The changes to credit card billing practices proposed by the FRB are welcome, but just scratch the surface of the crushing quality of credit card debt. My sense, talking to financially stressed people day after day, is that credit cards have merely postponed for many Bay Area residents the recognition that they cannot live a middle class life in this high cost region.
The cost of living in the Bay Area is some 150% of the national average; our salaries are higher, but not 150% higher. The vital, start up, high tech, high risk economic climate makes huge winners of some, and economic losers of others. The availability of credit cards and the energy with which those cards are marketed have made it easier to mask the fact that a middle class life is more expensive than some can afford.
The other issue that makes credit card debt so poisonous is that it bears interest that a generation ago would have been criminal. California concepts of usury generally prohibit individuals from charging more than 10% on loans, yet banks can regularly charge twice that to borrowers in good standing and twice that again to borrowers in default. The FRB proposed rules don’t deal with that issue.
At base, the problem with an indebted middle class is more profound than accounting rules on how payments are to be applied will solve.