Frontline Special Tonight on Credit Card Industry

Tonight on PBS, Frontline airs The Card Game, a report on the consumer loan and credit card industry:

In a joint project with The New York Times, [Lowell] Bergman and the Times talk to industry insiders, lobbyists, politicians and consumer advocates as they square off over new regulation and the possible creation of a consumer finance protection agency. How are the credit, debit and pre-paid card industries repositioning themselves to maintain high profits under the new rules? The stakes couldn't be higher as many fear the consumer loan industry could be at the center of the next crisis.

It seems the new credit card rules won't do much to help consumers. [More...]

President Obama and his team pushed through a credit card reform bill in May, and they're now looking to establish a new Consumer Finance Protection Agency. But the banking and financial services industries contribute huge amounts of money to Congress -- and the jury is still out on whether the new regulations can pass. "It's a step in the right direction, but it's a modest step," says Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren. "It's a set of very discrete new laws. And the credit industry instantly set to work on how they could run around them. By itself, that set of rules won't change the game."

Just last week, Republicans in the Senate refused to institute an immediate rate freeze:

Consumers hoping for relief from credit card interest rate hikes will have to wait a few months longer. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans put a “hold” on a bill to freeze credit card interest rates immediately, in order to avoid further rate hikes before February 22, 2010 when the new Credit CARD Act steps into effect. The hold on the bill effectively freezes it, and for the time being, prevents further debate and a vote on the measure.

The bill was co-sponsored by Senators Chris Dodd (D.-Conn), Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and Mark Udall (D.-Colo) in response to recent consumer outcry over aggressive credit card rate hikes over the past six months. Under the new Credit CARD Act, which was signed into law in May of this year, credit card companies can only raise interest rates on existing credit card debt if the cardholder is more than 60 days behind with payments. Card issuers can still raise rates on future charges, but they would have to give cardholders 45 days notice of the rate hike.

Unfortunately, Congress gave credit card companies nine months to comply with the new curbs on rate increases.

The Democrats, like Sen. Mark Udall, are still trying.

In the beginning of November, a bill to move up the effective date for the new credit card legislation passed the House with strong support, 331-92. With the companion legislation now put on hold in the Senate, cardholders will likely have to wait until next year to get a break.

“This has been a classic case of David vs. Goliath situation,” said the co-sponsor of the bill, Mark Udall. “I say it’s time to take on Goliath and stop credit card companies from gaming the system at the expense of the American consumer.”

I don't think Congress is likely to be any more effective with credit card regulation than they are with health care. too many powerful interests at stake, and the banks and card companies have tremendous lobbying influence.

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    by MikeDitto on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 10:16:00 PM EST
    The place where good ideas go to die.