March 9, 2005

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

We decided to pay off a couple small balance credit cards as part of a New Year’s resolution to do a better job of managing our money.

While we were pleased with ourselves, the credit card companies were apparently beside themselves over our action. Since we did this, we’ve been inundated with offers for more and cheaper credit, big checks keep coming in the mail, saying all we have to do is sign them and the money is ours to do with as we please – fix up our home, take a well-deserved vacation, whatever we want to do. It’s ours.

I mention this only because of bill that is being debated in the United States Senate this week, the details of which astound me in light of my own personal credit experiences.

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The bill is designed to toughen the existing bankruptcy law, one we are told which is almost certain to pass.

The bill was apparently written for and by the credit card companies, one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, and is backed by a solid block of Republican and some Democratic senators. It will, in effect, force those who file bankruptcy to pay back more of their debts than they normally would.

I know, in today’s &uot;taking responsibility&uot; environment, that sounds OK. However, there’s more.

Under this bill, it’s only the poor and middle class that have to take responsibility. Amendments sought by opponents to close loopholes in the bill that will allow the rich to continue to shield loads of assets were soundly defeated.

Other amendments voted down – get this – would have provided exemptions for cases of medical bankruptcy, protected the homes of the elderly and offered protections for armed services members and veterans. I swear that’s true.

Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times on Tuesday, had the following to say about the bill:

&uot;The credit card companies say this is needed because people have been abusing the bankruptcy law, borrowing irresponsibly and walking away from debts. The facts say otherwise.

&uot;A vast majority of personal bankruptcies in the United States are the result of severe misfortune. One recent study found that more than half of bankruptcies are the result of medical emergencies. The rest are overwhelmingly the result either of job loss or of divorce.

&uot;To the extent that there is significant abuse of the system, it’s concentrated among the wealthy – including corporate executives found guilty of misleading investors – who can exploit loopholes in the law to protect their wealth, no matter how ill-gotten.&uot;

And further, how about some &uot;responsibility&uot; on the part of the credit card companies themselves? If they are going to go around sending out big checks like they did to me and continue to otherwise aggressively market their products to every person drawing breath, they need to assume some risk — which is that everyone will not be able to pay them back.

I’d be interested in hearing from others about this. I can’t believe I’m the only one who feels this way.

Send emails to me at, or better yet,

Rep. J. Randy Forbes and Sens. John Warner and George Allen. If they support this turkey, they should be ashamed.