Wyden Proposes Credit Card Ratings

Yesterday, Senator Ron Wyden announced a proposal to introduce a rating system for credit cards.

From the Associated Press:

U.S. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he plans to introduce legislation that would direct the Federal Reserve to create a rating system for credit cards.

The highest-risk cards, such as those that allow the issuing bank to raise the interest rate at any time without stating a reason, would receive one star. The lowest-risk cards would get five stars.

At a news conference at Portland State University, Wyden noted that that U.S. households had an average of $6,900 in credit card debt at the end of September, an increase of 41 percent from a year earlier.

"These credit card debts are hitting Oregon families like a wrecking ball," he said Tuesday.

Wyden said he and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will introduce the legislation next week. He said the system would give consumers a way to judge the riskiness of a credit-card offer without having to plow through all that fine print.

Read the rest. Wyden is visiting several universities around the state to unveil the rating system. Should the government rate credit cards?


  • (Show?)

    This is completely off-topic but has anyone heard anything about Hooley having a heart attack today?

    Does anyone recognise this blog?

    oregon reality

  • Joan Evans (unverified)

    The posting on "Oregon Reality" blog about Congresswoman Hooley is completely false, and I have asked them to correct it immediately.

    Joan Evans Office of Congresswoman Darlene Hooley

  • LT (unverified)

    Given that the Oregon Reality slogan is "We're all about exposing the dark world that's populated by Oregon leftists." and they are an anonymous blog, why would anyone trust them?

  • (Show?)

    Ms. Evans, Thank you for answering and clarifying. Glad to know it's not true.

  • Hayes Ingraham (unverified)

    Good to hear that there is no basis for that rumor. I had an initial moment of surprise and panic upon reading that trash.

    Further browsing of Oregon Reality yields some interesting quotes such as:

    "Scummy leftists beware. We're on to you. From lying liars like Diane Linn and Ted Kulongoski, to idiotic bloggers like Loaded Orygun, Blue Oregon and their Marxist comrades in blogging. Let's get ready to rumble."

    I guess it's not surprising that a site with that as their mission statement would resort to tabloid tactics.

    For shame.

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    OK, let's get back on topic here, and not let some other idiot blog drag us off-topic.

    Thoughts about Senator Wyden and his credit card rating proposal?

  • trishka (unverified)


    it's a good idea?

    but will it help?

    i hope people will take the info and use it, but i'm not so sure...

  • Hayes Ingraham (unverified)

    Brilliant idea.

    As someone fresh out of college and trying to build my own credit, any help in avoiding hidden fees and traps would be of great help.

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)

    Well, I think it depends on the criteria used for each rating and how well those criteria are communicated to the public. The idea is interesting, though, and I'll be curious to see where it goes.

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    This is very interesting. I don't know much about Wyden's proposal, but here's a similar effort that's working.

    A New England grocery store chain has created a gold-star rating system that rates all the foods in their stores based on their healthiness. Recognizing that shoppers don't read labels, or have trouble understanding and comparing them, the simple gold-star rating system has already improved sales of healthy foods - while holding sales of unhealthy foods flat.

    From ABC News:

    For the last year, shoppers at Hannaford grocery stores have had gold stars to guide them toward healthier products. The chain ranked more than 25,000 items, giving one star to an item with ingredients considered good and three for those with the healthiest content. Foods with little nutritional value received no stars. ... "When given a choice between a product with stars and one without stars, customers consistently choose the one with stars," said Hannaford spokesman Caren Epstein. They found sales of healthier breakfast cereals rose 5 percent, while lean ground beef sales jumped 7 percent and fattier ground beef sales dropped 5 percent.

    There's also an NPR "Talk of the Nation" show (where I first heard about this). They found that many of the marketing-oriented labels are bogus.

    Supermarket shelves are full of labels that say "healthy" this or "low-fat" that. But when one grocery chain ranked the foods, those were near the bottom. If the "good stuff" isn't even good for you, what is?

    Fascinating stuff. If Senator Wyden's idea can do the same for credit cards, a whole lot of people will be better off -- without needing a whole bunch of that "heavy hand of regulation". Just give consumers better information, and turn the free market loose.

    (Full disclosure: My company helps manage Senator Wyden's campaign-funded policy website, but I speak only for myself.)

  • Lewis (unverified)

    What a great idea. Not sure of it's effect on reducing the credit card debt of Oregonians, but knowledge is definitely power. And anything that may help, should be welcomed. THERE'S NOTHING TO TAKE THE PLACE OF PLAIN OLD COMMON SENSE, THOUGH

  • rural resident (unverified)

    Wyden's effort underscores the importance of financial education for Oregon's young people. Eliminating the Personal Finance graduation requirement about ten years ago was foolish, and an inability to manage credit is but one of the consequences of this shortsighted action by ODE. Oregon puts virtually no emphasis on understanding business and economics at the high school level, and community college programs have been cut back in many areas. Young people are the most likely to run up big (and unmanageable) credit card bills -- often because they don't understand the effects of finance charges and compound interest. As a part of his initiative, Wyden should seek to increase funding for financial education. Giving people information about "high risk" credit cards is fine, but it is only a superficial attack on the basic problem.

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    I had the opportunity to attend Senator Wyden's press conference at the U of O yesterday, and he explained the legislation very clearly. It sounds like an excellent program; it will encourage credit card companies to strive for that 5-star rating so they can advertise as a 5-star company.

    He also claimed that no company, as of now, would be eligible for a 5-star rating. I think this will be an effective way of cleaning up companies that use predatory lending practices, and I commend his leadership on that issue. So many college students get screwed by credit card scams (free money!). It's about time someone did something about it.

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    This is all well and good, but when MBNA sends my cat Tommy another credit card application, (and he can't actually count the stars brcause he is a cat y'know, stars mean nothing to him) how will he really know if this is a high-risk card? I propose they have one to five sparrows, so pets will understand the rating when they get applications in the mail. Or perhaps a combination of sparrows and mice. PS, because of his excellent credit history, Tommy's line of credit has been raised to $6200! That will be handy during holiday gift shopping!

  • Tracy Turner (unverified)

    This is a wonderful idea. One criterion I presently use to determine a credit card application's (potential) worthiness is that I examine their fee disclosure(s). If there are annual dues, application processing fees, usurious interest rates, etc., I immediately rip them up. Sen. Wyden's proposal will only help us navigate more efficiently through the credit card predatory jungle. Great idea, I love it!

  • Will (unverified)

    Economics education. Interesting idea.

    How about: we live in an economy based on an impossibility - unending growth.

    We are encouraged to spend money we don't have for things we don't need so that we can reduce our effective incomes by allocating part of it to membership charges, interest and fees from lenders.

    But then what should we expect when the major measure of our economic health is based on a pyramid scheme: the stock market.

    Any even rudimentary investment analysis education will suggest comparing investment instruments for effort, risk and return.

    effort is how much time/energy/expense it takes to monitor and manage the investment.

    Risk is the chance that you will not get the return you had in mind, plus the chance that you will lose your original investment, plus any additioonal liability you may incur because of the investment.

    Return could be an income stream and/or particular benefits (products or services, discounts, ownership control, etc.), and/or growth in principle (can I sell it for more than I paid for it?)

    Even a casual review of stock shows that, while in theory any of these benefits may be present, there are innumerable other investment instruments that are more secure and give better income streams. This leads to the inescapable conclusion that the only reason to buy stocks (or derivatives or any of the myriad of other "highly levereaged" con jobs) is because you can sell them for more than you paid for them.

    But absent any underlying value as investments, and (except on the books of the corporations) these have little real value in any other way, the only reason to buy them is because you can get someone else to buy them for more. Which they will only due if they believe that someone else will buy them for even more, and so on, and so on. In other words, we have a faith-based stock market.

    Which is one of the reasons I find it so entertaining to watch market analysts. One day they say what happened and what will happen, then the next they explain why the market did not react the way they predicted and what it will do next. And on and on.

    I once took a graduate class in economics. It was during that magical time when this country was experiencing "stagflation." The first day of class the professor walked into the classroom, closed the door and said, "We are going to study high-level economics. Remember, what we talk about in this room has nothing to do with what goes on outside this room.

    THAT's education in econonomics.

    So is this:

    "Whatever you make, spend less." - Benjamin Franklin

  • Charlie Foxtrot (unverified)

    Senator Wyden’s proposal is a nod in a right direction, but hardly cures the problems initiated by Congress with the assistance of the Supreme Court approximately 30-40 years ago when federal banking legislation was held to have exempted financial institutions subject to federal regulation from state regulation with particular regard to usury laws. At one point nearly all states had limits on interest rates to prevent lenders from taking unconscionable advantage of those in necessitous circumstances. Those protective laws have pretty much gone the way of the buggy whip, despite their salutarious purposes and benefit to society generally. Not only have reasonable limits on interest rates and “fees” disappeared, but the public is now “fined” for its credit “transgressions.” The amounts involved are insignificant in the individual case (although perhaps not to the individual, particularly when imposed on a per item basis) but cost society and the economy billions without any significant economic benefit. The fees now charged have no bearing on actual cost, expense, or loss a lender might suffer by reason of a borrower’s default, which is often technical, rather than substantial.
    There is no justifiable basis for a bank to collect $29-$40 for a $10 overdraft which lasts for a day or two? The annual interest rate works out to be in the thousands. If a bank returns the check it is out little in way of actual expense. If it pays the check, it has not made a "high risk" loan; it wouldn't cover the check if it thought it wasn't going to get the account brought into balance. A senior officer at US Bank over a decade ago admitted to me that such "service charges" were one its highest profit areas with little in the way of investment or cost on its part. The same is true of credit card companies. If someone is late on a payment it has suffered no additional cost but is entitled to reasonable interest on the unpaid balance. But there is no reason it is entitled to an additional “late” fee nor entitled to “jack” the interest rate above what it had agreed previously.
    Once upon a time Equity was a required course for all law students. Not only have these courses disappeared from law school curricula, but Equity’s abiding principles have generally disappeared from society and business practice. Equity abhorred “forfeitures” and courts refused to enforce penalties (as opposed from damages) with the principal purpose to prevent one party from being unjustly enriched by an unconscionable burden on the other. So what we need here is not a(nother) credit card rating system (Such information is available anyway though Consumer Reports and some other personal finance publications and organizations) but a comprehensive Fair Consumer Practices Act which not only covers credit cards, but sets limits on interest rates, and deals with bank charges, disclosure of terms and remedies (the subprime mortgage problem wouldn't be anywhere near as great if clear, frank and bold disclosure of what payments would be in various scenarios), debt and credit reporting, handling of consumer disputes, credit reports, credit scoring. Senator Wyden’s proposal would be more cosmetic than protective of consumers, and would be yet one more excuse to defer other meaningful reform. No one, and certainly not I, objects to fair charges both as to loan terms and recovery of expenses to make the lender whole when the borrower defaults. However, one needs to focus on what "fair" means. I suggest it is the same as defining fair (market) value; i.e., the price or fee or cost that would be paid by one party and accepted by the other WHEN NEITHER IS UNDER ANY COMPULSION TO DEAL such as being hungry, losing their car, needing medicine for a child, the lack of competitive alternatives in the market place, etc. While the so-called law of supply and demand and market competition still exists in some areas, such as air fares, conventional real estate financing, and so on, consumer financing has been virtually exempt from competition in nearly all respects. There is no such thing as negotiated terms; a consumer is invariably faced with “take it or leave it.” Retail credit has itself become the "product" rather than an item or good the consumer purchased. Under classic economic analysis the lack of competition is shown amply by the fact that as more and more "sellers" (credit providers) have entered the field "prices" have gone up, not down! There is real need for corrective legislation in this area but the proposal made is likely of little real benefit. I'm not one to criticize Senator Wyden; he is so far out in front of 95% of other Dems in areas of ending the war, reforming the Internal Revenue Code, and dealing with health care and insurance, I'd like to see him keep pushing on those subjects. This is an area that is ripe for meaningful legislation from some other Dems. What about it Steve or Jeff? Or how about some of you House Dems that don’t have the guts to stand up to Nancy Pelosi on the War or impeachment? You do need a legislative project to justify continuance in office. Just drop me a note and I’ll draft up a bill so you won’t have to do much work.

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