Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Proposed Credit Card and Banking Regulations

It looks like the government will be getting serious about credit card regulations. The Federal Reserve Board proposed rules to prohibit unfair practices regarding credit cards and overdraft services that would among other provisions, protect consumers from unexpected increases in the rate charged on pre-existing credit card balances.

Regulation AA (Unfair Acts or Practices) The proposal would amend Regulation AA to prohibit unfair or deceptive acts or practices by banks in connection with credit card accounts and overdraft services for deposit accounts.

Credit Cards

- More Time To make Payments The proposal would stop banks from treating a payment as late unless the consumer has been provided with reasonable amount of time to make that payment. There would be a new safe net for banks that send periodic statements at least 21 days prior to the payment due date.

- Allocation of Payments When you have a credit card with different balances (for example, purchases, and cash advances), typically the annual percentage rate (APR) is higher on the cash advance. When you make a payment on a scenario like this the bank will apply your payment to the lower of the two. With the new regulation the payment will be split equally amongst the two balances. In addition, to enable consumers to receive the full benefit of discounted promotional rates (for example, on balance transfers), during the promotional period payments in excess of the minimum would have to be applied first to the balances on which the rate is not discounted.

- Two-Cycle Billing The proposal would stop banks from imposing finance charges based on balances on days in billing cycles preceding the most recent billing cycle. Credit card issuers will not be allowed to use previous billing cycles to calculate interest on your current bill. Current double cycle billing uses the average balance from the previous two months to calculate interest charges, even if you paid part of the previous balance.

- Rate increases to existing balances Credit Card companies will not be able to increase you APR on existing balances, unless you had a promotional offer and/or was late on a payment

- Less bait and switch credit card offers The proposal would require banks making firm offers of credit advertising multiple APRs or credit limits to disclose exactly what the qualifications would be for those terms.

- Finance of Security Deposits and Fees The proposal would address concerns regarding subprime credit cards by prohibiting banks from financing security deposits and fees for credit availability (such as account-opening fees or membership fees) if charges assessed during the first twelve months would exceed 50 percent of the initial credit limit. The proposal would also require financed security deposits and fees exceeding 25 percent of the initial credit limit to be spread over the first year.

- Credit Card Holds The proposal would prohibit banks from imposing a fee when the credit limit is exceeded solely because a hold was placed on available credit. This can occur where the final dollar amount of a transaction was not known in advance (for example, when a consumer checks into a hotel, a hold is placed for the expected cost of the stay).

Overdraft Services

- Debit Holds This proposal would stop banks from charging a fee when an overdraft takes place to due to a hold placed on available funds in an account.

- Right to opt out The proposal would stop banks from imposing a fee for paying overdraft unless the bank gave the consumer an opportunity to opt out of the payment of overdrafts and the consumer has not done so. This would apply to all transaction types. This would also be applied to overdrafts resulting from ATM and point of sale transactions.