You may be bombarded with junk mail from credit card companies promising INSTANT APPROVAL! And LOW RATES!
President Obama will convey a different message to credit card company CEOs today: instant disapproval, amidst high rates of public anger.
This afternoon President Obama will tell top executives from 14 credit card companies — including American Express, Bank of America, Discover, MasterCard and Visa — that greater consumer protections are coming for their customers, with or without their cooperation.
The House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday passed "The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights," a bill from Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, that would require companies to provide a 45-day notice before any rate increase; prevent the companies from retroactively imposing higher interest rates to existing balances; and ban "universal default," which the companies use to raise interest rates on consumers late in payments to completely different creditors.
The bill was passed out of committee with a bipartisan 48-19 vote. Nine Republicans voted for it, an increase from two Republicans who voted for similar legislation last year.
Credit card companies, however, say many of these steps are necessary, given escalating losses due to consumers who default on their credit card loans.
An example: Bank of America wrote off more than $3.7 billion in defaulted loans in the first quarter of 2009 — $1.3 billion more than in 2008.
Increased interest rates for customers "is about properly pricing our portfolio either based on risk or realigning a portion of the portfolio that is priced below what is prudent in the current market," Bank of America spokeswoman Betty Reiss recently told ABC News.
The president will today tell the company executives that he supports greater protections for consumers —
* banning unfair rate increases, abusive fees and penalties — such as charging interest on debt that consumers have already paid on time;
* requiring forms, statements — and all terms of contracts — to be written in plain language and easily accessible;
* requiring greater accountability so companies that engage in deceptive practices can be rooted out; and
* keeping credit card companies from signing up minors as clients.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and National Economic Council director Larry Summers will join the president at the meeting.
An industry source tells ABC News that the executives expect to hear from the White House that "the industry is unpopular right now." The source forecasts that the meeting will be "a carrot-and-stick" deal — the administration will tell the executives that they need their help in dealing with problems such as high interest rates, but they will emphasize the threat of legislation.
"It will be a come-to-Jesus type of meeting," the source said.
President Obama "is pushing very hard for a very strong program of regulation that is going to correct many of the mistakes that were made last time around," Summers told "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "He’s going to be very focused in the very near term on a whole set of issues having to do with credit card abuses, having to do with the way people have been deceived into paying extraordinarily high rates that they wouldn’t have paid if they knew they were getting themselves into."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that there "will be a focus on some of the deceptive practices that trap people into a credit card rate despite the unsustainability of that; that if — and we talked about the idea of having a rating system so that you — so that people would know exactly what they were getting.”
You might remember a few weeks ago when President Obama hosted CEOs from the biggest banks in the U.S. and cautioned them to clean up their act. Amidst much anger at the bank executives, the president told them he was "the only one standing between you and the pitchforks."
The message will likely not be as stark today, White House sources say, but it could be stern.
– Jake Tapper and Matt Jaffe