High Interest Rates Killing Consumers

by Darren Cason

Debt has recently replaced obesity as the number one concern of consumer advocates and politicians. Just as food companies have been vilified for wantonly distributing products full of sugar and fat, credit companies are seeing themselves under increasing fire for their underhanded tactics and wanton disregard for the public’s financial safety.

Bills have recently been considered in the House of Representatives that would regulate how credit card companies can raise their interest rates, and how low they can set the minimum monthly payments. A major credit issuer was recent flogged by the public and consumer groups for raising rates on cardholders who pay their bills on time. It’s these ridiculous practices that are finally raising the ire of politicians when it comes to credit card companies and banks.

This is just more bad news for banks, who are already caught up in the firestorm that is the mortgage and housing market fiasco, with their only recourse being to raise ATM fees, and ramping up other rates that affects everyone, whether they’re timely with their payments or not.

This has created a prickly environment for banks, who have seen their once iconic status shrivel up into dust. Even the slightly misstep is now heavily chronicled and dissected, such as the Bank of America’s recent decision to raise rates, which led to a Business Week article that opened with the tale of a 60 year old woman whose rates had nearly doubled despite her account being in good standing. Other banks like Chase and HSBC have seen similar reaction and articles to rate hikes of their own.

The increased watchfulness of politicians to this growing crisis is personified by presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who have both made credit card reform one of their primary campaign issues.

Despite this, credit card companies continue to soar, with ever-increasing networks which make it easier than ever for consumers to use their plastic at just about any outlet, and teaser rates and rewards programs accompanying massive ad campaigns to suck in new customers.

Credit card debt has become such a major issue that cosmetics giant Avon announced plans to have Suze Orman act as a personal financial adviser for any and all of their 500,000 sales reps.

With credit scores now easier to obtain, and the internet being the perfect breeding ground for discussion, more and more people are openly discussing their credit histories and possible steps they can take to minimize their current woes and eventually get out from under the mountain of climbing bills. The general consensus of course is to get rid of credit cards or loans of any type and take control of your own finances.

If there’s one shining light for financial institutions in this mess, it’s the smaller banks like Wachovia and Washington Mutual, whose focus on consumers and fair and more transparent rates has earned them the trust and loyalty of many customers. It’s been shown that the things consumers hate most are rate hikes and hidden fees buried in small print, and these banks have taken advantage of that. Too bad they’re still in the minority when it comes to offering the type of service and value we all deserve.

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