Obama Versus The Credit Card Issuers

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As debt settlements, bankruptcies, and the unpopularity of credit card companying continue to increase, the Obama administration reiterated its support behind legislation in Congress that would put restrictions on the imposition of higher fees and interest rates on consumers. Following on promises made during his campaign, President Obama met with top brass from the largest credit card issuers in the country to push them toward action that would reduce abusive practices.

The meeting at the White House occurred as the House of Representatives worked to finalize new curbs on credit card fees. In addition to the curbs, senior White House officials pressed for a provision that forces require credit card companies to prioritize payments so that the first money to come in from a consumer is applied to debt carrying the highest interest rate.

In a separate action on Wednesday the House Financial Services committee passed a bill that would decrease and/or limit a variety of fees and penalties currently being charged by credit card companies. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y

Most of the provisions, restrictions, and limits were already adopted by the Federal Reserve last year but there are also some new rules being dictated to the industry. The marketing of credit cards to minors would be prohibited. There are some new transparency rules for credit card companies requiring additional information for regulators. The last rule, and probably one that consumers going through debt settlement wish was in place a few years back, allows for credit cards holders to set lower credit limits than what the card issuers are offering. One specific benefit of the rule would be that parents could impose their own spending limits on credit cards they provide to their children.

The bill could reach the floor of the House where hopes are that it will fare better than a similar bill passed by the Senate Banking Committee three weeks ago. That bill barely passed with all Republicans on the committee in opposition. Pressed by credit card industry lobbyists, Senate Republicans will attempt to block that bill but public sentiment and pressure from the White House are likely to influence its passage.

Senate Republicans, industry executives, and lobbyists contend that passage of these bills is redundant due to the fact that the Federal Reserve has already adopted a series of similar restrictions that will go into effect next year. Another of the group’s contentions is that the passing of the legislation could further reduce lending in the face of tighter credit card company restrictions and the inability of consumers to obtain financing through other means. In reality, it could be that real agenda is to delay the inevitable to allow for fees and high rates addressed in the bill to be charged for as long as possible.

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