In your favor

Published 10:53 pm Monday, February 22, 2010

A new law that mandates sweeping reforms to the credit card industry went into effect Monday, ending years of practices that many considered unfair.

“I think it’s probably good for the average consumer, particularly everybody that doesn’t pay off their balances every month like they probably should,” said Tom Anderson Jr., an investment broker with UBS Financial Services in Suffolk. “It should be for [consumers’] protection, but banks will probably find a way. They’ve got to keep the bottom line flowing.”

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, or Credit CARD Act, among other things, prohibits such practices as raising interest rates without notifying the cardholder, applying new interest rates to previous balances and marketing to college students who have no means of income.

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“All in all, it’s probably a positive for most consumers,” Anderson said.

The act says that credit card issuers must provide a written notice of an increase in the interest rate at least 45 days before the effective date of the increase, except for special limited circumstances like an introductory rate or a late payment by the customer. In addition, credit card companies have to notify consumers of any significant change, like an increase in fees or finance charges, at least 45 days before the effective date.

Furthermore, the act requires credit card issuers to post payments to customers’ accounts in a timely manner, to make the payment due date for accounts the same day each month, and to mail statements to the customer at least 21 days before the due date.

The act also requires more visible consumer disclosures, such as including on statements the number of months it would take to pay the entire balance if the consumer pays paid only the minimum payment, and the total interest that would cost the consumer.

The act also includes a number of protections for young consumers. Any applicant for a credit card under the age of 21 now must have the signature of a cosigner or show ability to repay the money independently.

In addition, card issuers are now prohibited from offering inducements such as free T-shirts or pizza to students at or near college campuses in exchange for their credit application. The act also encourages colleges to adopt stringent policies on card issuers marketing on campus, and to make credit card and debt education a regular part of new-student orientation programs.

Anderson said the regulations on marketing to young people should help more college students stay out of debt.

“It will keep the students out of trouble and being overextended,” Anderson said. He added that the statement regarding how many months it would take to pay off a bill “should scare some people.”

Anderson said the new regulations are a step in the right direction, but he stopped short of saying they would do enough to curb the credit card industry’s practices.

“That’s a tough call,” Anderson said. “Whether it’s enough is hard to say.”