Federal credit card legislation set to become law in 2010 should be enacted earlier to halt credit card companies' practice of raising interest rates before the new rules take effect, Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday.
Schumer cited a Pew Charitable Trusts study that found credit card interest rates rose 20 percent in the first six months of 2009 while federal interest rates dropped. He accused credit card companies of gouging consumers before the law changes to ban a host of prohibitions including interest rate hikes on existing balances and fees for paying bills on time.
President Barack Obama signed the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 in May, but elements of the legislation do not take effect until February or August 2010. Schumer is pushing for legislation authored by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to make the law effective Dec. 1.
"They just went ahead and started raising people's rates for no reason," Schumer said. "They're trying to maximize their profits on backs of consumers."
A spokesman for the American Bankers Association, the lobby for the credit card companies, did not return phone calls and e-mail Sunday.
The best defense against what a consumer perceives as an unfair interest rate hike or new fee, Schumer said, is to complain to the credit card company.
"When you have an existing interest rate on an existing balance, it should stay that way," he said. "They can change it for new purchases because then you can plan for it."
When he was in the U.S. House, Schumer authored the law that requires credit card companies to state a card's annual fee, interest rate and transaction fees in large type.
Schumer said Sunday that disclosure of new fees is not sufficient.
"You have to have some protection for consumers," he said. "You can't let them do whatever they want as long as they disclose it. You can't expect people to be lawyers."