Thanks to a new bill, it may soon be harder to sue credit card companies, banks and other financial firms.
If you're like most of us, when you apply for a new credit card or open a new bank account, you probably don't take the time to read the accompanying tome of fine print. Typically, tucked away in those gray blocks of teensy text is an arbitration clause, which says you agree to resolve any complaints you have against the company privately rather than take it to the courts.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a government agency created to protect consumers' rights in the wake of the financial crisis, unveiled a rule in July that would ban financial companies from using these arbitration clauses as a way to block class-action lawsuits. Congress overturned that rule on Tuesday, with the tie-breaking vote coming from Vice President Mike Pence. The bill will now to go to President Trump, who is expected to sign it.
Consumer watchdog groups aren't happy. CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement shortly after the vote that it was a "giant setback for every consumer in this country," noting how it would be much harder for consumers who had been affected by the Equifax data breach or the Wells Fargo fake-accounts controversy to take action.
Republican leaders, meanwhile, argue that arbitration actually helps consumers because it sidesteps the hefty legal fees that come with class-action lawsuits.
The takeaway? It's time to start paying close attention to the fine print — and to how your bank and credit card companies are treating you. Stay on top of everything from account security to fees you don't recognize on your bill. (And when in doubt, get on the phone with a customer service rep.) You can also lodge a complaint with the CFPB if you aren't getting anywhere — or if you think the problem may be affecting more than just you.