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Fair play vs. foul: why credit card reform is needed

Apr 24, 2009 | | Comments Comments Off

j0430819The credit card industry has taken careful, deliberate aim, and shot itself in the foot.

Prior to the financial crisis, credit card issuers mostly picked on subprime borrowers. Recently, though, it seems no one is immune from issuers’ capriciousness. Even folks with the best credit, who paid on time and followed all the rules, are seeing inexplicable rate hikes, slashed credit lines and closed accounts.

Two of the banks that received the most bailout money, Bank of America and Citi, have been at the forefront of this retrenchment, yanking away billions in credit from their customers. Instead of using taxpayer money to lend more, they’re lending less, and understandably incurring customers’ ire.

Today, more people realize what has long been true: that credit card issuers can change virtually anything about your agreement with little notice and regardless of how good a customer you’ve been.

Yes, card issuers should be able to make a profit, but they also have a corporate responsibility to play fair, a responsiblity they’ve been ignoring for years. Double-cycle billing, universal default penalties, egregious fees and hidden “gotchas” in contracts aren’t legitimate ways to make a buck; they’re playing foul.

President Obama said as much when he summoned credit card executives to the White House Thursday, and made clear he supports legislation that would:

  • restrict sudden rate increases
  • rein in fees
  • require clearer applications, notices and contract language
  • put some teeth into enforcement against issuers who violate fair-play rules

The fate of bills like the Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights is in some doubt, however, since the banking lobby is so very powerful in Washington.

If you agree that credit card excesses need to be curbed, contact your lawmakers, particularly your U.S. Senators, who are facing particular pressure to water down any reforms. CLICK HERE for contact information for your state senators.

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