Pressure is building for lawmakers to pass a credit card-reform bill that would take effect this year, several months before new Federal Reserve rules restricting issuer increases in cardholder interest rates and fees kick in. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., on Friday reintroduced a bill with sweeping reforms that include banning retroactive interest-rate increases and prohibiting penalty interest rates higher than seven percentage points above the cardholders' previous rate. The Credit Card Reform Act of 2009, a redux of a bill Menendez introduced last year, is "the strongest current legislative proposal to protect cardholders," and addresses a number of deceptive and unfair credit card practices beyond the new Fed regulations, according to a Menendez press release. The bill joins The Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights, which Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., reintroduced last month (CardLine, 1/15). Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., is also expected to reintroduce a card-reform bill in the coming weeks. "Chances are very good that Congress will act on credit card reform this year," Travis B. Plunkett, legislative director of the Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Federation of America, tells CardLine. The fact that the major credit card lenders are getting taxpayer assistance through government-funding programs may expedite the legislation, Plunkett notes. "The number of Americans who cannot afford their credit card loans is approaching historic highs, ... (creating a situation) where leading members of Congress feel that the credit card companies have an obligation to eliminate abusive lending practices—fast," he says. The Fed last December finalized rules that would end many of the credit card industry practices addressed in pending legislation beginning July 1, 2010. Lawmakers say they want such practices to end this year.

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