This is a guest post from Kevin Bowen, a content writer for RESQdebt.com
There have been few more controversial credit card practices than the one known as Universal Default. With the arrival of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009, it is thankfully expected to become a thing of the past.
What is Universal Default?
“Universal default is the term for a practice in the financial services industry for a particular lender to change the terms of a loan from the normal terms to the default terms (i.e. the terms and rates given to those who have missed payments on a loan) when that lender is informed that their customer has defaulted with another lender, even though the customer has not defaulted with the first lender.”
Why we SHOULD care about it…
The elimination of universal default is one of the most important provisions of the sweeping federal legislation, signed in May and going into effect in stages through next August, that is expected to change the face of the credit industry, probably including ways that we do not yet expect.
Universal default provisions, often buried in credit card contract gobbledygook, have allowed the credit card companies to charge cardholders more interest for late payments that had nothing to do with that specific account. Simply put, this common provision has allowed the credit card companies to increase the interest rate when a consumer fails to make a payment on another unrelated account, be it another credit card account or some other type of credit account. Like a phone bill. Or a water bill.
The CARD Act would limit increases in interest rates to “a specific, material violation of the card agreement by the issuer,” according to a Senate Committee report on the bill. It also requires credit issuers to lower penalty rates after six months if the cardholder meets his obligations.
The dollar amounts involved in Universal Default can be significant. The finance website The Motley Fool calculated that an $8,000 balance could see an increase of $1,200 per year with an interest rate rise of 15 to 30 percent. If you are on the border of being able or not being able to pay your credit card bills, the default provision can make the difference, particularly when compounded over several cards.
Advocates and Critics…
Advocates of the universal default provisions would say that they are accepting the reality of a consumer’s overall credit profile. If a person fails to make a payment on another account, it could indicate that they will have a more difficult time making a payment on the subject credit card account when the time comes. Therefore the increase in interest rates can discourage further borrowing that cannot be met with payment. In addition, it keeps more reliable cardholders from having to pick up as much of the tab if in fact that person eventually defaults on the balance.
Critics of Universal Default, however, point out that having multiple creditors simultaneously raising the interest rates and charging the consumer more can create a credit card death spiral that would not have existed without the universal default provisions. In addition, they have questioned the fairness of altering a contract when the contract has not been violated. It is perfectly reasonable to think that a person can miss a payment on one card for a variety of reasons and still make the regular payments on another.
How will credit cards fight back?
Is Universal Default really dead, or will credit card companies simply figure out alternative ways to accomplish the same goals of separating us from out money? I suppose only time will tell.
What do you think?
I say we keep a keen eye on the whole situation!