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

Credit Card Summit: "Charge!"

First thing they did, they tried to charge him for their time. These were busy people, after all. They ran the banks. They issued the credit cards -- millions and millions of credit cards. It wasn't as if they could drop everything and come rushing to the White House just because the president decided he needed to see them right away.

So they charged him what their time was worth. (Their time was worth plenty, they all agreed.) Then they tacked on a little extra for the inconvenience. And a little extra on top of that, just because they could; they called it the Presidential Presumption Charge.

They had expected the president to be stern with them, and they weren't disappointed. He was responding to the public mood, and the public mood, when it came to these banks that had issued all these credit cards, was suddenly sour. The people were angry. He wanted them to hear the anger, to hear it directly from the president of the United States.

They heard it. And the Message Pass-Along Charge went right onto his bill.

Their timing, the president made clear to them, was perfectly awful. Wasn't the government -- the people's government -- shoveling billions and billions of dollars at these very same banks to help them get out of the mess they were in? And to pick this moment to stick it to the people with higher interest rates, and lower credit limits, and hidden fees? They should be ashamed of themselves!

He might not have said it in so many words, but that was the clear implication: They should be ashamed of themselves.

The Attempted Conscience Tweaking Charge was too good to pass up.

He hadn't called them to the White House simply to lecture them, the president said; he wanted to understand their side of it. So they told him how they saw it -- how times were tough, how tough times called for tough measures, how every dollar counts, even the ones that might require them to cut a few corners.

The Forced Self-Justification Fee was the largest they'd ever charged, but under the circumstances, they all agreed, it couldn't have been a penny less.

Congress was spitting mad, too, the president explained, and was ready to pass tough new credit-card laws if the banks didn't clean up their own act. It was up to them, the president said; they had to choose.

The Rock and a Hard Place Fee had an automatic trigger with a periodic uptick.

The president thanked them for coming, and told them he hoped to hear from them soon; they promised him he would. His "Grace Period" had expired before they ever left the building. He might be president, but there was still a charge for letting the "Grace Period" expire.

They counted up the charges and the fees. Then they started charging interest on the charges, and interest on the fees. And interest on the interest, and fees on the interest. Compounded. And then -- because they had the language with them, because they never went anywhere without the language -- they put this in tiny type at the bottom of his bill:

We calculate separate Balances Subject to Finance Charge for Balance Transfers, Cash Advances and for each Promotional Offer balance consisting of Balance Transfers or Cash Advances. We do this by: (1) calculating a daily balance for each day in this statement's billing cycle; (2) calculating a daily balance for each day prior to this statement's billing cycle that had a "Pre-Cycle balance" -- a Pre-Cycle balance is a Balance Transfer or Cash Advance with a transaction date prior to this statement's billing cycle but with a posting date within this statement's billing cycle; (3) adding all the daily balances together; and (4) dividing the sum of the daily balances by the number of days in this statement's billing cycle.

Just to show him who's boss.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at