The world of credit cards today isn't a pretty one. But we can make it better via some pro-consumer legislation. Our friends at Consumers Union (the folks who produce Consumer Reports magazine) recently listed some "essential measures" that we should demand of Congress. See whether you agree:
1. "Congress should cap interest rates on credit cards at no more than the prime interest rate plus 10%. Now, penalty rates can go as high as 35%, about 28 points over mid-August's prime rate." If you're surprised by these numbers, here are some top penalty rates I cited in another article, earlier this year:
2. "The first page of every month's bill should state how long it will take and how much it will cost -- interest included -- to pay off the balance at the minimum payment." Perhaps this example will point out how useful such an addition to your bill might be: "A consumer who owes $5,000 on a credit card at an annual percentage rate of 16%, and who makes a requested 2% minimum payment each month, will need almost 36 years to pay off the balance and will rack up $9,329 in interest."
3. "The number and types of fees should be restricted to make it easier for consumers to compare cards."
4. "Card companies shouldn't be allowed to add new terms and pile on increases after the consumer has signed on. Card companies that raise the interest rate should not be allowed to apply the higher rate to existing balances -- that is, money already borrowed at a lower rate."
5. "Card companies should be prohibited from increasing the periodic interest rate because a cardholder missed a payment to a different creditor or because his or her credit score changed."
6. "Credit card companies should be required to evaluate each consumer's ability to repay before issuing a credit card. Cards that encourage unrealistically high balances keep consumers on a debt treadmill."
7. "Practices that trigger unnecessary fees, such as setting short grace periods and failing to count a payment from the date of the postmark, should be banned. Consumers should be guaranteed 30 days to pay and shouldn't have to pay a late fee if the envelope is postmarked on time."
What do you think of these proposals? Read more and learn more at YourWallet.org, where you can also contact your representatives in Congress to let them know what you think. (And for a more light-hearted look at this campaign, check out an amusing animated featured titled "It's Always Christmastime (for Visa)."
Also, drop in on our own Credit Center, which features tips on getting out of debt, along with guidance on how to manage your credit effectively. (We even offer spiffy Motley Fool credit cards.) Really. I mean it. There's some great stuff in our Credit Center, and it's all free reading.
The following articles can help you:
- The 8 Commandments of Credit
- I Caught You Looking!
- Urban Credit Legends Exposed!
- $24 Billion to Card Companies. for What?
- Sneaky Credit Card Tactics
Read about all things credit-related on our Consumer Credit / Credit Cards discussion board .
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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. She recently discovered that there's a sink that bears her name.