WASHINGTON – The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to rein in credit card rate increases and excessive fees, hoping to give voters some breathing room amid a recession that has left hundreds of thousands of Americans jobless or facing foreclosure.
The House was on track to pass the measure as early as Wednesday, paving the way for President Barack Obama to see the bill on his desk by week's end.
"This is a victory for every American consumer who has ever suffered at the hands of a credit card company," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Banking Committee. The bill passed the Senate 90-5.
If enacted into law as expected, the bill woul give the credit card industry nine months to change the way it does business: Lenders would have to post their credit card agreements on the Internet and let customers pay their bills online or by phone without an added fee. They'd also have to give consumers a chance to spare themselves from over-the-limit fees and provide 45 days notice and an explanation before interest rates are increased.
Now let's stop there for a moment. You want to know the only time I had an interest rate jump without notice before hand? The one time I was late with a payment. Yes, it was my fault. And, they even tell you when you sign up that if you are late with one payment, you will be hit with a higher interest rate. Yes, you really do need to read all that fine print before signing your life away.
Quoting from a little further down the article:
Bankers warned the measure would restrict credit at a time when Americans need it most. They defended their existing interest rates and fees on grounds that their business — lending money to consumers with no collateral and little more than a promise to pay it back — is very risky.
"What has been a short-term revolving unsecured loan will now become a medium-term unsecured loan, which is significantly more risky," said Edward Yingling, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association.
"It is a fundamental rule of lending that an increase in risk means that less credit will be available and that the credit that is available will often have a higher interest rate," Yingling added.
Wait, so the government helping is actually hurting? There's a surprise.
But it gets better. Look at this article from the New York Times.
Credit cards have long been a very good deal for people who pay their bills on time and in full. Even as card companies imposed punitive fees and penalties on those late with their payments, the best customers racked up cash-back rewards, frequent-flier miles and other perks in recent years.
Now Congress is moving to limit the penalties on riskier borrowers, who have become a prime source of billions of dollars in fee revenue for the industry. And to make up for lost income, the card companies are going after those people with sterling credit.
Banks are expected to look at reviving annual fees, curtailing cash-back and other rewards programs and charging interest immediately on a purchase instead of allowing a grace period of weeks, according to bank officials and trade groups.
“It will be a different business,” said Edward L. Yingling, the chief executive of the American Bankers Association, which has been lobbying Congress for more lenient legislation on behalf of the nation’s biggest banks. “Those that manage their credit well will in some degree subsidize those that have credit problems.”
As they thin their ranks of risky cardholders to deal with an economic downturn, major banks including American Express, Citigroup, Bank of America and a long list of others have already begun to raise interest rates, and some have set their sights on consumers who pay their bills on time. The legislation scheduled for a Senate vote on Tuesday does not cap interest rates, so banks can continue to lift them, albeit at a slower pace and with greater disclosure.
“There will be one-size-fits-all pricing, and as a result, you’ll see the industry will be more egalitarian in terms of its revenue base,” said David Robertson, publisher of the Nilson Report, which tracks the credit card business.
People who routinely pay off their credit card balances have been enjoying the equivalent of a free ride, he said, because many have not had to pay an annual fee even as they collect points for air travel and other perks.
“Despite all the terrible things that have been said, you’re making out like a bandit,” he said. “That’s a third of credit card customers, 50 million people who have gotten a great deal.”
Robert Hammer, an industry consultant, said the legislation might have the broad effect of encouraging card issuers to become ever more reliant on fees from marginal customers as well as creditworthy cardholders — “deadbeats” in industry parlance, because they generate scant fee revenue.
So those of us who do pay on time can say good bye to the free perks we've been getting all these years. Why? So the government can help out the rest of the country. Once again punishing the good to help the irresponsible.
As you may or may not know, I am an advisor in Personal Finance at Epinions. Basically, that means I read lots of reviews about finance stuff. You would not believe the number of people who sign up to complain about a service. And usually, the negative credit card reviews are the person whining because they weren't paying attention and got charged for it. I know that I can't over spend my limit and have to pay the bill on time or there will be huge consequences in the form of fees and increased interest. So I make sure I followed the rules.
And above all, I don't carry a balance. Yes, I am very fortunate to have a job and roommates to help with that. But you know what else? If I didn't have those things, you can bet I wouldn't be buying the DVD's and books I do.
See, once again this comes down to personal responsibility. People don't want to take responsibility for their actions. And the government seems to think they are right and it should protect people from consequences. And once again, those of us who do the right thing and are responsible are the ones who suffer.