Kathy Chu and Byron Acohido
November 10, 2008
Tommy Newsom was shocked when his bank nearly doubled his credit card interest rate this year, to 27%, for no apparent reason. A customer rep told him the law allowed the bank to do so, and that was all the justification it needed.
“I never missed a payment,” says Newsom, 63, of Mesquite, Texas, who owes about $5,000 on the card. “The bank is just looking for a reason to maximize profits.”
In recent years, banks have sharply raised interest rates and penalty fees on credit cards. As the economy tanks and banks’ mortgage-related losses balloon, some banks are stepping up such increases to boost revenue. Bearing the brunt are consumers for whom a jump in rates and fees can make it tougher to pay their bills at a time when household budgets already are being stretched.
A key driver behind this trend: securitization. From 2003 to 2007, seven of the largest issuers of credit cards packaged an increasing amount of card debt into securities and sold them to investors, just as banks did with mortgages, a USA TODAY review of banking records found.