Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would ban interest rate hikes on existing balances, over-the-limit fees, double-cycle billing. In addition, the cardholders could avoid a higher rate by canceling the card before the rate takes effect.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), whose bill on the subject passed the House last year but died in the Senate, is reintroducing her measure this congressional session. A similar piece of legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.). Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) have introduced a stronger measure that forbids retroactive rate increases and place additional restrictions on what fees financial institutions can charge.
The Maloney and Schumer-Dodd bills are similar to regulations approved by the NCUA and Federal Reserve and other regulators last year, which take effect next year. Lawmakers want to pass the measure so it takes effect sooner-90 days after the president signs it-in light of the recession.
"A credit card agreement is supposed to be a contract, but in recent years cardholders have lost the ability to say 'no' to unfair interest rate hikes and fees. This bill levels the playing field between card companies and cardholders while fostering fair competition and free market values. It sets no rate caps, fees, or price controls, nor does it dictate any business models to card companies," Maloney said.
CUNA and NAFCU both said they support the idea of expanding consumer rights, but took issue with several parts of the measure, including a provision requiring a 45-day notice of rate changes, and the provision mandating creditors set up a system so consumers can notify them if they want to opt out of credit authorization of over-the-limit transactions if fees are involved.
CUNA Vice President for Legislative Affairs Ryan Donovan said they are also concerned that the expedited implementation period would be a burden to credit unions because of the changes to their computer software.
NAFCU in the past has expressed concern about a proposed ban on raising rates on outstanding balances unless a customer paid late or if a promotional rate had expired. The association contends that this provision would remove a key risk management tool for credit unions.
Another provision of the measure would give credit card users at least 25 days to pay their bills each month and mandates no late fees if the payment reached the credit card company on 5 p.m. on the due date.
Two other lawmakers are going to attempt to place a cap on interest rates. Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) have said they plan to introduce legislation capping interest on all consumer loans and credit cards. In the past, Durbin has pushed for a 36% cap while Sanders is pushing for a 15% cap.
Sanders cited the limit on interest rates for federally chartered credit unions as an example.
"You have had for almost 30 years a cap on interest rates...for credit unions, which have worked just fine," Sanders told The Rutland Herald. "Credit unions are doing very well in Vermont and around the country."