Once upon a time, Peter Finch won an Oscar for telling us to go to our window, open it, and yell, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore!” Now thousands and thousands of consumers are doing just that, but instead of yelling out their windows, they’re yelling at the Federal Reserve in the form of a record breaking number of public comments about some proposed credit card reforms. Not as sexy as yelling like a madman, but far, far more effective.
Many consumers say it’s about time. The rules were proposed just as the U.S. economy started to tank, when many card holders were falling further behind on their payments at the same time home equity lines of credit were drying up and jobs were disappearing. Regulatory agencies came under fire to act, and Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) held hearings this spring to examine card company billing practices.
The proposed regulations generated more than 56,000 comments from individuals, banks, credit unions, and industry associations. That’s a record number of submissions, says the Fed, beating the previous record of 45,000 submissions for a proposal that would have let financial firms assume the role of real estate brokers.
BusinessWeek says that since 1996 our nation’s credit card debt has doubled to almost $1 trillion dollars. And unpaid credit card bills are growing fast as the economy sours. For their part, the credit card companies are trying to stop the bleeding by raising interest rates on otherwise “good” customers. And those customers have had enough.
Here’s how the Federal Reserve describes the proposed reforms:
- Banks would be prohibited from increasing the rate on a pre-existing credit card balance (except under limited circumstances) and must allow the consumer to pay off that balance over a reasonable period of time.
- Banks would be prohibited from applying payments in excess of the minimum in a manner that maximizes interest charges.
- Banks would be required to give consumers the full benefit of discounted promotional rates on credit cards by applying payments in excess of the minimum to any higher-rate balances first, and by providing a grace period for purchases where the consumer is otherwise eligible.
- Banks would be prohibited from imposing interest charges using the “two-cycle” method, which computes interest on balances on days in billing cycles preceding the most recent billing cycle.
- Banks would be required to provide consumers a reasonable amount of time to make payments.
If you’d like to add your comment to the proposal, click here, then scroll down to “Proposals for Comment.”