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Photo Credit: NNPA
Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
Published: 05 March 2024

In a move to confront racial disparities in credit terms, the Biden administration has unveiled a proposal to cap credit card late fees at $8, challenging the longstanding issue of “junk fees” that disproportionately affect people of color and minorities. The ambitious plan, announced on Tuesday, March 5, aims not only to alleviate immediate financial burdens for consumers but also addresses the systemic inequities faced by those residing in predominantly Black or African American and Hispanic or Latino communities.

Recent studies have shed light on the stark differences in credit terms, revealing that cardholders in these minority-majority neighborhoods face lower credit limits and higher interest rates than their counterparts in predominantly white areas, even considering factors like credit scores and income. One analysis of a diverse sample of cardholders uncovered troubling trends, including credit limits for those in majority Black and Hispanic zip codes, which were, on average, $3,412 and $4,285 lower, respectively. Also, interest rates for individuals in these zip codes were, on average, approximately 1.3 and 1.4 percentage points higher, respectively.

Beyond the immediate financial relief for consumers, the White House said the proposed regulation aligns with the broader mission of the Biden administration to dismantle systemic economic disparities. By reducing excessive fees, particularly those impacting people of color, the administration aims to create a more level playing field and alleviate the financial burdens marginalized communities face.

The disparities in credit terms impact the upfront costs of credit and have broader implications. Individuals in the majority Black and Hispanic zip codes often carry their credit card balances for extended periods, leading to higher overall costs. Lower credit limits can also result in elevated credit utilization rates, potentially contributing to lower credit scores.

As part of a comprehensive strategy, Biden announced that his administration is forming a new “strike force” to combat illegal and unfair pricing across various sectors, including groceries, prescription drugs, health care, housing, and financial services. Officials said the multifaceted approach underscores the administration’s commitment to dismantling systemic barriers and promoting financial inclusivity.

While the proposal is expected to save Americans up to $10 billion annually, the White House said its potential impact on racial and economic disparities signifies a critical step towards building a more just and equitable financial system.

“Credit card companies collect billions of dollars in excessive late fees at the expense of economically vulnerable families every year,” Chuck Bell, advocacy program director at Consumer Reports, said in a statement. “It’s simply unfair to impose a steep late fee penalty that far exceeds the credit card company’s costs, especially when someone is just a few hours or a couple of days late making their payment.”

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