Cardholders Now Have Options If Rate is Increased

Gallery.CongressConsumers will see the largest reform in credit card laws in years when the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 takes effect in February 2010.
But cardholders are getting a sneak peek. The first phase of the new reform became official on Aug. 20. 
Cardholders now have 45 days to reject proposed rate increases. Consumers who opt to reject a rate increase within 45 days will have two options at the bank’s discretion — to pay off the balance in five years, or double the current minimum payment. Another key new rule: banks or card companies now have to mail bills 21 days before the due date, up from 14 days.
Here are the highlights of the “CARD Act of 2009” by category:
Bans Unfair Rate Increases:
Financial institutions will no longer raise rates unfairly, and consumers will have confidence that the interest rates on their existing balances will not be hiked.
Bans Retroactive Rate Increases:
Bans rate increases on existing balances due to “any time, any reason” or “universal default” and severely restricts retroactive rate increases due to late payment.
First Year Protection:
Contract terms must be clearly spelled out and stable for the entirety of the first year.  Firms may continue to offer promotional rates with new accounts or during the life of an account, but these rates must be clearly disclosed and last at least 6 months.
Prevents Unfair Fee Traps:
Institutions will have to give card holders a reasonable time to pay the monthly bill – at least 21 calendar days from time of mailing.  The act also ends late fee traps such as weekend deadlines, due dates that change each month, and deadlines that fall in the middle of the day.
Enforces Fair Interest Calculation:
Credit card companies will be required to apply excess payments to the highest interest balance first, as consumers expect them to do.  The act also ends the confusing and unfair practice by which issuers use the balance in a previous month to calculate interest charges on the current month, so called “double-cycle” billing.
Requires Opt-In to Over-Limit Fees:
Consumers will find it easier to avoid over-limit fees because institutions will have to obtain a consumer’s permission to process transactions that would place the account over the limit.
Restrains Unfair Sub-Prime Fees:
Fees on sub-prime, low-limit credit cards will be substantially restricted.
 
Limits Fees on Gift and Stored Value Cards:
The act enhances disclosure on fees for gift and stored value cards and restricts inactivity fees unless the card has been inactive for at least 12 months.
Plain Sight /Plain Language Disclosures:
Credit card contract terms will be disclosed in language that consumers can see and understand so they can avoid unnecessary costs and manage their finances.
Plain Language in Plain Sight:
Creditors will give consumers clear disclosures of account terms before consumers open an account, and clear statements of the activity on consumers’ accounts afterwards. For example, pre-opening disclosures will highlight fees consumers may be charged and periodic statements will conspicuously display fees they have paid in the current month and the year to date as well as the reasons for those fees.  These disclosures will help consumers make informed choices about using the right financial products and managing their own financial needs.  Model disclosures will be updated regularly based on reviews of the market, empirical research, and testing with consumers to ensure that disclosures remain clear, useful, and relevant.
Real Information about the Financial Consequences of Decisions:
Issuers will be required to show the consequences to consumers of their credit decisions. Issuers will need to display on periodic statements how long it would take to pay off the existing balance – and the total interest cost – if the consumer paid only the minimum due. Issuers will also have to display the payment amount and total interest cost to pay off the existing balance in 36 months.
 
Accountability:
The act will help ensure accountability from both credit card issuers and regulators who are responsible for preventing unfair practices and enforcing protections.
Public posting of credit card contracts: 
Today credit card contracts are usually available only in hard copy and not in plain language. Now issuers will be required to make contracts available on the Internet in a usable format.  Regulators and consumer advocates will be better able to monitor changes in credit card terms and evaluate whether current disclosures and protections are adequate.
Holds regulators accountable to enforce the law:
Regulators will be required to report annually to the Congress on their enforcement of credit card protections.
Holds regulators accountable to keep protections current:
Regulators will be required to request public input on trends in the credit card market and potential consumer protection issues on a biennial basis to determine what new regulations or disclosures might be needed. Regulators will be required either to update the applicable rules, or to publish findings if they deem further regulation unnecessary.
 
Increases penalties:
Card issuers that violate these new restrictions will face significantly higher penalties than under current law, which should make violations less likely in the first place.
Cleans Up Credit Card Practices For Young People at Universities:
The act contains new protections for college students and young adults, including a requirement that card issuers and universities disclose agreements with respect to the marketing or distribution of credit cards to students.

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