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Published: Tuesday, 4/28/2009

Push 'plastic' reforms

CONSUMERS forced to pay usurious credit card interest rates and fees while struggling to survive the worst economic crisis in decades need strong advocates in Washington. It appears they may finally have them in President Obama and Democrats in Congress.

The President met last week with executives from top banks, who have warned that any legislative push to rein in lending abuses could backfire, restricting lenders and making credit even less available during the downturn.

To the relief of people who use credit cards, Mr. Obama let the bankers know he isn't buying into the status quo, especially the deceptive lending practices and lack of transparency that rope people into paying higher fees or interest rates than they anticipated.

In Congress, both the House and Senate are considering a credit card "bill of rights" to, among other reforms, limit the ability of credit-card companies to raise interest rates and fees without notice.

Yet while Mr. Obama wants stricter regulation of the credit card industry, the White House says he "recognizes that credit cards are a critical source of liquidity and can be a last line of credit during hard economic times."

The key will be to craft rules that protect consumers while not making it impossible for banks to offer credit or putting credit out of reach for many borrowers.

Last December, the Federal Reserve adopted tough new protections for credit card consumers, but they aren't due to go into effect until July, 2010. That's too long to wait.

The President and Congress are on the right course to get these reforms enacted this year.

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