Act to help those in credit card debt

It is a rare person who hasn’t experienced the sting of credit card indebtedness. An estimated 80 percent of Americans own at least one credit card, 44 percent carry a balance, and $15 billion is charged each year in penalty fees.

In an effort to rein in what has become a consumer debt tsunami, President Obama signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act in May.

Following are some highlights of this act:

-Credit card companies are now required to mail statements at least 21 days before the due date, on the same day of each month.

-Monthly statements must show how long it will take to pay off the balance making minimum payments, as well as the necessary payment amount to clear the balance in 36 months.

-Users will have to “opt in,” or give consent, for the company to allow limits to be exceeded. If you “opt in,” you may be charged for excessive use.

-Previously, for a balance with multiple interest rates, payments made in excess of the minimum would be applied to the portion of the balance with the lowest interest rate. Under the new law, payments made in excess of the minimum are automatically applied to the balance with the highest rate.

-Card issuers will no longer be allowed to arbitrarily increase rates on existing balances (but may increase rates for future purchases). Furthermore, “penalty” rate increases are allowable only when a required payment is over 60 days late. The card holder must be notified of the action within 45 days, and the original rate must be reinstated when timely payments have been made for 6 consecutive months.

-Deceptive “introductory rates,” which are very low for a few months before increasing (sometimes gradually, and sometimes suddenly and drastically) are a thing of the past.

Interest rates canot be increased within the first year, and the card holder must be given a minimum 45 day notification.