Anybody who still appreciates the arcane pleasure of reading an actual newsprint newspaper knows how important it is what makes it onto the front page. The New York Times’s prominent placement of a column by personal finance columnist Ron Lieber signals an important development: traditional news organizations’ increasing willingness to level with readers and not hide behind elaborate exercises of “he said, she said.” To be sure, Lieber is a columnist, and this is his opinion, but the simple fact that The Times will front it shows that they give his opinions a lot of credence.
In this piece, Lieber reviews the credit card legislation that just passed the Senate. Unlike conventional articles about credit cards and legislation, Lieber doesn’t need to fill his piece with distracting and confusing technicalities. He can come right out and say it: credit card issuers are by design a devious lot who could simply not reap their huge profits without essentially tricking consumers.
Here are a few examples Lieber cites in considering aspects of the proposed new law (emphasis added):
¶If the card company gets your payment by 5 p.m. on the due date, it’s on time, according to the new rules. No more of this early morning deadline nonsense, which led to late fees for payments that arrived with the afternoon mail. Also, no more late fees if the due date is a Sunday or holiday and your payment doesn’t arrive until a day later.
¶Let’s say you’re paying different interest rates on the debt on a single card — one for a cash advance, another for a balance transfer and a third for new purchases. Now, when you make a payment over the minimum balance, banks will have to apply it to the highest-interest debt first. I bet you can guess how some banks used to handle this sort of situation.
¶Banks will need your permission before allowing you the “privilege” of spending more than your credit limit and paying a fat $39 fee for that privilege. The card companies should be ashamed that they needed a law to make this “opt in” requirement a reality.
…If you don’t like the new fees and other things that banks will soon be testing as they grapple with their new economic reality, then make some noise. Send a note to me at email@example.com, so I can write about the latest foolishness — or consumer-friendly twist. At the very least, all of our complaints to the higher-ups at the banks may help persuade the companies to head in another direction.
Although couched as one man’s perspective, this isn’t about opinions—it’s about verifiable facts. Spokespersons for the banks can say whatever they want, but news organizations are under no obligation to treat patently absurd or deliberately evasive statements with seriousness. Putting such bracing language on the front page may be the result of competitive pressures, but whatever it is, it is a good thing for journalism.