John Stossel

Todd Zywicki, a professor at George Mason University Law School and an expert on consumer credit, points out that the credit-card industry is highly competitive. The web is full of sites that permit easy comparison shopping. Competition has driven banks to more precisely match consumer costs to individual risk. In earlier days, every cardholder paid higher interest rates than today and an annual fee (a way around usury laws). Now, annual fees are largely gone. Rates are lower. Late and over-the-limit fees are unpleasant, but they aren't charged until a cardholder's conduct triggers them. This is not to say credit-card companies never abuse customers, but as Zywicki notes, "[T]here are ample tools for courts and regulators to attack deceptive and fraudulent practices on a case-by-case basis."

Politicians assume we are ignorant about credit-card terms. However, Zywicki points to evidence that people who carry credit-card balances are aware of the interest rate they're paying, and "those who carry larger balances are even more likely to ... comparison shop."

The "bill of rights" seems designed to prevent people from getting themselves in over their heads. That motive is honorable, but government has never been very good at such protection. The law of unintended consequences cannot be repealed, and what government gives with one hand, it inadvertently takes away with the other. Increasing the banks' costs will make it harder for poorer people to get credit cards, and that will only push them into costlier forms of debt, like payday lenders.

I've never understood how the poor are helped by limiting their choices.

John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at > To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at ©Creators Syndicate