The Senate voted on Tuesday to prohibit credit card companies from arbitrarily raising a person's interest rate and charging many of the exorbitant fees that have become customary — and crippling — to cash-strapped consumers.
The overwhelming bipartisan vote of 90-5 was lawmakers' way of telling Americans that they haven't been forgotten amid a recession that has left hundreds of thousands jobless or facing foreclosure.
With the House on track to endorse the measure by week's end, President Barack Obama could see a bill on his desk by the end of the week.
"We've got too many hard-working families in Massachusetts struggling to keep their heads above water, and the last thing they need is to get whacked with unfair credit card fees," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
If enacted into law as expected, the credit card industry would have nine months to change the way it does business: Lenders would have to post their credit card agreements on the Internet and let customers pay their bills online or by phone for free. They'd also have to give consumers a chance to spare themselves from over-the-limit fees and provide 45 days notice and an explanation before interest rates are increased.
Some of these reforms are already on track to take effect in July 2010, under new rules by the Federal Reserve. But the Senate bill would put the changes into law and go further in restricting the types of bank fees and who can get a card.
For example, the Senate bill requires anyone under 21 seeking a credit card to prove first that they can repay the money or that a parent or guardian is willing to pay off their debt if they default.