Bank Execs Try to Explain Gotcha Credit-Card Rate Hikes

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Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) chaired an investigations subcommittee hearing on credit cards and the mysteries of how banks determine cardholders’ interest rates—and raise them dramatically without warning. In particular, the hearing focused on banks’ use of “universal default,” by which your card’s interest rate gets hiked up because you missed a payment to another creditor—not the card’s issuer. Or, as the consumer-rights blog The Consumerist puts it, “the most evil and hated practice where a credit card company boosts your rates because you didn’t pay a late fee owed to the library.” Oh, and those new rates apply retroactively to all existing items on your bill. This is one of dozens of sneaky credit-card tricks banks spring on plastic-carrying customers. Levin called three unhappy cardholders to testify, followed by three bank executives. The Consumerist liveblogged all three hours of the fun. A couple of choice moments:

10:16: Onto Millard Glasshof, who has been retired since 1992. He’s here with his wife.

10:16: In 1997 he received a MasterCard with Bank One. He originally agreed in 2004 to payoff a balance of over $5,000 at 14%.

10:17: In March 2005, Chase took over Bank One and bumped the rate to over 17%.

10:18: Millard had never missed a payment. Chase could not explain the increase.

10:19: He received a letter, which he didn’t understand. He thought it said that his new payments were $111. He called to confirm, which Chase did. When he paid $111, Chase hit him with fees for insufficient payments.

10:20: After the Subcommittee looked into his situation, Chase miraculously dropped his rate to 6%.

[…]

11:09: Onto Bruce Hammonds of Bank of America, who sounds like he has the entrails of the poor caught in his throat.

11:09: “We constantly monitor our customer’s behavior.” And you folks worry about government.

11:10: 9%-10% of customers refuse higher rates, close their accounts, and pay off the debt at the old rate.

11:10: Risk-based pricing is good for consumers, says the largest bank in the country.

11:11: Ha! Customers who are re-priced often adopt better financial practices. Right, that’s what happens, BoA. Don’t feel free to provide data.

11:12: Bank of America is arguing that they are a friendly bank, even friendlier than Discover.

11:13: “Customers like our policies.” “We listen to our customers. I personally have spent hundred of hours listening to our credit card customers.”

11:13: “If any of us are wrong, the market will tell us.” (By crashing.)

(H/T Kevin Drum)

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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