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Maryland's House of Delegates last week approved a bill that could make Maryland the first state to ban credit card companies from changing interest rates on consumers' existing balances. If passed, the bill could go into effect as early as July, a full year before a similar Federal Reserve prohibition against interest-rate changes on credit card balances goes into effect. Maryland's Senate is considering the bill, which Delegate C. William Frick sponsored. He first introduced it last year. The Maryland Bankers Association opposes the measure. Kathleen M. Murphy, the group's president, contends federally chartered banks that issue most consumer credit cards are not subject to such a state law. "We firmly believe that states cannot impact lending activities of national banks and federally chartered institutions," she notes in a statement. However, Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler "has considered the legal implications for state and federal banks, and we feel very comfortable with the protections this law would provide consumers," a spokesperson for Frick's office tells CardLine. The Federal Reserve, Office of Thrift Supervision and the National Credit Union Administration last year finalized card-industry rules that would prohibit issuers from raising interest rates on consumers' outstanding balances (CardLine, 12/18/08). Those rules go into effect on July 1, 2010, but Frick tells CardLine he is pushing for earlier action because of the economic downturn. "Right now, families are making difficult decisions about how to allocate scarce resources. ... We should not wait a single day to try and even the playing field for regular folks," he says.

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