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Credit Card Regulations – Senator Dodd’s Push

In response to the financial crisis, Americans need to be well-aware that changing our frivolous spending habits is crucial; however, this week, Congress is holding credit card companies responsible for their practices as well.   Consumers are subject to credit card companies’ terms and conditions upon signing their detailed agreements; however, what happens to consumer rights when these credit card companies change terms at their own discretion?  The results have proved disastrous for everyday Americans’ bank accounts, as abusive credit card practices find new ways to create endless amounts of monthly fees.

Credit Card Companies’ Abusive Practices

To understand both the importance and potential impact of laws that protect consumers against credit card companies, it is crucial to be aware that credit card rates change unexpectedly.  Fees often appear on your monthly statement out of nowhere, even when you pay your bills on time and have made serious efforts to be in good credit standing.  These companies raise interest rates and dramatically cut credit limits, with little or no regard for how these changes affect loyal customers.  Struggling consumers are left with a large bill and little support-until now.

Senate Banking Committee Approves Bill to Regulate Credit Card Companies

Good news: the Senate Banking Committee, led by Chairman Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut,  approved legislation that will begin the fight against unfair credit card company practices.  Below is what was outlined in the bill:

  • “Protect consumers from “any time, any reason” interest rate increases and account changes.”
  • “Prohibit unfair application of card.”
  • “Protect cardholders who pay on time.”
  • “Limit abusive fees and penalties.”
  • “Prohibit issuers from using a consumer’s card history with another creditor to raise interest rates.”
  • “Prohibit issuers from charging interest on debt that has already been repaid.”
  • “Ensure that cardholders are informed of the terms of their account.”
  • “Protect young consumers from aggressive credit card solicitations.”

What will the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act do for Everyday Americans?

This bill will give a voice to consumers that goes beyond the 24/7 customer support that most credit card companies offer.  The consumer’s voice will now have legal backing, as the government is taking the first step to acknowledge the role credit companies have played in the US financial crisis.  According to The Consumer Federation of America’s Legislative Director Travis Plunkett, “Congress is taking a strong stand against the traps and tricks that many credit card companies use to increase their profits at the expense of financially vulnerable consumers.” With a July 1, 2010 deadline to implement the bill’s outlined changes, Americans can begin to feel good about the progress we are making towards fixing the credit crisis.  The crisis certainly cannot be fixed overnight, but bills like this make accountability a priority for both businesses and consumers.  With legal backing, credit card companies will be forced to take an active role in getting our economy back on track.

Tips to Save Money

We all know that saving money is important, especially during these tough economic times.  Ideally, putting away large chunks of money every time you get paid will build that savings account in no time; however, with a multitude of bills to pay, doing so is not always possible.  In this entry, we take a look at the everyday things consumers like you can do take small steps towards saving money.  In the long-run, when these everyday actions are put together, they will certainly help you fatten your wallet.

1. Call your credit card company and ask them to lower your interest rates

By placing a one-time call to your credit card company, the interest rates you pay on your credit card can be lowered.  Credit card companies want to keep your business; if you mention that you are considering taking your business elsewhere, you have a good shot at getting them to lower your overall interest rate.  Month to month, even a slightly lower interest rate will put additional money back in your pocket that you may not have had before.  Make the call-you have nothing to lose-except the extra bucks you could be saving each month!  Our past post explains other tips you can use when credit card rates change on you.

2. Bring your own caffeine to work

Stopping at Starbucks once, twice-or for all you hard-core coffee drinkers, even three times per day-is nothing abnormal in today’s world of long days and endless projects.  The problem is, the overpriced coffee that coffee chains sell can wreak major havoc on your wallet over time.  By bringing one pound of coffee beans that you buy from the store, you can get 40 cups of coffee.  Even the gourmet coffee beans run at about $4.00 per bag.  Now consider that you’re spending anywhere from $2 to $4 per cup by stopping at a coffee shop every day.  At $10 per week, that’s $40 per month and almost $500 per year.  By bringing your own coffee, that $500 will go straight back to your wallet.

3. Cut your cable bill in half by downgrading to basic cable

With tons of fancy cable packages out there to choose from, it’s no wonder Americans are spending an arm and a leg every month on cable.  Think about it-if you’re really serious about saving money, will cutting out the 300 plus channel plan really make a huge impact on your entertainment life?  You can still watch your weekly shows, you just may not have access to all of the fancy channels.  What will you have instead? An extra $50 to $100 in your pocket each month-over a year, that could lead to an extra $1200!

4. Cut out the lottery tickets

Sure, we all have the faint hope, somewhere in the back of our mind, that one day we will “hit the jackpot” and win that $20 million lottery.  The truth is, if you’re really looking to save money, consider this:  the odds of winning the Mega Millions are 1 in 135,145,920.  With people spending up to $150 per year in some states on lottery tickets, the odds that you will get that $150 back are slim to none.  Anything is possible, but when you’re serious about pinching pennies, play the odds that are in your favor-and skip on the lottery tickets.

5. Ask yourself where you get your news-online or via the paper?

Many Americans enjoy the morning ritual of reading the morning paper; however, many people find that their morning paper goes straight to the recycle bin.  As the world has moved to the Internet, more and more people get their news via websites that they check on a daily basis.  Ask yourself this important question-do you really read the paper every morning?  If you find yourself using the Internet for your daily news updates, consider canceling your subscription.  Over time, the money you were spending to actually fill your recycle bin will start to actually fill your wallet instead.

Credit Card Rate Changes – What Can I Do?

It may have happened to you or to a close friend. Unexpectedly, for no apparent reason, the terms and payments on your credit cards has dramatically changed!  You always paid your bills on time-you always paid more than the minimum payment and were a long time customer.  Suddenly you go to the mailbox and find that your credit line has been cut in half, even as your interest rate doubles or triples!  Recent surveys are saying this could be happening to as much as 30% of Americans with credit cards!

So what are your options if the credit card companies do this to you?

  • Call the credit card company directly to see what options you have.  If you have a solid payment history with this creditor, voice your disagreement regarding the reduced limit or rate change.  Argue that you have always made your payments on time, emphasizing that you are a long-term customer
  • If you are in good credit standing, you could have the luxury to shop around for a card with an even better interest rate.  You have the ability to take advantage of the fact that banks are lending again.  Balance transfer credit cards can provide time periods with low or 0% interest rates.
  • People are either hesitant to borrow or have too bad of a credit situation to qualify for a new card.  If you are unsure of where your credit stands, sign up for free credit monitoring.  There are a few websites that compare credit cards based on credit score requirements.  You can use the Federal Reserve website for more information about what to look for when credit card shopping.
  • Do not close your current credit card accounts.  Doing so can actually affect your credit score negatively, limiting your ability to borrow if your situation gets worse.  You also have no idea if the cards you keep will one day change their terms and limits.

So how do you know if your credit card company will spontaneously change your terms and payments?  Honestly, you don’t.  While there is a law that governs consumers’ rights with credit cards, unfortunately, most of us sign a contract with the lender that gives them the right to make these changes to our credit lines and credit cards.  Continue to monitor your monthly statements and online accounts to see if changes are coming.  Aside from rate and term changes, pay attention to news of your bank being acquired by another.

We should take action to lessen our dependency on credit cards.  We need to learn to live within our limits and buy only what we can afford.  Altered payments and interest rates is the first sign that times are changing; as a result, our old spending habits have to change.