The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to rein in credit card rate increases and excessive fees, hoping to give voters some breathing room amid a recession that has left hundreds of thousands of Americans jobless or facing foreclosure.
The House was on track to pass the measure as early as Wednesday, paving the way for President Barack Obama to see the bill on his desk by week's end.
"This is a victory for every American consumer who has ever suffered at the hands of a credit card company," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Banking Committee. The bill passed the Senate 90-5.
If enacted into law as expected, the credit card industry would have nine months to change the way it does business: Lenders would have to post their credit card agreements on the Internet and let customers pay their bills online or by phone without an added fee. They'd also have to give consumers a chance to spare themselves from over-the-limit fees and provide 45 days notice and an explanation before interest rates are increased.
Some of these changes are already on track to take effect in July 2010, under new rules being imposed by the Federal Reserve. But the Senate bill would put the changes into law and go further in restricting the types of bank fees and who can get a card.
For example, the Senate bill requires those under 21 who seek a credit card to prove first that they can repay the money or that a parent or guardian is willing to pay off their debt if they default.
The legislation would not cap interest rates as some lawmakers had hoped. It also wouldn't prevent lenders from finding new ways to drain customers' bank accounts or keep consumers from spending money they don't have.
But it would give spenders more flexibility and outlaw many of the surprise costs associated with credit cards at a time when money is tight in most households. For example, under the bill, a cardholder would have to opt to be allowed to go over a credit limit. If customers don't agree and the bank authorizes a charge that would push them over their limit, the lender couldn't levy an over-limit fee.
via Senate passes credit card overhaul bill.