Elizabeth Hester and Ari Levy
December 18, 2008

Credit-card companies, facing an increase in defaults and a decline in consumer spending, are raising some rates, adding fees and cutting credit lines as the Federal Reserve is poised to make the most sweeping changes to the industry in 30 years.

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The provisions, to be approved by the Fed today and take effect in July 1, 2010, may curtail lenders’ ability to raise interest rates on current balances, require they apply payments to charges with higher interest rates first and extend the time customers have to pay bills before incurring late fees. The Office of Thrift Supervision, which regulates savings and loans, approved the rules today.

The new rules come on the heels of a $700 billion federal bailout of the financial system, including $125 billion invested in the nine largest U.S. banks. Recent moves by JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and other firms to add charges and decrease the amount of money cardholders can borrow at the same time they’re taking taxpayer dollars have angered some customers.

“People are totally confused,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Corp.’s Economy.com. “The taxpayer is essentially a big owner in JPMorgan, Bank of America and Citigroup, and these are the folks who make credit-card loans. Many are asking, ‘So why is it that my credit-card loan got pulled? Why am I being charged a higher rate?’”

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