Volume 64, No. 1 . . . . . .Founded in 1900 - In Our Second Century! . . . . . .April 2001 Newsletter

Consumers League of New Jersey Newsletter

In this issue:
Senate Passes Bad Bankruptcy Bill:
Senator Corzine a hero, Sen. Torricelli a zero

Consumers League Annual Meeting Notice: May 16 at 6 pm
Predatory Mortgage Lending Update:
CLNJ Supports NJPIRG ATM Study
CLNJ's Lower-Rate Credit Card Update:
PIRGS Blow Whistle on Credit Card Abuse
PIRG Pamphlet on How to Avoid Credit Card Traps

Consumers League Annual Meeting Notice: May 16 at 6 pm

Consumers League will hold its annual meeting on May 16 at 6 pm at the United Way building, 60 South Fullerton Avenue, Montclair, first floor, enter through the auditorium. All paid-up ($20) members are invited to attend and vote on election of officers and directors. On your newsletter label, we note the date of your last payment. If you plan to attend, please send us a $10 for the refreshments. Come see old friends, and make plans for CLNJ's year 102!

Predatory Mortgage Lending Update:

The FTC, New York Attorney General, AARP and NCLC held a conference on predatory lending in NYC on April 3. Our colleagues in New York recognize the problem. The New York Department of Banking, unlike the "see no evil" N.J. Banking dept., issued a regulation against predatory lending practices, joining North Carolina, the District of Columbia and Massachusetts in passing a law or regulation.

Senator Allen has introduced N.J. bill S.2187. The bill's protections are triggered when the fees and points on a mortgage exceed 5 percent. The bill prohibits loans which the homeowner would not be able to repay (the equity stealing scam). It prohibits: balloon payments, negative amortization, fees on loan modification, financed points, financed charges to third parties, all points/fees if refinanced by the same lender, direct payment of proceeds to home repair contractors, and the financing
of single premium credit life insurance.

CLNJ Supports NJPIRG ATM Study

NJPIRG did a recent study showing that ATM fees have tripled since inception. CLNJ was quoted in the Star-Ledger supporting NJPIRG. CLNJ objected that banks should not charge us for withdrawing our own money from the bank.

Senate Passes Bad Bankruptcy Bill: Senator Corzine a hero, Sen. Torricelli a zero

Both the U.S. House and Senate have passed versions of a very bad bankruptcy bill, opposed by all consumer groups, including CLNJ. The only N.J. heros to vote against this travesty were Senator Corzine and Rep. Donald Payne.

A "Big Zero" award goes to Sen. Torricelli, sponsor of the bill. Sen. Torricelli also is infamous for taking a $150,000 contribution from MBNA credit card bank for an election committee. Ironically, the Senators voted bankruptcy "reform" right before they started debate on campaign finance reform. It apparently did not register with them that the banks bought the bankruptcy bill with contributions to Sen. Torricelli and $250,000 for Pres. Bush. What is the difference between lawful corporate campaign contributions and bribery?

Congress must reconcile the two versions of the bill. The Senate caps unlimited Texas and Florida homestead exemptions at $125,000/debtor. The House lets millionaire debtors such as Paul Bilzerian keep his $5 million Florida mansion, while middle class debtors from New Jersey (which has no state homestead law) may lose their $100,000 houses. Pres. Bush favors the loophole for Texas millionaires!

The bill punishes poverty-level debtors with a useless trip to credit counseling. The bills will make chapter 13 payment plans harder to pay, defeating the main idea of the law! As one observer put it: "the debtors don't have the dollars," hence the reform will not achieve its intended result. The bill makes bankruptcy judges screen who is worthy of bankruptcy, while allowing the promiscuous lenders to avoid deciding who was worthy of credit in the first place.

Consumers League of N.J. Newsletter, Page 2

Lower-Rate Credit Card Update:

Since 1985, CLNJ has kept track of lower rate credit cards. These are early 2001 rates:

Metropolitan Nat'l Bank AR 800-883-251110.98%, $25 fee; Late charge $10

Pulaski B&T ARK800-980-2265
8.75% $35 fee, $20 late charge

Simmons First Nat'l Bank AR
800-636- 5151
10.5%, $35 fee, Late charge $15

Washington Mutual CA/WA 800-533-5600
13.99%, no fee, Late charge $20

Liberty Savings Bank
CO, FL, OH, SC only800-530-8586
13.9%F, No fee, Late charge: $5/ 5%

People's Bank, (CT)
13.99%, $25 fee, Late charge: $29

AARP/First USA Bank, DEL
13.99%, No fee, Late: $20
ARP members only

American Express Blue 800-258-3600
10.99% No fee

AmTrust Bank FL 888-696-4444
13.25%, $22 fee

SunTrust (FLA)
14.99%, No fee, Late: $25

Fidelity National GA
14.9%, no fee

Security First Network Bank GA
12.9% No fee

Wachovia Bank, GA
10.9% No fee, Late $29

Amalgamated Trust IL 800-365-6464
14%, No fee

New Jersey

Atlantic Stewardship Bank,
201 444 7100
11.99% Var, $15 fee (0 if bank customer), NJ residents only

Commerce Bank,
800 YES 2000
13.9%, gold card, No fee, NJ only

First Union, NC/NJ
14%, No Fee: 0-$39, Late charge $29

Great Falls Bank,
11.88% interest, $15/25 fee, $20 late
New Jersey residents only

Hudson United Bank
13.2%, no fee, Late charge $20
New Jersey residents only

Central Carolina Bk (NC) 800-577-1680
13.99%, no fee

U.S. Bank (ND)
12.4%V, $20 fee, $29 late charge

Huntington National (OH)
13.99% No fee, Late charge $20

Ohio Savings Bank
800 987 6446
14.75%F, no fee; or 13.25%V, $22

USAA Federal Sav Bk, OKL 800-922-9092
13.4% Var. & up, no annual fee, Late: $20

Armed Forces Benefit Ass'n VA
12.4%V, No fee; Late charge $20

Take the $20 you saved and become a member of the Consumers League. Join!

Note: all credit card rates can change. Call the bank for the very latest rates and fees
More information at:

Want credit card rates updates?
Try these commercial services:
www.imoneynet.com, or

Consumers League of N.J. Newsletter, Page 3

PIRGS Blow Whistle on
Credit Card Abuse

The Public Interest Research Groups have issued a report, THE CREDIT CARD TRAP: How to Spot It, How to Avoid It, which is an important contribution to the credit debate. The report, and the pamphlet we describe below, are available at: www.truthaboutcredit.org. The 37 page report exposes manipulative credit marketing practices, the pitches to college students, and suggests legislative solutions for fair credit practices. Did you know credit card banks pay millions to colleges for the right to exploit their students?

PIRG Pamphlet on How to Avoid
Credit Card Traps

New Jersey PIRG (609-394-8155) is distributing a hard-hitting new pamphlet A Road Map to Avoiding Credit Card Hazards. Did you know that 78% of college students use credit cards? With a average balance owing of $2,700?

The PIRG pamphlet tells you how to avoid "10 Credit Card Traps:"

1. More late fees: you pay $27.61 for paying late. Two thirds of banks eliminated grace days.

2. Higher over the limit fees: one dollar over will cost you $20 or more.

3. Hidden transaction fees: fees for cash advances in amounts such as 3% of the advance or $10, whichever is higher.

4. Punitive interest increases: if you miss payments, they raise the rates. For example Fleet cards can carry penalty interest of 24.9%!

5. Shorter grace periods: now averaging 23 days only. (Have you noticed that it is impossible to tell on what date they mailed you the bill? This shortens the days to less than 20.)

6. Teaser introductory rates: the annual percentage rate (APR) increases sharply after 6 months.

7. Low minimum payments: pave the road to bankruptcy. If you pay the minimum, it could take as long as 14 years to payoff $2,000, even if you never used the card to charge more.

8. "Fixed" APR is fixed only until the bank wishes to change it. The Truth in Lending Act allows a change on 15 days notice.

9. Bait and switch: advertise good terms, for the rich, switch to worse terms when you get the card.

10. Tiered pricing: call a bank and they won't tell you what rate you'll get (range of 8% to 25%, for example). So how are consumers supposed to shop? CLNJ found this to be a particular problem when we call banks for our credit card survey. Some bank employees flatly refuse to quote rates. So don't patronize such banks.

This is only part of the pamphlet: Groups should call NJPIRG to get some of these pamphlets for distribution. Everybody is interested in credit.

If things are getting worse in credit cards, fight back, don't give up. We cannot vouch for all the banks on our low rate list, but some have been consistently low for years. Call them and ask about rates and fees. Read the disclosure which comes with the card. Send it back if the terms are bad!

I wish to become a member of the Consumers League of New Jersey, and/or the Consumers League Education Fund.
Annual dues of $20 include a subscription to the Consumers League Newsletter. Contributions to the Education Fund (only) are tax deductible. Thank you for your contribution.

________Consumers League Millennium Circle $2,000
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$100 for CLNJ's Next 100 Years!

Consumers League of New Jersey celebrated our One Hundredth Anniversary in the year 2000!

As we work on our second century,
we have a simple plea:
if you can, please send us $100 for our next 100 years!

Please send your membership application and your check to:
Consumers League of New Jersey
60 South Fullerton Avenue
Montclair, New Jersey 07042

Thank you!
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