President Barack Obama and Congress are pushing for new protections for credit card users, but consumers shouldn't hold their breath for any meaningful change. Obama, after meeting with executives from major credit card lenders at the White House Thursday, said he wants legislation that will protect consumers from sudden spikes in fees and confusing information provided by lenders. Both the House and Senate separately are considering a credit card "bill of rights" striking many of the same tones. But isn't this a rather weak reply? The government owns major portions of big credit card lenders like Citigroup ( C) and Bank of America ( BAC). But while it considers allowing federal judges to alter the amount owed on mortgages to address the housing crisis, it seems powerless to set a cap on credit card interest rates. All the proposed legislation does, essentially, is beef up disclosure. Companies like American Express ( AXP) have nothing to worry about. So what, the bill says they have to notify cardholders before they go over their limits and incur extra fees? Guess what -- the companies will just decline that purchase. Big deal.
Meanwhile, if the government used its influence as a large shareholder at a company like Citi to offer low fixed rates, other lenders would have to follow. This would truly benefit consumers and help spur spending that the government seems so desperate to stimulate. Instead, interest rates are sky high, late payment fees can sometimes be more than the balance due for many borrowers and credit card companies sometimes play games with the balances the interest is based upon.
WTF? Credit Card Bill of Rights?
Just this week, Bank of America and Discover Financial Services ( DFS) both confirmed rate hikes on a certain segments of their cardholders. The card company's response is always the same -- just pay the balance on time and then you won't have this complaint. If it were that easy, then there wouldn't be this much legislation.