The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Credit card rules benefit consumers

Monday was the deadline for credit card providers to start offering better, more informative services to consumers, and it’s not a moment too soon. The legislation, first passed last May, is designed to protect consumers from sinking into too much debt.

It’s no secret that this country owes a lot of money. And it’s not a secret that, in large part, too much consumer debt caused the Great Recession we’re still reeling from.

The bill, dubbed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, requires credit card companies to show, in exact terms, how long it would take to pay off the credit card if only the minimum payment were made each month.

So, the Associated Press reports, if you’ve got a $3,000 balance and a 14 percent interest rate, it could take up to 10 years to pay off the balance. That kind of black-and-white language is especially helpful for younger credit card users to grasp the long-term effects of too much debt.

Now, I’m not saying having a credit card is detrimental, or that a certain amount of working debt isn’t valuable, but it’s extraordinarily easy to get carried away.

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I don’t have a credit card, but my freshman roommate did, and I think a lesson can be learned from his experience. We played in a band together while going to school, and nearly every other week he would show up to rehearsal with a new guitar or some accompanying gear. It was amazing, but none of it was fully paid for. The bills got higher and higher until it became too much to handle, and the balance was forwarded to a collections agency.

Surely not every credit card holder uses his or her plastic in the same way, but you get the tempting picture.

Any time legislation can make everyday life simpler and clearer, it’s a step in the right direction. The Los Angeles Times reported that people younger than 21 must provide evidence that they can make the payments or have a co-signer on the account. This is another positive step for consumers. As frustrating as it might be to be 18 years old and be denied a credit card, perhaps it’s for the best, and that step can be made later on at a more appropriate time.

In addition to the age limit on signing up for a credit card, under the bill, credit card companies can no longer promote their products on college campuses.

It is now up to the Obama administration to hold credit card companies accountable for these changes. A lack of regulation has certainly got us into this mess, and we cannot afford to overlook errors in financial institutions. It’s inevitable that credit card issuers will devise ways to get around these new regulations. It’s the government’s responsibility to prevent that and keep the consumer in mind.

According to the Nilson report, the top 12 credit card issuers made a total of $19 billion in 2007. Those numbers are significantly lower today, of course.

The booming and bloated times of the past 20 years seem to be over, and consumers are just now anxiously beginning to spend more money. Unemployment is ebbing, but only very slightly. By no means should this deter someone from signing up for credit today. But the legislation that took effect Monday is helpful for consumers who are wary to start spending like they used to. The clear, direct language that it requires credit card companies to use will serve people well.

We have the luxury to spend freely; it’s now up to us to exercise that power wisely.

The Grind is a weekly column. Email Taintor, The Spectator’s editorial editor, with feedback.

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Credit card rules benefit consumers