Thursday, May 21, 2009

Credit Card Bill

You may have heard that the congress has passed a new bill, changing the way credit cards work. Congress is working to protect consumers, who have been bearing the burdens of the companies (who else would bear the burden? See the bottom of this note). No matter that the Federal Reserve had already tightened a lot of the rules, congress wanted it's name on a bill.

The new law (to be signed soon) will make it harder for people under age 21 to get cards, and "it would also ban rate hikes unless a consumer is more than 60 days late -- and then restore the previous rate after six months if minimum payments are made." (According to CNN) There are other items reported to be in the bill, I found a good list at the Simple Dollar (this site). He even some predictions as to what might come about in the future. Some of bill's line items include restrictions on raising interest rates without a 45 day notice, putting a stop to double-cycle billing, which hit me back in April 2007 (see here). Teaser rates that last a couple of months would be gone for good.

So what do you think of this new bill? I'll share my opinion. I don't think much about it. And neither should you. Not that I think bad about it, just that I haven't wasted many brain cycles thinking about it.

I'm one of the freeloaders, the folks who charge using their credit card, then pay it off each month. I never (except in April 2007) get hit with interest rates, fees, etc. In fact, I get reward points which I trade in on free travel, so I'm making money off the cards (well, not much). I pay no annual fee and therefore, I'm getting a free ride. The credit card companies are making this money by charging fees on other people. They charge interest, late fees and annual fees.

So this sounds like a reverse "tax", much like the lottery (see my note here), a Robin Hood thing - take from the rich, give to the poor. So this legislation seems like a good idea, right?

Actually, I think it's not a good idea. First, there seems to be some hypocrisy here. We're telling credit card companies they've been bad corporate citizens, but we're not telling the consumers they've been bad. Isn't that a little one-sided. Additionally at a time when we're trying to encourage our banks and financial institutions to be cut their expenses and be more liquid, we are cutting one of their tools to increase their liquidity. If they can't make a profit "on the backs of the consumers," how will they make a profit? If they don't make a profit, they will go out of business and then who profits? Certainly not the consumer.

Many conservatives have been saying that a likely change will be increases in annual fees. People like me will suddenly see new fees where they had none before. The Simple Dollar (another reference) disagrees. No problem, I'll change cards or eliminate them all together.

You may say that it's fine for me to suggest I'll change or eliminate cards, what about those who can't afford to do that? They have a super high balance and bad credit and can't get new cards. My answer is simple, if you can't afford the stuff you bought, you shouldn't have bought it. Credit cards are nothing more than a way of deferring payment on something. If you can't afford it today, what makes you think you can afford it a month from now? Instead of paying $25 a month for that big LCD TV, why not save $25 a month and pay for it in cash?

One thing is certain, this new legislation will make credit cards less attractive. Those with poor credit are less likely to get cards, because the companies can't charge the exorbitant fees. And those who pay the cards off monthly are likely to see less benefits. In reality, this is probably a good thing. Which brings me back to the original statement. Why did congress do this? Most of the line items in this bill were already set to take effect next year due to the changes made by the Federal Reserve. So why all the ranting and raving? Because congress wanted to have their name beside something good.

Seems like much ado about nothing.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Let me preface this comment with full disclosure...I have not read the entire bill, but rather the "cliffs notes" summaries.

With that being said, I think the bill is bittersweet. I love that the credit sharks can't blatantly attack young consumers because of the cosigning provision. I like the protections offered against sudden and seemingly random rate hikes. Overall, the bills seems to actually be written with the consumer in mind.

The bitter part of the bill for me is the government involvement. I don't believe that ALL government involvement is bad, but I also don't see them as my savior. This is just another way that Washington is regulating private industy.

My humble opinion is that the best way to avoid the woes of credit card fine print is to avoid the use of the cards! I don't have to worry about rate hikes, over-limit fees, late fees, annual fees, universal default provisions, collectors, or other "evils" of the credit card industry...because I use CASH!!!