Legislation To Protect Consumers From Crappy Credit Card Practices Moves Forward

The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights is back in the news, and with Congress considering the legislation, we offer a refresher on what’s in this bill and why it’s important.

Last time we checked in, the Fed had passed some good regulations that stopped some of the worst abuses by credit card companies. Unfortunately, those regulations won’t go into effect until July 2010 and they don’t go as far as what Congress and the President want. The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights, sponsored by Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) cleared the House by a wide, bipartisan margin, but didn’t get out of the Senate before it adjourned. On the other side, Senator Chris Dodd‘s (D-Conn.) Credit CARD Act contains much of the same language as the House bill but also adds important protections for consumers under 21, who are often targeted by credit card companies marketing on campuses.

With the renewed vigor of a new Congress and administration, both houses of Congress are working on getting legislation passed and sent to President Obama. Here’s what the legislation will do:

  • Banks can only increase a credit card’s APR if the rate is a promo rate that expired, if the rate is based on an index (for instance, prime plus 3%) and the index increases, or if the customer is late or doesn’t make a payment on that account. This effectively bans universal default, where a bank will increase a card’s APR because you were late on paying a different card.
  • Bans double cycle billing
  • Banks can’t charge fees or consider you in default if your entire balance consists solely of interest that accumulated on the charges.
  • Banks cannot notify credit agencies that you have a new credit account until you use or activate that account
  • Banks cannot charge fees for paying by phone or online.
  • The House bill will take effect one year after the bill becomes law, or no later than July 2010, when the Fed regulations take effect. One exception to this is an amendment that was added will require banks to notify customers 45 days before raising their interest rates; this measure will take effect 90 days after the bill is signed.

    President Obama has indicated that he’d like to include more protections, such as requiring banks to apply credit card payments to balances with the highest APR, rather than split proportionally. Obama is also proposing requiring companies to get consumers’ permission before adding overdraft protection, rather than just giving consumers the chance to opt out, like under the House bill. Additional protections include requiring that payments be due at the same time every month, and that billing statements disclose how long it will take to pay off the balance when making only the minimum payment.

    Lots of good stuff out there. Politically tricky as it may be, we’d love to see merchant agreement violations like minimum purchase and and fees for using credit cards addressed somehow, but that will have to wait till another day.

    (Photo: jakesdad)