Credit Card Bill Poised for Passage

Legislation would end tiny print and surprise rate increases.

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In general, Plunkett says, research shows that consumers pay attention to three things when they get a new card: the annual fee, any rewards, and the initial interest rates. But the problems that consumers run into relate to the much more complicated pricing policies, such as late fees, over-the-limit fees, and unexpected interest rate increases. "The best-educated consumers have still fallen victim to the traps and tricks," he says.

Meanwhile, credit card companies are increasingly worried about their own financial situations. Several issuers have reported charge-off rates, the percentage of loans that companies don't expect to get repaid, of over 7 percent. Analysts say that number could get as high as 10 percent by the end of the year.