New credit card laws designed to help consumers
By Jami Custer
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – This year credit card companies and consumers were introduced to new laws designed to help protect consumers. Some laws went into effect in August, but others will not take effect until December and late February.
According to one Cherokee Nation employee, these laws have been needed for several decades because the credit card industry has gone unregulated, raising interest rates and changing terms of credit card contracts for millions of customers while they could.
“With the current economy and financial institutions being held to a stricter code of ethics and operations, reform was just a matter of time,” Deborah Vanderpool, a Self-Sufficiency supervisor with the tribe’s Commerce Group, said. “Consumers have been subject to unscrupulous credit card practices for decades, and we’ve still got a few months until we are fully protected.”
In response to the laws, many banks and credit card issuers have tightened standards for issuing cards, and most all have made it more difficult to qualify for a credit card.
“In a survey of the largest national banks, including 19 that issue credit cards, 68 percent indicated to bank examiners that they had tightened credit card lending standards during the 12-month period ending March 31, 2009,” Vanderpool said.
She said the new laws would affect people who use or will use a credit card and that benefits of these changes are huge for consumers.
In the past, credit card issuers could change account terms, including interest rates and fees, without giving much notice. Now, according to the new laws, lenders must give account holders at least 45 days advance notice of significant changes.
Other big changes include informing customers of the right to cancel an account and that cancelling does not require the users to immediately pay off the balance. Further changes include:
• Monthly credit card bills must disclose the dates by which payments must be received to avoid late penalties and the dates that late fees will be charged to the accounts.
• Card issuers must include warnings in monthly statements indicating consumers who only make minimum payments that the amount of time it will take to pay off the debt in full and the interest they will pay will increase.
• Card issuers must disclose whether interest rates will increase if one or more payments are not received on time and what the penalty interest rate will be. This notice must appear on the monthly statement near the payment due date.
• Consumers can opt out of significant changes in terms to their accounts, including interest rate hikes and increase in fees and other charges.
• Cardholders who are more than 60 days late making payments do not have the right to opt out of APR increases.
• Credit card issuers must inform card users of the right to cancel when they mail the 45-day advance notice of the change in terms.
• Opting out is not considered defaulting on the account and should not be penalized by the card issuers.
• Issuers cannot demand payment in full of the outstanding balance or charge monthly maintenance fees on closed accounts if the consumer rejects the changes in terms.
• Opting out does not include raising minimum monthly payments required as this would actually be better for the consumer and pay off the card balance earlier.
“Currently opting out of interest rate hikes is only granted at the card issuer’s discretion and is not a consumer right,” Vanderpool said. “Opting out will allow the consumer to pay the old, lower interest rate but will not allow further purchases on the card.”
She said there are three methods for repaying balances on accounts that have been closed by consumers choosing to reject changes. They are: paying the balance over at least five years, charging a minimum payment that is up to twice the percentage charged before the change in terms and using the same repayment plan used on the account at the time the consumer rejects the change in terms.
Vanderpool said retroactive interest rate hikes on existing balances are banned except when an introductory period ends, the interest rate is tied to an index and is variable, the card user completes the terms of a workout plan for debt repayment or fails to comply with a workout plan or the card user is more than 60 days late making monthly payments.
Vanderpool said consumers younger than 21 who are not authorized users on a parent’s account must show proof of income to repay credit card loan or have an adult co-signer if they want accounts in their own names.
Reach Staff Writer Jami Custer at (918) 453-5560 or firstname.lastname@example.org
card users will be better off after new credit card laws go into effect in
February. (Photo by Jami Custer)