Men's words are bullets, that their enemies take up and make use of against them."
(George Savile, Maxims)
So the credit card industry says ... "We provide the credit, in many cases, for people to start businesses ... to buy more, to live a better life, to do things that they could never do any other way." So what's the problem?
There is no problem if they would do it on terms that are fair and if they would make their contracts transparent so that the person who's borrowing the money is borrowing it in a way that he or she understands and appreciates the risks.
I believe in free markets. I teach contract law; I believe that value is created when two people come together, and they understand a contract, and they say, "I think if I borrow this much money at this interest rate, I can do better than that; I can start a business; I can buy something I want to buy that's going to be important to me, and I can make money out of this proposition." That is a good use of credit. It's a use of credit we've had in the United States since colonial times.
What's changed is [that] when credit was deregulated in the early 1980s, the contracts began to shift. And what happens is that the big issuers, the credit card companies who have the team of lawyers, started writing contracts that effectively said, "Here are some of the terms, and the rest of the terms will be whatever we want them to be." And so they would loan to someone at 9.9 percent interest. That's what it said on the front of the envelope. But it was 9.9 percent interest ... unless you lost your job, or 9.9 percent interest unless you applied for a couple of other credit cards, or 9.9 percent interest unless you defaulted on some other obligation somewhere else that doesn't cost me a nickel. And at that moment, that 9.9 percent interest credit suddenly morphs to 24.9 percent interest, 29.9 percent interest, 36.9 percent interest. Well, you know, ... nobody signs contracts to buy things that say, "I'm going to pay you $1,200 for the big-screen TV unless you decide, in another month or two months, that it should really be $3,600 or $4,200 or $4,800." But that's precisely how credit card contracts are written today.
But they would say they're just making capital or money available to people in a convenient way.
Well, in a convenient way, and changing the price after people borrow it. You know, that's a heck of a deal. I don't know any merchant in America who can change the price after you've bought the item except a credit card company. After you have borrowed the $5,000, they can change the interest rate from 9.9 percent to 29.9 percent. I just don't know anyone else who can do that.
Hey, listen ... you make exactly the point that the credit card companies keep trying to make: "Hey, ... we don't make anybody take the money." And they're right; they don't hold a gun to anybody's head when they borrowed that money. But they did the much, much slicker way, and that is, they just put it all into contract papers. They put it all in clauses that people can't read. They put it all in things like "universal default terms" and "15 days to change the terms of this contract" and arbitration agreements that [say] "We will hold the arbitrator to see if we have abided by the terms of the contract." ... They have teams of lawyers to figure out just the way to write the contracts that will maximize the profits for the credit card companies and minimize the likelihood that any customer will quite figure out what has happened when he or she uses that credit card.
- Elizabeth Warren, 2004
Read more: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/credit/interviews/warren.html#ixzz1c7cieeID
"Every single day that goes by I read another news report about . . . how large financial institutions have figured out ways to lie to people, to squeeze them for money, to make profits by tricking and trapping people rather than by offering a better product," - Elizabeth Warren, 2009