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Columbia Missourian

Regulation of credit card companies is long overdue

By ROSE NOLEN
May 12, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT
Rose Nolen

Finally.

According to a story from The Associated Press, regulators including the Federal Reserve System have taken steps to stop credit card companies from ripping off customers. The fact that these companies have gotten away with raising interest rates for years and treating their customers like criminals when they fall behind in their payments has given us a fair idea of whose side the government is on.

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While many of our parents lived most of their lives never using the installment plan to make their purchases and used lay-away plans for acquiring their merchandise, most working-class people are dependent upon using credit for everything today from buying a house to filling their kitchen cabinets. And, of course, it has always been true that some tend to go overboard and spend beyond their means. But when these companies refuse to take a customer’s good credit history into consideration, when they are struck with an illness or some other crisis and pile on late payments enough to drag the consumer under, there should be regulations that prevent them from doing that.

It’s just too bad these regulators waited until so many are at the point of foreclosure and bankruptcy before they decided to take action.

This particular story illustrates the necessity for a vigorous press. The public truly needs a watchdog these days more than ever when it seems that so many of our governmental agencies are simply not doing their jobs. Where was the Federal Aviation Administration when the airlines allowed their planes to fly without being inspected? Where is the Federal Food and Drug Administration when we hear these stories about tainted food being imported into the country uninspected? Where were the military bigwigs when the facilities at Fort Bragg were deteriorating?

Obviously, we can’t depend on the people we elect to office to do their jobs. This is what happens when we allow the electronic media to turn news into entertainment. The public loses its advocate. Somebody needs to be outside the door listening when people charged with carrying out the public’s business are meeting behind closed doors. With our country in the mess it’s in, we have to start paying attention.

Those who think that letting the free market run rampant is a good thing, surely mean that it’s a good thing for corporate types. It’s seldom a good thing for the working class. These thinkers are like those who still contend that raising the minimum wage was a bad thing for business. It seems to me a truly conservative thinker would believe that if an individual cannot operate a business well enough to pay his employees a living wage he should not be in business. These people seem to feel that it’s just fine for the taxpayers to subsidize business owner’s employees by providing them with food stamps, Section 8 housing and Medicaid cards. If these people do not feel that human beings are entitled to food, shelter and health care why should they bother to work at all.

It is unfortunate that workers today do not seem to appreciate the value of organizing for their own protection. Many people are enjoying comfortable retirements because they were union workers who fought for good salary and good benefits. Some who did not have pensions and are left trying to live off their savings are having a hard time staying afloat. There’s a lesson in that.

Most people probably wish they never had to use a credit card and therefore would not care whether these companies were regulated or not. But with gasoline and food prices continuing to rise a lot of people who have paid cash in the past may have to use charge cards in the future.

Regulating credit card companies is an idea whose time is way overdue.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at nolen@iland.net.