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Lawmakers, experts react to CreditCards.com's readability study

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Lawmakers, consumer advocates, banking industry officials and financial literacy and readability experts react to the CreditCards.com analysis of the readability of U.S. credit card agreements.

"Being able to compare terms-and-conditions language in one place is a direct result of the reforms of the Credit CARD Act. This is good data which the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created in the Wall Street Reforms just passed by the House, can address by making agreements more readable -- and that will further help protect and empower consumers in controlling their financial lives."

-- U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney, (D-NY), the House's chief architect of the Credit CARD Act, which required the statements to be publicly posted

"The readability results don't surprise me. More important to me than lowering the grade level is eliminating the tricks and traps that make the contracts unfair ... We would support improved financial literacy and improved readability standards in financial contracts as well, as long as those projects didn't deter making the products less complex and their contracts less unfair. High on my list is eliminating arbitration clauses and unfair one-sided change-of-terms clauses."

-- Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)

"Our objective is to provide our customers with clear information that helps them better understand their account terms and use credit wisely. As you are aware, last year we introduced the Credit Card Clarity Commitment, which provides a one-page summary of customers’ rates, fees and payment information. Based on the chart below, our credit card agreements are written within the level recommended by readability experts."

-- Betty Riess, Bank of America spokeswoman

"You shouldn't need a graduate degree or college level degree to read these things [credit card agreements], and it's the same for health insurance documents."

-- John Cogan Jr., executive assistant for policy and program review and executive counsel to the Rhode Island Health Insurance Commissioner

"Listen, if people can't understand it, they don't consent. The courts realize that today. Courts will accept that they have not consented to the contract if they do not understand it. Make it simple. Take what's really important and put it in that contract and eliminate everything else. You will have a document that will stand up much better in court. You can show the judge that there was real consent involved."

-- William DuBay, author and readability expert

"As state treasurer and now as attorney general, I have seen the damaging effects that unfair credit card practices have on Ohioans. It stands to reason that if credit card companies are writing agreements, readability should be taken into consideration. I have no doubt that when producing advertisements, the institutions are very careful about the level of readability."

-- Richard Cordray, Ohio state attorney general

"Our communication principles, along with our brand strategy, reflect our commitment to our customers and our desire to help them succeed financially."

-- Lisa Westermann, assistant vice president of public relations, Wells Fargo Bank

"What this analysis shows is, even amongst issuers, there is some variability and that getting the agreements down to an eighth grade reading level is possible... I wouldn't shop for a credit card based on readability of the agreement. Some of the credit cards that you show having the worst readability scores are from credit unions. But credit union cards often have better terms than credit cards from the big banks. Federal credit unions actually are subject to a rate cap of 18 percent."

-- Chi Chi Wu, consumer attorney for the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center

"Reading level is important, but it's not the sole determinant. Another important aspect is how these are organized. The one-page summaries have the advantage of organizing information in a way that helps consumers to process it. The credit card agreements are, I expect, organized differently across banks, increasing the difficulty of processing already difficult-to-understand information."

-- Brenda Cude, a consumer economics professor at the University of Georgia

"I think a very low percentage of people read the entire credit card agreement. Credit card agreements are written by corporate lawyers as a defensive posture against trial attorneys."

-- Linda Sherry, national priorities director for Consumer Action, a San Francisco-based consumer group

"My impression is that most consumers don't refer to the details of their agreements until something bad happens. I do think that the rash of changes that credit card companies have imposed on consumers over the past couple years, since the economic crisis began and during the long CARD Act implementation period, has emphasized to consumers the need to read the notices that come in the mail from their card issuers.

The unending variety of terms and conditions contained in these products is what contributes to the length and complicated nature of these card agreements. Credit card companies need to simplify their products so consumers are able to more easily comparison shop and understand all the terms of the products they are choosing."

-- Lauren Z. Bowne, staff attorney for Consumers Union, the nonprofit owner of Consumer Reports magazine

"Any contracts lawyer worth their salt should be able to explain to you why certain language is in contracts."

-- Nessa Feddis, vice president and senior counsel, American Bankers Association

"I think that credit card agreements should have similar requirements as we did with Colorado legislation to make health benefit plans, auto insurance, and long-term care insurance be written in plain English."

-- John Kefalas, Colorado state representative

See related: MAIN STORY: Credit card agreements unreadable to 4 of 5 Americans, 10 most unreadable credit card agreements, 10 most readable credit card agreements, 10 wordiest credit card agreements, Readability of credit card agreements from biggest 20 banksHow credit card agreements' readability compares to familiar documents, 3 language experts try to make sense of a card agreement, Federal database of credit card agreements not user friendly, Video: Consumers try in vain to understand credit card agreements

Published: July 22, 2010


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