Thursday, October 18, 2007

Call Me "We"

I received a notice from my credit card company that they were changing the terms of my credit card. This information was three legal size sheets printed front and back with type so small I could barely read it. Nonetheless, the thought nagged at me that the changes might be something I ought to know about, and I put the pages on my bedside nightstand where I keep my copies of MOBY DICK and WAR AND PEACE for nights of insomnia.

“Unless otherwise noted, we are making the Amendments in this Notice primarily because of a change in our business practices.” I read that several times, trying to figure out if it said anything or at least if it said anything that would end up costing me money. After that followed paragraph after paragraph about Definition of Terms, Calculation of Finance Charges, Average Daily Balances, Annual Percentage Rates, Promotional Offers, Transaction Fees, Variable Rates, and Arbitration and Litigation. How come I was not asleep yet?

“We” means the credit card company, they explained. Not to be confused with me AND the credit card company. “All claims must be resolved through arbitration if you or WE elect,” according to the notice. Arbitration precludes “a right or opportunity to litigate claims through the court.” Last time I checked, there had been a judicial system created by the Constitution of the United States. Wait a minute. Now I see it. “We will not choose to arbitrate an individual Claim that you bring against us in small claims court or an equivalent court.” I guess WE does not intend to miss the chance of a lifetime to be on “Judge Judy.”

Arbitration of any dispute against WE will be by a “nationally recognized, independent arbitration organization,” and if I am required to pay any arbitration fee, administrative and hearing fee to pursue my claim in arbitration, “WE will advance” the fees, at my written request, my notice offers. Well, hey! I can just put it on my credit card.

Meanwhile, I better keep up my monthly payments. If I have any two “default re-pricing events,” such as missing or late payments, during 12 months, WE will shoot the interest rate WE charges me up to 32.24 percent. What? That is just a whisker short of one-third of the total amount I owe WE already for new workout shoes, giant-screen high-definition color television with surround sound, DVD and CD players, I-Pod, laptop computer, cell phone, my vacation two years ago, movie tickets, fancy restaurants, as well as having it my way at fast food joints.

Hasn’t WE ever heard of Usury? And that it’s against the law? 32.24 percent? Georgia usury law limits the amount of interest that can be charged on a loan under $3,000 to 16 percent. If you owe over $3,000, hold on to your saddle horn; it’s going to be a ride you may never forget. Most states have tighter usury laws. Unless you are a WE, which somehow managed to get the Congress of the United States to pass a different set of laws for WE.

WE tells me in bold type: KEEP THIS NOTICE FOR FUTURE USE.

I’ll use it as a bookmark. Let’s see. Where was I? Oh, yeah. “Call me Ishmael.”

(Originally posted 9-15-07)

Copyright 2007 by William C. Cotter

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