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The Obama administration last week continued its high-profile support for changes to the laws regulating credit cards.The stepped-up effort came as the House was preparing at press time to vote on a measure that bans practices such as interest rate hikes on existing balances, over-the-limit fees and double-cycle billing.“Over the past three months, the Obama administration has aggressively worked to get our credit markets flowing, get our economy back on track and get Americans back to work,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said after a meeting with lawmakers and representatives of consumer groups last Wednesday. “We have also begun laying the groundwork, through regulatory reform, to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again and that responsible consumers and investors are protected. That includes creating a more stable, more effective and more consumer-friendly credit card market-one that protects taxpayers.”CUNA and NAFCU supported portions of the measure but expressed concern that certain provisions, such as a requirement that there be a 45-day notice before rate increases, are too burdensome. They also oppose a provision mandating creditors set up a system so consumers can notify them if they want to opt-out of credit authorization for transactions that would lead to over-the-limit fees.The bill would take effect July 1, 2010, the same day similar regulations approved by NCUA and other regulators take effect.At press time, CUNA and NAFCU were also fighting efforts to allow the House to consider several amendments that they thought would make the bill worse for credit unions.One amendment would alter the interchange fee system for plastic cards issued by financial institutions, such as credit unions, by forcing credit card issuers to negotiate fee changes with merchants.Another amendment would cap the credit card interest at the prime rate plus 10 percentage points. Both trade groups said that would subject credit unions, which are already subject to a maximum rate, to a double cap.The interest rate on CU-issued credit cards is already capped at 15% under federal law, though the NCUA has temporarily raised that cap to 18% under its authorities.The House passed a similar bill last year, but it died in the Senate. This year, prospects for passage are much greater in that chamber because of a larger Democratic majority and the Obama administration’s support.The Senate Banking Committee passed a more comprehensive measure last month, but negotiations between both parties are still going on before it comes up for a vote on the floor.The Senate bill bans increasing rates on existing balances and bans contracts allowing issuers to change rates for any reason.–[email protected]

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