2009/04/07:The Badger Herald: Senator introduces new credit card bill - Todd Dennis

Senator introduces new credit card bill: Wisconsin’s Kohl tells WISPIRG group at UW about plan to protect students from predatory practices
The Badger Herald
by Kyle Mianulli
Wednesday, April 8, 2009 01:52

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., spoke to a University of Wisconsin crowd Tuesday promoting a bill that seeks to combat predatory credit card practices set to hit the Senate floor in the coming weeks.

“Credit card companies, over the last couple decades, have abused their privileges in our society, and as a result people have been enticed with credit card rates which are beyond their capacity to pay back,” Kohl said.

Last week, the Senate Banking Committee passed the “Card Act” along strict partisan lines.

In the context of a failing economy, rising rates of defaults and bankruptcies are increasingly becoming an issue that demands legislative address, according to state Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh.

Credit card companies aggressively market to college students on campuses with “freebies” and “teasers,” but they often hide abusive terms and conditions that can pile up debt, said Alex Bodaken, a UW freshman and intern with the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group.

The WISPIRG “truth about credit campaign” has identified five of the most egregious predatory credit card practices, Bodaken explained.

“The worst practice in our opinion, is the fact that the credit card company can change the contract at any time for any reason even if there is no reason, so it’s not really a contract at all,” he said.

According to Bodaken, 80 percent of all college graduates now carry an average credit card debt of $3,000 upon graduation.

Kohl assured those in attendance that officials are doing everything to “try and eliminate some of these worst practices that credit card companies are imposing on people all over our country.”

The bill, of which Kohl is a primary sponsor, seeks to ensure credit card companies have to provide additional information. It restricts their ability to raise interest rates at will, conceal extra charges and penalize people for payments on a credit card that may be as little as one hour late.

In addition, Kohl profiled a plan that would require new credit consumers to take an educational course to learn about proper uses and risks of credit cards.

Simply getting this bill through the initial stages of the Senate Banking Committee was an enormous accomplishment, being the first to pass with opposition from credit card lobbies in 20 years, Bodaken explained.

Kohl also alluded to the difficulties that lie ahead, explaining that it passed on strictly partisan lines is always an indication of serious opposition.

This fact gave UW alum Todd Dennis reason for concern.

“I mean that’s bordering on fascism when you can’t work together to create a bill that everyone likes,” Dennis said.

Dennis was not the only attendee who expressed opposition.

Former UW student Miles Kristan took the event as an opportunity to boldly protest the war in Iraq. Grabbing the microphone from the podium, he sharply ridiculed Kohl, holding him accountable for the deaths that have resulted from the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

UW police escorted Kristan off the premises.