For far too long, policies in Washington have been written for, and sometimes by, well-financed corporate interests. The result is a playing field that is tilted in favor of special interests at the expense of consumers. I have worked in Congress to return power to the consumer where it belongs. As a consumer, you should have the power and information to make decisions that affect you and your family, whether it involves your finances, your health care, or any other personal decision.
Last year, I supported a package of reforms known as the "Credit Card Holder's Bill of Rights." These common-sense reforms are putting an end to some of the most egregious practices we saw from credit card companies. Far too many Americans were getting trapped in a cycle of consumer debt because of dishonest, and in some cases, downright abusive business practices that were perfectly legal under the old regulatory structure.
On Sunday, the final two provisions of the Credit Card Holder's Bill of Rights came into effect. Going forward, any penalty fees for such things as late payments must be reasonable and proportional. This should help slow the spiral that many consumers encounter, where an inability to pay one month results in crushing fees that exacerbate the situation.
In addition to the penalty restrictions, any interest rate increases enacted by the card company must now be re-evaluated every 6 months to ensure they are appropriate. If a consumer is determined to be a credit risk, it may be appropriate to adjust their rate, but card holders should not have to be afraid that their rates will sky rocket with no good reason and with little notification. Card holders must hold up their end of the bargain and the least we should expect is for card companies to do the same.
These new protections build on previous common-sense reforms that have already gone into effect as part of the package, including one that I authored. My amendment, which is now law, requires any "teaser rates" offered as inducements to sign up remain in effect for at least six months. Additionally, card companies can no longer raise interest rates on existing balances, meaning the rate that was agreed to when you made the purchase is the rate that will be effective until the purchase is paid off. You are also entitled to a fair, consistent due date on your bill and sufficient notification, at least 3 weeks, of that due date. And you will now receive at least 45-days' advance notice of any coming increases in your interest rate, fee or finance charges.
We also wrote in new protections for young people who are often considered easy targets by credit card companies. Far too many young adults are getting into contracts they do not understand or cannot keep and find themselves thousands of dollars in debt before they finish college or start their career.
The final reform is one of the simplest and most important. Consumers can make the best decision for themselves as long as they are given the proper information. Bill statements will now be written in clear, plain English as opposed to the "legal-ese" that is designed to be incomprehensible. Bills will also show customers how long a balance will take to be fully paid off if only the minimum payment is made. Too many folks are led to believe that the minimum payment is sufficient, when in reality they are merely paying off interest and making no progress towards paying off their principal.
Finally, my town hall continues over the coming weeks with meetings scheduled throughout the district. Thus far the meetings have been productive, substantive, and wide-ranging affairs where constituents share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. Please visit the Upcoming Events section of my website, www.perriello.house.gov, to see when there is a meeting in your area.