Although consumer credit regulation is hardly new – Regulation E, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Regulation Z and laws regulating disclosures, debt collection practices, billing statements and the like have been around for decades – for the first time in U.S. history, Federal legislation is tackling pricing, rate modifications, advertising disclosures and fees, and adding a gift card angle as well.
While the House has not yet passed this or any other version of the legislation, those in the know believe a similar, if not identical, bill will be approved by the House of Representatives and that the President is likely to sign it.
Are you a bank, payment card association, credit union or financial institution that issues credit cards or gift cards? Here are highlights of the bill that passed the Senate:
- When marketing, a card issuer would not be permitted to increase any advertised ‘teaser’ rates for at least a year after a new account was opened for the consumer, and promotional rates advertised to consumers must remain in effect for at least six month;
- Unless the credit-issuing institution can get proof that anyone under 21 can actually repay their credit card debt, credit cards can only be issued to individuals under the age of 21 if a parent, legal guardian or guarantor agrees in writing to be responsible for the debts;
- If a consumer pays more than the minimum balance due, the excess must be applied to the balance with the highest interest rate;
- Card issuers will not be allowed to change rates retroactively on existing balances (there is an exception where the consumer is past due by 60 days – which, I guess, presumes that when a consumer can’t afford to pay their balance within 60 days, it’s ok to raise their rates since they probably won’t be able to afford to pay a higher rate either);
- Bills for balances due must be sent at least three weeks (21 days) before their due date;
- Card issuers will no longer be able to charge additional fees to consumers for alternate payment mechanisms (e.g., by mail, telephone, online, electronic, wire transfers), unless the consumer requests and the issuer offers some type of ‘expedited’ service;
- Consumers must be asked if they want to allow ‘over-limit’ credit transactions and if they do not affirmatively consent, the card issuer will not be permitted to charge a fee if the issuer still authorizes the transaction (e.g., your credit limit is $1,000 and you charge something for $1,001 and the authorization system approves the transaction anyway);
- Changes in the terms and conditions that apply to consumer cardholders will require at least 45 days’ notice; and
- The minimum amount of time a gift card must remain valid for use will be 5 years. First, it is likely this will apply to gift cards that are consumer-oriented and where full value is paid, and not to discounted, bulk sales, non-consumer, incentive, employer or promotional gift cards – but then the legislation isn’t final yet, is it? Furthermore, the Federal legislation is not likely to preempt more consumer-friendly State law (e.g., California prohibits any expiration date on such gift cards), but it will place a minimum level of consumer protection against earlier expiration, even in States that have no applicable regulation.
There is also consideration being given to removing any current legal and contractual restrictions on merchants that would allow them to differentially price their products and services based on the incremental costs (or savings) of accepting different forms of payment. When credit and debit cards were scarce and cash was king (cash, as in ‘currency’), regulation and industry groups frowned upon differential pricing, arguing that allowing a merchant to charge more for the use of a credit card was discriminatory to the consumer – even though the cost of accepting such payment instruments was higher (the merchant pays a fee (discount rate) to the card-issuing enterprise for the privilege of accepting the particular brand of card). Furthermore, the growth of corporate and purchasing cards and the use of payment instruments in B2B transactions has resulted in situations where a manufacturer accepts a purchasing card (procurement-based credit card) in payment of sales to distributors, wholesalers and retailers – a fee is charged to the manufacturer for the card transaction. This chain continues until a consumer makes a retail purchase, and if any or all of these transactions involve branded payment instruments and not cash, travelers’ checks, bearer bonds or two goats and a chicken, today, a fee would most likely accrue on each payment-card transaction at each step of the way . . . significantly raising the cost to everyone and ultimately the consumer. Stay tuned.
So: Consumer Credit? Co-branded promotions? Loyalty Rewards Programs? Gift Cards? Premiums and Incentives? Retail Promotions? Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards? Privacy & Data Protection? Identity Theft? Data Breach? Pre-Screening? Online Digital Payment Systems? Corporate Cards? Purchasing Cards? E-Commerce? Regulation E? Regulation Z? Statement Insert Advertising; Credit/Demographic Market Segmentation? Free? APR? Limited Time Offer?
Any of these sound familiar? It’s what we do? Our Advertising Technology & Media Law Group; our Financial Institutions Group; our Data Security and Identity Theft Group . . . need we say more . . . If you need help (or you are just over stimulated by the flurry of legislation, regulation and excitement), call us or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can help.