Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 and Thinking About Small Victories

I just got a funny letter from Bank of America, with whom I unfortunately still have a credit card. Let me summarize it for you.
Dear Valued Customer,

Please refer to the enclosed pages for a list of the ways in which we may no longer screw you.

Bank of America
Odds are you've already received or will receive a letter like this from your credit card company. That's because the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (or Credit CARD Act of 2009), passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by President Obama in May 2009, goes into effect next month. I'm not sure if the companies were mandated by law to send out these letters of if Bank of America just likes telling us what they've gotten away with up till now. If it's the latter, I bet they literally are laughing, "MUAHAHA!" Because that's how vampires laugh.

I won't tell you all the ways they can no longer screw us, because I don't want to spoil your excitement when you open your own letter. (If you like spoilers, Wikipedia has a decent summary of the major provisions.) But let me describe one provision I think is illustrative.

When the Credit CARD Act of 2009 goes into effect in February, your credit card company must apply every dollar you pay in excess of the minimum payment to the portion of your balance with the highest interest rate. So, that $100 you took out as a cash advance back before you knew that cash withdrawals were charged sky-high interest rates? It won't be sitting there forever, untouchable, shielded by the rest of your balance--a profit engine for the bank and a debt engine for you. (As long as you pay more than the minimum.)

What Democrats have done, in this one small area, is turned the credit card tiered-rate system right-side-up for Americans. Or upside down from the banks' point of view.

I consider myself one of the many lefties often disappointed that many of the big, one-fell-swoop progressive changes we were hoping for in the post-Bush era have either stalled out or crashed. There's a time for raising hell about that. And there's a time for raising hell about all the good stuff that did not make it into any number of so-called progressive, Democratic-led bills. But there's also a time for holding up the little victories for people to see. When you start looking for them, there really are quite a lot.

So, did the resurgence of the American Left and the Democratic wave election in 2008 bring us universal health care or full employment? No. But it did bring hundreds of little ways in which ordinary Americans, acting both through government and on their own, are pushing back against a system manipulated to serve the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Mason knows for sure, but I believe the companies are mandated by law to let people know of these changes. My favorite part of the different letters we've received is how they make it sound like they are happy and were actually asking Congress to do this. The tone is just ridiculous..."Since we really love our customers, we decided it was high time to stop screwing you."