Mr. President, I’m here today to speak out in support of the credit card accountability responsibility and disclosure. I'm proud to be a cosponsor of this bipartisan legislation which will help to end the abusive practices of the credit card industry that are hurting so many hard-working middle-class families.
I want to thank Senator Dodd and Senator Shelby for their efforts to come together on a bill that protects consumers and brings much-needed relief to main street families. It has been a long time in coming. I wish we had been able to pass this a few weeks ago, but I’m very hopeful we will be able to get this done this week.
As families are sitting around the kitchen table looking at their budgets, Mr. President, they have a lot of expenses to deal with. The basics like food and electricity and the rising cost of college and health care and growing credit card bills.
78% of households in this country have at least one credit card. And at the end of last year, American’s credit card debt was more than $972 billion. The average household debt is more than $8,300. And this does basically track, when you look back over the last say eight, 10 years where wages have gone down and expenses have gone up.
I know before we entered this economic crisis, it was about $6,000 that the average middle-class family was behind and now you see $8,300 on their credit card. But it's not just debt that families are paying off. In 2006 two-thirds of the credit card companies' profits came from interest payments. So millions of families are dealing with huge amounts of credit card debt at the same time they're dealing with the many other challenges that are the result of the economic downturn.
Their hours have been reduced. One of them may have lost a job. They may have difficulty sending a kid to college. But this isn't just an economic issue. It's also an issue of fairness and common sense. I believe that Americans have the obligation, have the duty to pay the debts that they owe. But too many credit card companies are using deceptive practices and fine print to take advantage of hard-working American families. They're using this, the credit card, little tiny words on the back of the bill, they're using this, the credit card companies are, to pad their own profits. Many companies hide the terms of the agreement behind fine print and confusing language.
They apply payments to the low-rate balances before high-rate balances, and worst of all, they raise interest rates without proper notice. According to the consumers union, a study of the 12 largest credit card issuers found that 93% of credit cards allowed the issuer to raise the interest rate at any time by changing the agreement -- 93% of credit cards allow the issuer, the credit card company, to raise the interest rate at any time by simply changing the agreement. This just isn't right. Credit card companies shouldn't be making a profit by pulling the rug out from under American consumers.
When I think about this issue, I don't just think about that 93% figure. I think about people in my state that have played by the rules. They've used their credit cards responsibly, made timely payments, have good credit ratings only to turn around and have the rules changed.
I know one man who had a credit score of 800, never made a late payment or been delinquent on his account in any way he got word in April that his fixed rate of 8.9% was going up to $10.05% in may and would be a variable rate. That is, what used to be a fixed rate at 5.9% would be changing constantly and he would have no control. He called the credit card company to complain. And you know what? The credit card company told him he ought to be happy. Because his was one of the lower rate increases. They told him he shouldn’t take it personally.
It's awfully hard, Mr. President -- it's awfully hard not to take these rate increases personally when you haven't done anything to justify having your rate increased. When you're going to have a tough time make ends meet anyway because of the tough economy, and when you have to pay so much for a card you had for years and years. I also heard from a woman in St. Joseph, Minnesota.
This woman has had her credit card for 12 years. She's never been late on a payment, and has her credit card bill automatically paid from her checking account every month. Well, she recently contacted her credit card company because she noticed that her interest rate had suddenly gone up a lot in one month. She had received no advanced notice from her bank about the interest rate increase. But her problems didn't stop there. The problem was the credit card company applied the new interest rate to her existing balance. And with the new interest rate factored in, her balance suddenly exceeded her available credit. So do you know what she got hit with another interest rate increase? This woman who had been a customer for 12 years saw her interest rate go up from 8% to 19.3% to 20% to 27% all in a matter of 16 days and through absolutely no fault of her own. So she starts at 8%. She's someone that has the money deducted from her checking account every single month. She hadn't had problems with late payments. So she starts at 8%. She goes up to 19.3% and she ends up at 27% all in the matter of 16 days, no fault of her own. They raise the interest rate without telling her aches pride it to her existing account balance without telling her. Suddenly, she was stuck with a problem she didn't even create.
In a letter she wrote to me she has some valid and heartbreaking questions. How is something like this legal, this woman from St. Joseph asked? How can the credit companies make it harder in such hard times? These are questions that a lot of hard-working Minnesotans and Americans are asking today and they deserve answers. We want Americans to pay their debt, Mr. President, and we want our businesses to succeed. But consumers deserve a level playing field. They deserve some rules of the road. And they deserve an end to the abuses and deceptive practices by the credit card industry. The credit card bill that's on the floor is going to do that. The bill would put commonsense rules in place to ensure fairness for consumers. First, the bill protects people from arbitrary interest rate increases. Like we saw with the man from Minnesota and the woman from St. Joseph, Minnesota.
It establishes rules that are fair and makes sense for how and when companies can raise interest rates. Additionally the bill prohibits credit card companies from increasing rates on a cardholder for the first year when that account is open.
Second, the bill requires credit card companies to give people 45 days notice of interest rate fee and finance charge increases. This will ensure that people like the woman from St. Joseph, Minnesota, who wrote me, won't see any surprises on their credit cards anymore. They will get a notice.
Third, the bill prevents credit card companies from charging abusive fees. For example, credit card companies won't be able to charge you a fee just for the privilege of paying down your credit card.
Fourth, the bill requires more transparency from credit card companies. Credit card bills will be mailed three weeks before they’re due to give consumers plenty of advanced warning. Credit card companies will have to disclose any charges, any changes to the terms of a credit card agreement when people renew their cards. They will have to be upfront about the length of time and the total interest it will take to pay off the card balance if people only make minimum monthly payment. I think that will be helpful for many people I know if they knew exactly how long it would take if they just paid the minimum amount and how much extra they'd be paying. And they will have to post their credit card agreements on the internet so that people can look at them any time and compare them.
Fifth, the bill strengthens oversight of the credit card industry so that we can hold companies accountable for their behavior. This legislation will give consumers much-needed protections from bad practice that's have been going on for too long. It's the beginning of leveling the playing field. If we're going to get our economy moving, we need to restore trust in our financial systems and when it comes to the credit card industry that means protecting from unfair practices and putting in place commonsense rules that will bring much-needed transparency and accountability.
We will be voting on this bill shortly. And when I cast my vote, will I will be voting for all the people in my state who are working hard and playing by the rules and just want credit card companies to do the same. We can't forget that the ultimate goal of reviving our economy is to make it possible for people in this country, people who have worked hard, done everything right, paid their bills, got these credit card bills, we're supposed to be helping them to get ahead. This bipartisan legislation, which I cosponsored, is going to end the unfair practices that have been going on for too long for main street families so they can keep their hard-earned money. Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.