If only creditors would play fair -- a word not synonymous with big banks.

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The rules that President Obama signed into law last year that are supposed to regulate the credit card industry, have, so far, not done a whole lot for the average monthly bill-paying consumer.  Now, though, the Federal Reserve has announced some new credit card rules and modifications that promise to help consumers with their credit card bills.

The first tweak to the rules is one that will please anyone who has ever had to pay a ridiculously high late fee on a credit card.  With a few exceptions (like if you're late more than once in a six-month period), there will now be a $25 ceiling on late fees.   

Even better, your late fee can no longer be higher than your minimum payment.  If the minimum asked for is $15, then your late fee can't be $39 (yes, many consumers have reported being hit with late fees that high, and higher), or even the $25 ceiling mentioned above.  It will be the amount of the minimum, $15, no more.

Multiple penalties on the same late payment are no longer allowed (why were they ever allowed in the first place?  That is beyond unfair.), and credit card companies can no longer charge "inactivity fees" (who came up with those?  Why did someone think they could get away with charging a fee for NOT using a credit card?).  The Federal Reserve Governor sums it up pretty well: "The new rules require that late payment and other penalty fees be assessed in a way that is fairer and generally less costly for consumers."

The idea that the big banks can be "fair" strikes me as funny. 

With oil still gushing into our waters in the Gulf--with no signs of stopping--(and an expected overly active hurricane season on its way), I think it would be fair for the government to call a 6-month moratorium on foreclosures, auto repossessions and negative credit reporting for those people living and working in zip codes where livelihoods are being washed away with oil.  How about asking that the big banks that received billions in taxpayer dollars step up and do the same?  It would be fair and reasonable to cut these people some slack.  How about offering a real hand?  

At least there's a little more good news from the Federal Reserve.  Companies that have raised their rates in the last year are going to have to re-evaluate the reasons behind the rate change and, if they were not adjusted for good cause, lower those rates.  Though many of us are skeptical that this particular rule will be enforced, if you are one who believes your interest rates were adjusted without cause you can contact your credit card issuer and remind them of these latest rules that go into effect August 22, 2010.

The truth is, in today's world, credit cards are not just convenient--in certain circumstances they're necessary.  A credit card allows you greater consumer protection than using a debit card or when paying for large ticket items, than paying with cash.  The problem we consumers have is getting the credit card companies to play fair--a word that is not synonymous with big banks.  The key in using a credit card is to pay off the balance each month and avoid paying the big banks any interest all. But these days who can afford that?

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