Government increases credit card payment to fight debt

Jason Gallagher

Consumers could be in for a nasty surprise the next time they open their credit card statement.

Credit card companies are being forced by the federal government to raise the minimum monthly payment they demand of their customers, in some cases by as much as double the current amount.

The government has grown increasingly concerned about the amount of debt Americans are carrying and these new regulations aim to alleviate that problem. By paying off more of their outstanding balance with each payment, consumers will get out of debt faster.

Under guidelines issued by a division of the Treasury Department two years ago, minimum payments must be high enough to cover both interest charged by the creditor and at least some amount of the outstanding balance. All card issuers are required to adopt this policy by 2006.

While the government has good intentions in mind with this new policy, some consumer advocates are concerned that consumers already heavily in debt might not be able to handle the additional charges.

“I can’t believe they’d be doing this to the American public all at the same time, said Jo Czirok, office manager at Falls Consumer Credit in Akron. “The group this is really going to affect is college kids. College kids have a lot of credit cards.”

In past years, the average minimum payment required on credit cards was about 2 percent, according to

Each credit company is doing its own individual adjustment to the new law, but most industry watchers expect the new monthly amount due to average 4 percent.

Jim Donahue, spokesman for MBNA, said that his company will start requiring at least 1 percent of the minimum outstanding balance, in addition to interest and fees, by the end of this year.

What does the change mean in simple terms? Families with an outstanding balance of $10,000 will now have to pay $400 a month instead of $200. College students with a $1,000 balance will now pay $20 more than before.

$20 can buy a lot of ramen.

Still, there are indeed some long term benefits from the new rules.

“Anybody that doesn’t have credit at this point or people that are not living from payday to payday, it’s going to help them because they’re paying less interest in the long run,” said Judy Booth, program manager at Kent Credit Counseling Services. “The problem is where they’re counting on that minimum payment being at 2 percent.”

A larger bill isn’t the only change consumers will see on their statements. The government will make another change to help consumers understand the problems behind credit card debt.

Credit card companies will soon be required to post a warning on the statement that notifies the consumer how long he will be in debt if he makes only the minimum payment.

Booth said most people she’s encountered are not aware of the changes.

“Most of the people we have coming in are people this has already happened to,” she said. “Most people are not aware of this. I think what’s happening is that the first ones (the credit companies) have pulled is anyone that has been slow with payments.”

Contact news correspondent Jason Gallagher at [email protected].