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Miss a credit card payment? Federal regulators want to put new limits on late fees

Credit card logos are seen on a downtown storefront as a pedestrian passes in Atlanta in 2012.
David Goldman
/
AP
Credit card logos are seen on a downtown storefront as a pedestrian passes in Atlanta in 2012.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is moving ahead with a plan to place new limits on credit card late fees that it says will save consumers money and prohibit companies from charging excessive penalties. But banking groups say the proposal would result in higher costs for consumers.

The proposal comes less than a year after the bureau found that credit card companies in 2020 charged $12 billion in late fees, which have become a ballooning revenue source for lenders.

"Over a decade ago, Congress banned excessive credit card late fees, but companies have exploited a regulatory loophole that has allowed them to escape scrutiny for charging an otherwise illegal junk fee," CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said in a statement.

"Today's proposed rule seeks to save families billions of dollars and ensure the credit card market is fair and competitive," Chopra added.

The CFPB's proposal would cap late fees at $8

In 2010, the Federal Reserve Board approved a rule stating that credit card companies couldn't charge any late fees that exceeded what those companies spent in collection costs, such as any money laid out notifying customers of missed payments.

Companies were allowed to avoid that provision by instead charging late fees at a rate set by the Fed. Those fees have increased with inflation, and credit card issuers can now charge $30 for a first late payment and $41 for any other late payment within six billing cycles.

Under the CFPB's proposed rule published Wednesday, late fees would be capped at $8. Credit card companies could charge more if they could prove that it was necessary to cover the costs of collecting the late payment, but the bureau said it had preliminarily found that the revenue generated by late fees was five times higher than related collection costs.

The proposal would also end the automatic inflation adjustment and cap late fees at 25% of the required minimum payment rather than the 100% that's currently permitted.

Last year, a CFPB report on credit card late fees found that most of the top credit card issuers were charging late fees at or near the maximum allowed by regulation, and cardholders in low-income and majority-Black areas were disproportionately impacted by the charges.

Banking groups slam the CFPB's proposed rule

Financial institutions have been pushing back on changes to late fee rules since the CFPB signaled its intention to rein them in last year. They responded to Wednesday's proposal with similar opposition.

Rob Nichols, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association, said in a statement that the proposal would result in customers having less access to credit.

"If the proposal is enacted, credit card issuers will be forced to adjust to the new risks by reducing credit lines, tightening standards for new accounts and raising APRs for all consumers, including the millions who pay on time," Nichols said.

Credit Union National Association president and CEO Jim Nussle said the association strongly opposes the proposal. Nussle said it would "reduce access to safe and affordable open-end credit," and he slammed the CFPB for not getting more input from small financial institutions.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez
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