One of the more odious practices of credit card issuers is that of "universal default." I've written about it before, such as in this 2006 article, where I explained:

"Imagine that you have two credit cards, a green one and a blue one, each issued by a separate bank. You're good about paying your bills on time, but one month, for some reason, you're late with your payment to your green card. Your green card's rate is suddenly raised, per the fine print in your card agreement. It might even be raised all the way to the card's default rate of 30%! ... The next thing you know, the interest rate on your blue card is also hiked, even though you've always paid those bills on time."

That's universal default, whereby credit card companies are taking advantage of almost any excuse to raise your rates -- even an overdue library fee can cause massive financial headaches, if it's turned over to a collection agency and ends up on your credit report. Rates have typically been around 30% annually (!), with some approaching 35%.

Fortunately, there's hope. Advocacy groups such as the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, and the Better Business Bureau have long been agitating for reforms in the industry, crying foul over hard-to-decipher fees and charges, two-cycle billing (where you're still charged interest on debt you recently paid off), universal default, and other troublesome practices. Congress is listening, and even some credit card companies seem to be paying attention.

JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) recently announced that it will cease its two-cycle billing, while Citigroup (NYSE:C) announced that its universal default policy will become a thing of the past. Capital One Financial (NYSE:COF), meanwhile, is one issuer that doesn't participate in universal default.

Take action
Clearly, the companies are trying to reform themselves before Congress imposes some reforms. But who would you rather have set the new rules? If you think Congress might look out for your best interests more than credit card companies, contact your representatives to tell them of your concerns about industry practices and your support for reforms.

And finally, learn much more about the surprisingly interesting credit card industry in our Credit Center, which also features tips on getting out of debt, along with guidance on how to manage your credit effectively. There's some great stuff in our Credit Center, and it's all free reading.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.