Bank of America vows to stop raising credit card interest rates through February

Here's the good news: Bank of America announced Tuesday that it won't raise credit card interest rates or fees before February, when a new law kicks in that's designed to reform the credit card industry.

But as with just about anything with news about banks and credit cards, it helps to read the fine print. If you have a Bank of America card and are thinking, "Phew, at least things won't get worse between now and February," I wouldn't relax much.

As the Associated Press points out in a story that ran in USA Today, most Bank of America customers have variable rate cards, which are linked to the prime rate. So if the prime rate goes up, customers may see their interest rates climb.

And spokeswoman Betty Reiss told The Washington Postthat the bank will continue changing interest rates on customers who are late on two or more payments. Obviously, those changes are going to mean the interest rates will climb and not drop.

Starting in February, however, the law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama will prevent credit cards from increasing rates on existing balances unless the card holder is at least 60 days late. So at least, starting in February, you can be a few days late, and then some, without financial ruin.

And it may be sooner than that. The House Financial Services Committee is holding a hearing Thursday on a bill that would make the credit card rules kick in on Dec. 1, instead of waiting until February 2010.

And while it helps to look at the fine print and not to relax too much, I do want to give credit where credit is due, no pun intended. Bank of America could take the path of raising rates and doing everything it can to gouge customers before these laws kick in, and it's not.

It seems to have received the message that America isn't pleased with how the credit card industry has treated its customers, and that should be applauded. Hopefully, other banks will take their cues from Bank of America, as some have with improving how they dole out overdraft fees.

Still, while the banks' newfound concern for their customers may be better late than never, it also falls into the too little, too late category. I'm guessing the 1.4 million people who are expected to declare bankruptcy this year would say that, anyway.
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