Opinion

Stop feeding the loan sharks

Credit-card companies take unfair advantage of us. Let's revolt.

By

Workers at the largest financial institutions are on pace to earn as much money this year as they did before the economic collapse, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Goldman Sachs just set aside $4.7 billion for bonuses and compensation in the first quarter. And traders and investment bankers at JP Morgan Chase are projected to earn an average of over $500,000 this year.

I think it's safe to say that these guys just don't get it, no matter how many times they get hauled to Principal Obama's office.

So even if the Senate passes credit-card reform this week, as the House did last week, not enough will change fast enough. Several of the new regulations won't kick in until a year after the legislation is enacted or July 1, 2010, whichever comes first according to Bloomberg News.

So I'm introducing a plan that can take effect as soon as your next billing cycle. Let's stop paying our bills. Millions of us all at once can tell our unscrupulous credit-card lenders that we won't pay them another cent until they make the terms more reasonable. There's no regulation that says they have to wait until the law passes .

They've been raising our rates arbitrarily for years; I assume they can lower them, too. The impact of our civil disobedience will be immediate. And best of all, this action won't add to the federal deficit. All we have to do is say, "Enough." The short-term effect will be an additional stimulus for the economy as millions of ordinary Americans suddenly have more disposable income to spend on real goods and services rather than on usurious interest payments.

To be fair about this, we should set up some parameters. Let's continue to make payments on cards with interest rates at or below 10 percent (which is still exorbitant, considering the Fed has brought short-term interest rates close to 0 percent). And let's reward lenders who don't charge gargantuan late fees (a recent Pew Charitable Trust survey found that 87 percent of cards allowed automatic late penalty increases with a median rate of 27.99 percent).

Even with those exceptions, we'll still be stopping payment on the vast majority of cards because most lenders have terms so onerous they'd make a loan shark blush. And from what I can tell, credit- card reform won't stop all the abuses. If you're late on a payment, lenders will still be able to raise your rates. I once had my rate raised from 1.99 percent to 28.99 percent for being late with one payment by a day. I think we've been feeding these sharks long enough. Let's not wait for the law to take effect.

Each of us can send a letter with our next statement, refusing payment until the lender revises the terms. What are they going to do, file 30 or 40 million lawsuits? They've already been told by Congress that their terms are abusive, unfair, and now unlawful. They've been getting away with them at our expense for years.

This is our bailout. Effective immediately. And not a dime of it paid for by taxpayers.

Full disclosure: As you might have guessed, I'm not a lawyer. I don't know what kind of trouble you can get in for refusing to pay your credit-card bill. I do know that the idea of consumers revolting over unfair practices is as old as America itself.

So if anyone out there is interested in leading this movement, we're going to need a website – a place where people can register and download letters to include with their statements. By the way, I've checked, and StopFeedingTheSharks.com is available.

Jim Sollisch is creative director at Marcus Thomas Advertising in Cleveland.

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