Yesterday, HOPE Global Spokesman civil rights icon Ambassador Andrew Young and myself (Operation HOPE founder, chairman and CEO, and vice chairman, U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, chairman, Council Committee on the Under-Served) both were invited to join President Obama for the signing of his Credit Card Legislation on the South Lawn of the White House.
No legislation is perfect, but this one goes a long, long way in the right direction. As the President said himself, he was often frustrated when a credit card company would change a date on him in which a payment was due. Myself included, and with these changes there is a good chance that this will not happen (to others more vulnerable than any of us) in the future. He also noted, which I agree, that credit cards are on balance a very good thing, but obviously, abuse of same is not. This legislation, and the responsible credit card industry working together, are or can be a future force for good.
This legislation helps -- a lot, and the President should be commended for his leadership. Below is the official statement from the White House from yesterday's historic signing. Honored to be so listed. It should be noted that Andrew Young is Ambassador Andrew Young, and so much more than a "director" of Operation HOPE (smile). If you want a walk through history, Google his name, or review his full biography on Wikipedia.
John Hope Bryant
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release May 22, 2009
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT SIGNING OF
THE CREDIT CARD ACCOUNTABILITY, RESPONSIBILITY AND
3:08 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Please, have a seat -- I'm sorry. It is a great pleasure to have all of you here at the White House on this gorgeous, sunny day. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. Change is in the air. (Laughter.)
This has been a historic week; a week in which we've cast aside some old divisions and put in place new reforms that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, prevent fraud against homeowners, and save taxpayers money by preventing wasteful government contracts; a week that marks significant progress in the difficult work of changing our policies and transforming our politics.
But the real test of change ultimately is whether it makes a difference in the lives of the American people. That's what matters to me. That's what matters to my administration. That's what matters to the extraordinary collection of members of Congress that are standing with me here, but also who are in the audience. And we're here today because of a bill that will make a big difference: the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act.
I want to thank all the members of Congress who were involved in this historic legislation, but I want to give a special shout-out to Chris Dodd, who has been a relentless fighter to get this done. (Applause.) Chris wouldn't give up until he got this legislation passed. He's spent an entire career fighting against special interests and fighting for ordinary people, and this is just the latest example.
I want to thank his partner in crime, Senator Richard Shelby. (Applause.) On the House side, Representatives Barney Frank, Carolyn Maloney, and Luis Gutierrez, for their outstanding work. (Applause.) And I want to also thank all the consumer advocates who are here today who fought long and hard for these kinds of reforms.
You know, most Americans use credit cards all the time. In the majority of cases, this is a convenience or a temporary, occasional crutch: a means to make life a little easier; to make the rare, large, or unexpected purchase that's paid off as quickly as possible.
We've also seen credit cards become, for a minority of customers, part of an uneasy, unstable dependence. Some end up in trouble because of reckless spending or wishful thinking. Some get in over their heads by not using their heads. And I want to be clear: We do not excuse or condone folks who've acted irresponsibly. We don't excuse irresponsibility.
But the reason this legislation is so important is because there are many others -- many who have written me letters, or grabbed my arm along rope lines, or shared their stories while choking back tears -- who relied on credit cards not because they were avoiding responsibilities, but precisely because they wanted to meet their responsibilities -- and got trapped.
These are hardworking people whose hours were cut, or the factory closed, who turned to a credit card to get through a rough month -- which turned into two, or three, or six months without a job. These are parents who found, to their surprise, that their health insurance didn't cover a child's expensive procedure and had to pay the hospital bill; families who saw their mortgage payments jump and used the credit card more often to make up the difference.
These are borrowers who discovered that credit card debt is all too easily a one-way street: It's easy to get in, but almost impossible to get out. It's also, by the way, a lot of small business owners who have helped to finance their dream through credit cards and suddenly, in this economic downturn, find themselves getting hammered.
Part of this is the broader economy, but part of it is the practices of credit card companies. Contracts are drafted not to inform, but to confuse. Mysterious fees appear on statements. Payment deadlines shift. Terms change. Interest rates rise. And suddenly, a credit card becomes less of a lifeline and more of an anchor.
That's what happened to Janet Hard of Freeland, Michigan, who's here today. Where's Janet? Right here. Janet is a nurse. Her husband is a pipefitter. They've got two boys. Janet and her husband have tried to be responsible; she's made her payments on time. But despite this, Janet's interest rate was increased to 24 percent. And that 24 percent applied not just for new purchases, but retroactively to her entire balance. And so, despite making steady payments totaling $2,400 one year, her debt went down only by $350 that year.
And Janet's family is not alone. Over the past decade, credit card debt has increased by 25 percent in our country. Nearly half of all Americans carry a balance on their cards. Those who do, carry an average balance of more than $7,000. And as our economic situation worsened -- and many defaulted on their debt as a result of a lost job, for example -- a vicious cycle ensued. Borrowers couldn't pay their bills, and so lenders raised rates. As rates went up, more borrowers couldn't pay.
Millions of cardholders have seen their interest rates jump in just the past six months. One in five Americans carry a balance that has been charged interest rates above 20 percent. One in five.
I also want to emphasize, these are costs that often hit responsible credit card users. Interest can be charged even if you pay your bill on time. Rates can be increased on outstanding balances even if you aren't late with a payment. And if you sit -- if you start to pay down your balance, which is the right thing to do, a company can require you to pay down the debt with the lowest interest rate first -- instead of the highest -- which makes it much harder to ever get out of the red.
So we're here to put a change to all that. With this bill, we're putting in place some common-sense reforms designed to protect consumers like Janet. I want to be clear about this: Credit card companies provide a valuable service; we don't begrudge them turning a profit. We just want to make sure that they do so while upholding basic standards of fairness, transparency, and accountability. Just as we demand credit card users to act responsibly, we demand that credit card companies act responsibly, too. And that's not too much to ask.
And that's why, because of this new law, statements will be required to tell credit card holders how long it will take to pay off a balance and what it will cost in interest if they only make the minimum monthly payments. We also put a stop to retroactive rate hikes that appear on a bill suddenly with no rhyme or reason.
Every card company will have to post its credit card agreements online, and we'll monitor those agreements to see if new protections are needed. Consumers will have more time to understand their statements as well: Companies will have to mail them 21 days before payment is due, not 14. And this law ends the practice of shifting payment dates. This always used to bug me -- when you'd get like -- suddenly it was due on the 19th when it had been the 31st.
Lastly, among many other provisions, there will be no more sudden charges -- changes to terms and conditions. We require at least 45 days notice if the credit card company is going to change terms and conditions.
So we're not going to give people a free pass; we expect consumers to live within their means and pay what they owe. But we also expect financial institutions to act with the same sense of responsibility that the American people aspire to in their own lives.
And this is a difficult time for our country, born in many ways of our collective failure to live up to our obligations -- to ourselves and to one another. And the fact is, it took a long time to dig ourselves into this economic hole; it's going to take some time to dig ourselves out.
But I'm heartened by what I'm seeing: by the willingness of old adversaries to seek out new partnerships; by the progress we've made these past months to address many of our toughest challenges. And I'm confident that as a nation we will learn the lessons of our recent past and that we will elevate again those values at the heart of our success as a people: hard work over the easy buck, responsibility over recklessness, and, yes, moderation over extravagance.
This work has already begun, and now it continues. I thank the members of Congress for putting their shoulder to the wheel in a bipartisan fashion and getting this piece of legislation done. Congratulations to all of you. The least I can do for you is to sign the thing. (Laughter and applause.)
(The bill is signed.)
All right, everybody. Thank you. Have a great weekend. (Applause.)
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 22, 2009
Below is a list of expected attendees at today’s signing of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act:
Members of Congress on stage:
· Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-NV) – Senate Majority Leader
· Senator Christopher Dodd, (D-CT) – Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
· Senator Carl Levin, (D-MI)
· Senator Robert Menendez, (D-NJ) – Member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
· Senator Charles Schumer, (D-NY) – Member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
· Senator Richard Shelby, (R-AL) - Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
· Representative Keith Ellison, (D-MN) – Cosponsor of HR 627
· Representative Luis Gutierrez, (D-IL) – Chair of Financial Institutions Subcommittee
· Representative Walter Jones, (R-NC) – Cosponsor of HR 627
· Representative Dan Maffei, (D-NY) – Cosponsor of HR 627
· Representative Carolyn Maloney, (D-NY) – Sponsor of HR 627
· Representative Gary Peters, (D-MI) – Cosponsor of HR 627
· Representative Mark Schauer, (D-MI) Cosponsor of HR 627
Audience members include:
Department of the Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner
Chair of the National Economic Council Larry Summers
Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett
Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission Jon Leibowitz
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS:
· Senator Daniel Akaka, (D-HI) - Member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
· Senator Bob Corker, (R-TN) - Member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
· Senator Jeff Merkley, (D-OR) - Member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
· Representative Gary Ackerman, (D-NY) – Cosponsor of HR 627
· Representative Bill Foster, (D-IL) – Member of Financial Institutions Subcommittee
· Representative Alan Grayson, (D-FL) – Member of Financial Services Committee
· Representative Al Green, (D-TX) – Cosponsor of HR 627
· Representative Rubén Hinojosa, (D-TX) – Cosponsor of HR 627
· Representative Paul Hodes, (D-NH) – Member, Financial Institutions Subcommittee
· Representative Mary Jo Kilroy, (D-OH) – Cosponsor of HR 627
· Representative Brad Miller, (D-NC) – Cosponsor of HR 627
· Representative David Price, (D-NC)
· Representative Adam Schiff, (D-CA) Cosponsor of HR 627
· Representative Brad Sherman, (D-CA) Cosponsor of HR 627
· Representative Peter Welch, (D-VT) Cosponsor of HR 627
CONSUMER ADVOCACY, FINANCIAL LITERACY, AND OTHER OUTSIDE ORGANIZATIONS:
(in alphabetical order by organization name)
AARP, Addison Barry Rand, President
American Bankers Association, Ed Yingling, President & CEO
Center for American Progress , Tim Westrich, Research Associate
Center for Responsible Lending, Susanna Montezemolo, Vice President, Federal Affairs
Consumer Action, Linda Sherry, Director, National Priorities
Consumer Action, Ruth Susswein, Deputy Director, National Priorities
Consumer Federation of America, Steven Brobeck, CEO
Consumer Federation of America, Travis Plunkett, Legislative Director
Consumers Union, Ellen Bloom, Programs Director (DC)
Consumers Union, Pamela Banks, Policy Counsel
Demos, Caleb Gibson, Advocacy and Legislative Coordinator
National Association of Consumer Advocates, Cora Ganzglass, Legislative Director
National Association of Consumer Advocates, Ira Rheingold, Executive Director
National Bankers Association , Michael Grant, President
National Community Reinvestment Coalition, John Taylor, President & CEO
National Consumer Law Center, Lauren Saunders, Managing Attorney
National Consumers League, Sally Greenberg, Executive Director
National Small Business Association, Kyle W. Kempf, Senior Director
National Urban League, Stephanie Jones, Executive Director
Operation HOPE, Andrew Young, Director
Operation HOPE, John Hope Bryant, Founder
Pew Charitable Trust, Nick Bourke, Manager, Safe Credit Cards Project
Public Citizen / Congress Watch, David Arkush, Director, Congress Watch
Public Citizen / Congress Watch, Graham Steel, Legislative Associate
Union Plus, Leslie Tolf, President
University of Maryland, Lawrence Ausubel, Economist
US Public Interest Research Group, Ed Mierzwinski, Director, Consumer Program
END 3:19 P.M. EDT