05/03/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How Congress Could Kill Shady Credit Card Schemes

In February we asked HuffPost readers to share their stories of credit card woe. The laments poured in, and we followed up with a story on readers who said they'd been gouged and another with an explanation from bailed-out banks: Our rate hikes are the economy's fault.

Over a month later, readers are still sending several stories a day.

Danielle Miele of Massachusetts wrote that after her husband was laid off last summer, they were late on some payments to Bank of America and wound up with a 29.99 percent interest rate.

"[W]hen it comes down to paying the groceries for my family or paying Bank of America, I know what I have to do," Miele wrote. "But why should I have to make that choice? Where is our bailout?"

Michael Sprague wrote that Bank of America randomly changed his address, causing him to miss bills, which in turn brought big penalties and a 30 percent interest rate. Sprague says he addressed a letter directly to CEO Ken Lewis. It turned out to have been a good idea:

"I never heard from Mr. Lewis directly, but a short while later I had a voicemail from a person at BofA in Arizona, who did all I requested, except they reduced the interest rate to about 8% and made it permanent," Sprague wrote.

Craig Gibson of Tyler, Texas wrote that rates went up on cards he holds with American Express, Chase, and Citi. He chose to "opt-out" rather than continue his Citi card at the higher rate, but he isn't too happy to have been forced to choose.

"The catch is that, if you accept the new rate, you are getting screwed for nothing!" Gibson wrote. "And, if you opt-out, like I did, then when you close the account, you get screwed on your credit report! For nothing!"

Reuters reports
that credit card write-downs of uncollectable debt reached 8.82% in February -- the highest level in the 20-year lifetime of the Moody's Credit Card Index.

There may be relief on the way, as credit card reform is afoot in both chambers of Congress this week. On Tuesday, a Senate committee narrowly approved a bill by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), supported by a broad range of consumer advocates (here's a PDF of their letter) that would ban unfair interest rate hikes, retroactive hikes, and some over-the-limit fees, among other things. Dodd calls credit card reform crucial to the nation's economic recovery.

In the House, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced a similar bill, called the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights. The measure is up for a vote in the House Thursday.
Are you being forced to use your credit cards to make ends meet? Has a credit card company jacked up your interest rate after a single missed payment -- or raised your rate even though you haven't missed one? Have you been charged unexpected add-on fees? If so, we want to hear your story. Share it with us by emailing submissions+creditdebt@huffingtonpost.com.

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