Just when the credit card industry thought it was safe in Washington, Uncle Sam has decided to keep them over his knee for a few last good swats of discipline in the form of tighter regulations on late fees.
For many who struggle with credit cards, the problem is not always uncontrollable spending---it's the fees. Late fees, annual fees and over the limit fees can pile up faster than Feburary snow in Minnesota, pushing customers over the edge into an avalanche of additional credit problems.
However, earlier this week the Federal Reserve proposed new limits on how credit card companies apply penalty fees for things like missing a deadline or going over the limit.
The proposal suggests that these new restrictions go into effect in late summer 2010. Earlier provisions in the credit card bill began last May and were phased in over time. The introduction of this latest component of the bill may signal to the credit card companies that they are now an ongoing target in the sights of pro-consumer members of the House and Senate.
The Fed is concerned with the fact that a $5 surpassing of one's credit limit triggers a charge of $40. The new law is recommending that the penalty be more closely aligned with the dollar amount in question. More clearly, if you spend $5 over the limit, that will be your penalty.
One thing to consider is what impact this will have on those who consistently teeter on the edge of their limit. By lessening the consequences, is there a risk more people will no longer fear the penalties? A penalty needs to send a message.
Other facets of the proposed action include a limit on late payment penalties to only the amount of the cardholder's current minimum payment. Thus, the $39 late fee average that so many of us see from month to month would be a thing of the past.
One of the more important components addresses multiple fees for a single action. For example, if you are late and over your limit, you can only be assessed one fee. The beauty in this part is that it will include the fees that some banks are now charging for not using your card, called an inactivity fee.
Still, there are some aspects of the bill that may warrant additional debate. It does not prohibit the application of a $39 late fee for someone who has a $70 minimum payment. The new laws that just became active include six month interest rate increase reviews that require banks to review, six months after they increased your interest rate, if the reason for the increase is still valid. However, they can also consider current market conditions, which may lead to reasoning on why the rate should remain higher.
A lot of our readers struggle with credit card debt, which has carved out a deep niche in the financial struggles of us Americans. Thankfully, some of these laws may lessen the credit card companies' role in our financial problems. The rest of it though, is up to us.