04/30/2009 - Out of the ashes of the financial crisis small flowers are beginning to bloom. One is an initiative in Washington—and among some companies—to curb ambiguous and sometimes abusive consumer contracts, especially in the credit-card industry. But before anyone celebrates the budding reforms, it's worth looking at how an earlier campaign to clean up customer agreements led right back to confusion and frustration.
Democratic lawmakers see an opportunity to take advantage of popular hostility toward banks and other financial-services companies. Committees in both the Senate and the House in recent weeks have approved new restrictions on credit-card interest rates that would go beyond curbs adopted by the Federal Reserve in December. President Barack Obama called bank CEOs to the White House on Apr. 23 to tell them that he backs the legislation and will fight to see it enacted.
Chase's attempts to change rates aren't unusual. Nine out of ten credit cards allow the issuer to raise rates at any time by changing the account agreement, according to a study of 400 cards by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Intended to galvanize congressional action, the Pew report also found that three-quarters of the cards allowed cancellation of a low promotional interest rate after one late payment.
Read the full article About That New, 'Friendly' Consumer Contract on BusinessWeek's Web site.
Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information visit the Safe Credit Cards Project on PewHealth.org.