WASHINGTON — The credit card industry sharply protested a new bill from House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank Thursday, arguing that moving up the compliance deadline for new restrictions on card practices would be "extremely difficult, if not impossible" to meet.
Frank and Rep. Carolyn Maloney introduced a bill Thursday that would hasten the effective date of recently enacted card reform by two months to Dec. 1.
Frank and Maloney derided credit card issuers at a press conference for claiming during the debate on the initial bill that it would take months to gear up their systems for changes to pricing, fees, billing, payment allocations and disclosures required under the Card Act. Instead, the lawmakers said that the banks have used the time to maximize their profits by squeezing consumers before the new rules go into effect.
"I was disappointed that too many of the credit card companies used the time that they told us they needed to get their software adjusted etc. to raise rates and take advantage of that lag in ways that were antithetical to consumer interests," Frank said. "That simply is not acceptable."
But card industry representatives said Frank was asking the impossible.
"When the Card Act was enacted, everyone knew what the deadline was," said Duncan Douglass, a partner at the law firm Alston & Bird LLP, who specializes in payments. "They adjusted their technology and customer communication. Now, on all of those fronts, you're thrown into topsy-turviness. Issuers are already aware of what they needed to get done by Feb. 22, but cut that time line in half and you have to redouble your efforts."
Credit card issuers have raised similar concerns in recent weeks, as Frank and other lawmakers discussed moving up the compliance date.
Once the law was signed, "we had to quickly make lots of decisions, and there was immense programming that was required … and there are some pieces that are just going to take until February," David Nelms, the chief executive of Discover Financial Services, said in an interview last week.
Large issuers made headlines this summer by raising rates and adding fees, but an accelerated deadline could be especially onerous for the smaller issuers that largely rely on credit card processors to update their systems.
"People have been working feverishly and they've back-timed their projects from February and so on, and if they have to do it from December, there goes all the testing," said Paul Weston, the president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America's TCM Bank, which issues cards for over 500 community banks.
At issue is a card reform law enacted in May that banned various industry practices, including double-cycle billing, retroactive rate increases and required advance notice of changes in terms like higher interest rates.
Most of the law takes effect Feb. 22.
Frank said he was confident the House could pass the bill within a "couple of weeks."
But the outlook in the Senate is less clear where Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd could have trouble rounding up enough votes to accelerate the implementation schedule.