4 Ways Your Credit Card Agreements Could Change – for the Better
Do you remember the last credit card you signed up for? More importantlyhe , do you remember the actual contract? While credit card agreements outline such essential information as costs, features, and terms of the product, they are often long, complicated, and written in legalese. Unfortunately, key information about interest rates, fees, billing, and payments is often surrounded by legal fine print.
That’s why the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) launched the Know Before You Owe project, a program designed to provide better consumer transparency in several areas, such as credit card agreements, so that consumers could have a better understanding of the prices, risks, and terms involved before signing on the dotted line.
According to the CFPB, there are an estimated 514 million credit cards in circulation in the United States. Americans used their credit cards to spend an estimated $1.9 trillion in 2010, and credit card debt is estimated at $700 billion dollars. The CARD Act, which was signed into law more than two years ago, was passed to make credit card costs more reliable—with less risk of unexpected rate increases or other charges.
But despite this progress, a recent study by J.D. Power found that roughly two-thirds of cardholders say they don’t completely understand how their cards work. And, as indicated in a recent CFPB report on credit card complaints received by the Bureau from July 21 to October 21, 2011, difficulty understanding the terms of their cards is a contributing factor in many consumer complaints.
With this in mind, the CFPB has created a prototype credit card agreement that is shorter, written in plain language, and explains key features upfront. This prototype is scheduled to be tested with the Pentagon Federal Credit Union to get on-the-ground consumer feedback before it becomes official.
Here are the four key improvements the CFPB prototype offers:
- Shorter: The CFPB’s prototype is shorter – its word count is about 1,100 words, while the industry average for a credit card agreement is around 5,000 words.
- Clearer: The draft credit card agreement has an easy-to-read layout and is written in plain language. It is organized into three simple sections: costs, changes, and additional information.
- More consumer-friendly: The simplified agreement explains the prices, risks, and features of the credit card upfront, as opposed to burying it in fine print.
- Consistency: The prototype establishes standard definitions for legal terms like “card” and “balance transfer” that are contractually necessary but largely uninformative to consumers. These definitions are based on standard industry usage and practices and will be housed online where consumers can readily access them. For consumers who do not have Internet access, the definitions will be available from their issuer in printed form. According to the CFPB, doing this allows for a plain language document that clearly explains to consumers how the credit card works.
For more information about Know Before You Owe, and to view a copy of the prototype credit card agreement and the database, visit www.consumerfinance.gov.