Let’s say you buy a new washer and dryer. The sticker says $2200, and you pay $2200. If the store called you up two months later and said, “We changed our minds. We want $4,000 for those babies,” you’d tell them to jump in the lake. But let’s say you put that washer and dryer on a credit card that charges 6.9% interest, and you expect to pay it off over the next 36 months. Next month, when the credit card company changes the interest rate to 29.9% interest (which is just like an $1800 price hike ), you can’t do anything about it.
I’m not talking about what happens when an introductory rate expires, or when someone forgets to pay. I’m talking about the little clause buried in most credit card agreements that says, “we can change the price after you borrow the money—just because we want to.”
No other merchant in America can get away with after-the-fact price changes like these. No store, no service, no one else changes the price after you buy. Mortgage companies, car companies and even payday lenders can’t just change their rates after you borrow. Even adjustable rate mortgages are tied to interest rates—not to a boardroom decision to fatten the bottom line. Twenty-five years ago, interest rates were regulated so that credit card companies couldn’t do this either. But today the leadership in Congress looks the other way, while regulators remain silent.
So what kind of profits are credit card companies squeezing out of middle class American families, using every trick in their (very big) book? $30 billion last year alone. For the average family that carries any credit card debt at all, credit card debt is now around $8,400, which means that the interest payments alone are now eating a big hole in their wallets. Who knows how much of that comes from ordinary borrowing—and how much comes from tricks and traps like hiking the fees after someone makes a big purchase?
Credit card companies don’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else—and, with today’s rules, they don’t have to.
Credit card companies protect their privileged status by spreading money around Washington like there’s no tomorrow. Check to see how much money our Senators, Representative and President took from these guys, and think about who they really work for.
I plan to keep posting regularly about government policies and business practices that are systematically trapping the middle class under mountains of debt. It’s time that we citizens refuse to let the clinking coins changing hands between lobbyists and politicians drown out our voices.
Follow Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Twitter: www.twitter.com/elizabethforma