In light of the Federal Reserve's proposed new credit card regulations, are we looking at the next frontier in unfair practice class actions?

On May 2, 2008, the Federal Reserve Board proposed rules "to prohibit unfair practices regarding credit cards and overdraft services that would, among other provisions, protect consumers from unexpected increases in the rate charged on pre-existing credit card balances."  (See, May 2, 2008 Press Release.)The proposed revisions to the FTC Act include five key protections for consumers that use credit cards:

  • Banks would be prohibited from increasing the rate on a pre-existing credit card balance (except under limited circumstances) and must allow the consumer to pay off that balance over a reasonable period of time.
  • Banks would be prohibited from applying payments in excess of the minimum in a manner that maximizes interest charges.
  • Banks would be required to give consumers the full benefit of discounted promotional rates on credit cards by applying payments in excess of the minimum to any higher-rate balances first, and by providing a grace period for purchases where the consumer is otherwise eligible.
  • Banks would be prohibited from imposing interest charges using the "two-cycle" method, which computes interest on balances on days in billing cycles preceding the most recent billing cycle.
  • Banks would be required to provide consumers a reasonable amount of time to make payments.

The proposed rule revisions would also address subprime credit cards by limiting the fees that reduce the available credit to the consumer. In addition, banks that offer credit by advertising multiple rates or credit limits would be required to disclose in their solicitation the factors that determine whether a consumer will qualify for the lowest rate and highest credit limit.

Looking at the detailed regulations governing mortgage lending (TILA and Regulation Z), and the decisional law that followed, it appears that even sophisticated banks routinely fail to implement practices and procedures that are fully compliant with regulatory requirements.  Assuming similar difficulty by lenders in adjusting their practices to comply with new credit card-related regulations, we may be looking at the "next thing" in consumer class action litigation.  After all, we're still waiting to see what the Seventh Circuit will do with the trial court decision in Andrews v. Chevy Chase Bank FSB (E.D.Wis. 2007) 474 F.Supp.2d 1006, a case holding that a declaration of the right to rescind under TILA was available on a class-wide basis.  If that question still isn't settled under TILA to this day, you can safely wager your home that new credit card practices regulations will leave much for Courts to decide.

[Via Consumer Law & Policy Blog]