How Congress dictated a 79.9% interest rate.'You might have less-than-perfect credit and we're OK with that," read an October credit-card solicitation from South Dakota-based First Premier Bank. The interest rate, however, will strike some as usurious: 79.9%. That's a more than eightfold increase from the 9.9% the bank previously collected for a similar card.
Wait, wasn't Congress supposed to have passed legislation against predatory lending? As a matter of fact, yes. The whopping rate increase is First Premier's way of complying with the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009. Among other provisions, that law prohibits fees of more than 25% above a card's credit limit. First Premier has been offering an account with a $250 limit and annual fees of $256. By law the latter figure must come down to $75. To compensate for the lost $181 in fees, the bank is raising the rate by 70% of $250, or $175, a year.
If it sounds like a rotten deal either way, it is—if you have good credit. But if you don't, the cost may be worth it to re-establish your rating. Banks that lend money to customers with poor credit histories have to charge more to cover the extra risk. If Congress makes this impossible, banks will respond by refusing to lend to such customers, so that it will be harder for them to re-establish their creditworthiness.
Banks can't be expected to give money away, even if Congress is in the habit of doing just that. Unlike lawmakers, banks and other businesses can collect revenues only by offering something of value in return.