Every Tuesday, Smithee presents an article about his own experiences credit cards with and observations about the credit card industry.
The U.S. Federal Reserve is set to vote on Thursday (Dec. 18) on a set of rules which could change credit policy affecting all Americans. The full set of proposals is more than a thousand pages long, but here are the highlights:
Fewer interest rate hikes
It would no longer be allowed to raise the interest rate on an existing balance, and credit issuers would have fewer options for raising rates seemingly at random on their customers with good histories.
An end to Universal Default
Some companies would penalize customers for having a bad history outside of the issuer’s credit account, such as with a utility company. This will no longer be legal.
More on-time payments
Payments will have a due date at least twenty-one days after statements are delivered.
Payments to be applied first to the highest interest items
Currently, your credit card payments are likely going toward the part of your balance with the lowest rate. This benefits the credit issuer and extends the length of time you’ll be paying. This practice will be reversed.
New information design
Credit card applications, monthly statements and other materials would clearly display terms in reader-friendly boxes with large type. Credit card issuers would have to disclose the consequences of only making minimum payments each month — namely, that it will take much longer to pay off the credit card balance. Issuers also must eliminate the use of the term “grace period” on credit card applications and solicitations. Instead the phrase “how to avoid interest” or similar wording would have to be used. The term “fixed rate” card can only be used if the rate will never change. Monthly statements would also carry boxes that provide year-to-date totals on the amounts paid in fees, interest and other charges.
This is probably my favorite of the new rules, as it most closely attempts to inform and educate consumers, instead of telling people what they can and can’t do.
More accurate credit offers
Credit issuers will have to work harder when attracting targeted future customers with low interest rates, in that the low interest rate quoted will have to be close to the rate that the customer is approved for. People are frequently surprised when they apply for a 9% card and are awarded a 23.99% card.
Naturally, credit issuers are decrying the proposals, saying they will end up hurting consumers by making it more expensive for the credit card companies to do business. This may turn out to be true, but at least in some cases, it’s obvious that credit card companies make money by being deliberately deceptive, and as a recipient of that deception, I’d like to see it stop.
The new proposals are expected to pass the vote, and companies will have up to a year to put the new practices in place.
Published or updated December 16, 2008.