This week the U.S. Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights. This is something we can all feel good about.
This isn’t about protecting deadbeats from running up their credit card bills and leaving someone else holding the tab. It’s not about people living beyond their means and not wanting to face the consequences of their actions.
It’s about making sure that ordinary, hardworking Americans are not cheated out of their money by billion dollar corporations pulling dirty tricks to rob them of whatever they can get away with. Even their last dollar.
Here’s what the new law will do:
It will prevent credit card companies from sending your bill the day it’s due, and then charging you exorbitant late fees when you can’t get your payment in on time.
It will prohibit them from charging you fees to pay your bill over the phone or online.
For most consumers, it will ban them from retroactively applying increased interest rates on your existing balances.
It will also make it harder for them to issue cards with insanely high limits to your kids, subjecting them to a lifetime of debt they can’t ever hope to pay back.
Now, it’s true that credit card companies are businesses, and they exist to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that. If they’re going to front money to consumers, they should be able to collect interest on that money — within reason. It also makes sense that they charge higher rates for consumers who aren’t a good credit risk. Higher risk entails higher cost.
What’s not OK is to “bait and switch” folks who sign up at one rate and then get hit out of the blue with a much higher rate. Or to impose ridiculous charges for the privilege of paying your debt on time. Fair credit shouldn’t be a “heads I win, tails you lose” proposition.
This is not a handout. It’s simply a matter of fairness.
John Barrow (D-Savannah) is the member of the U.S. House of Representatives 12th Georgia District.