The few dollars in fees that the City of Brownwood has been charging to utility customers who choose to pay bills with a credit card could go away under an ordinance being considered by city council members, but at least those customers understood that fees were being added. Those who didnít want to pay extra for that convenience had the option of going to the bank for cash or of writing a check.

Itís practices of the credit card industry which blindslide consumers that the Federal Reserve Board are targeting under proposed rules announced recently by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. The goal is to allow consumer to be able to predict how card use and borrowing will affect their costs.

This regulatory oversight comes at a time when many consumers across the nation are being hit hard by mortgage woes, increasing food and fuel costs and job insecurity.

Everyone and their dog ó sometimes literally ó receive countless offers of low-interest credit cards with thousands of dollars of allowed spending. Not so apparent in these offers are a briar patch of mysterious fees, billing procedures and penalties for a variety of infractions. Bills sometimes arrive so late that itís impossible to mail a payment to arrive on time. And who knew that a payment received on the due date might be deemed late?

Meanwhile, accounts are managed in a way that ensures that the portion of a balance with the highest interest rates are paid last, meaning the consumer pays more.

As household budgets are crunched by rising costs for basics like groceries, gasoline and medicine, many are forced to use credit cards not as a convenience, but as a necessity. When cash is not readily available, the only may some people are able to put food on the table, gas in the car or medicine in the cabinet is to ďcharge it.Ē

Tighter regulation of the credit card industry is overdue. Given the economic situations many Americans are facing now, it is welcome. Unless election year politics intervene, new rules could be in effect by the end of the year.

Brownwood Bulletin