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New consumer agency rolls out prototype of simpler credit card agreement

WASHINGTON — A simpler credit card agreement is getting a tryout.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Wednesday released a prototype of a credit card agreement that's written in plain English. The idea is to sweep away the legalese and make it easier for consumers to understand a card's costs and terms.

The agency is asking for the public's feedback on the model agreement, which can be found at consumerfinance.gov/credit-cards/knowbeforeyouowe.

For now, there are no plans to require credit card companies to adopt the form. But if the agency decided to make the form mandatory once its testing phase is over, it could establish a consistent, industrywide template that would make it easier for consumers to comparison shop for cards.

As it stands, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau noted that the average credit card agreement runs 5,000 words and is packed with fine print that consumers don't understand. The prototype agreement, by contrast, is just over 1,000 words and is broken down into three key sections — costs, changes and additional information.

The form will be tested over the first half of 2012 with new credit card applicants at the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, one of the nation's largest credit unions. Some applicants will get the existing version of the credit union's card agreement so that the consumer bureau can compare consumer feedback.

The American Bankers Association, which represents the banking industry, praised the model form as a "good first step," but said it could be made even shorter and less susceptible to costly lawsuits.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to police the financial products marketed to consumers. Consumer advocates have said that clearer mortgage disclosures could have helped prevent the subprime crisis that precipitated the financial meltdown.

Since it officially began operations this summer, the agency has focused on simplifying the disclosures consumers receive with a variety of financial products. The agency is also testing simplified forms for mortgages and has asked for feedback on the issues borrowers encounter when applying for private student loans.

The rollout of the sample credit card agreement comes as the White House urges the Senate to confirm Richard Cordray to head the consumer bureau. Republicans have said they will block confirmation of anyone to head the agency until other regulators and Congress have more control over the bureau.

.fast facts

Simplified rules

The news: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unveiled a simplified credit card agreement it plans to test over the first half of 2012.

Why it matters: The agency says current cardholder agreements are packed with legalese that makes it difficult for consumers to understand a card's key costs and terms.

Next step: For now, there are no plans to make the form mandatory. But that's a move the agency could make after testing the model form at the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, one of the nation's largest credit unions, next year.

New consumer agency rolls out prototype of simpler credit card agreement 12/07/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 10:37pm]
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