offer them altogether,” Detweiler notes.

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