May 2009 Editorial Winner

Consumer Protection
New credit card rules will provide necessary safeguards

Jeff Mullin, Enid News & Eagle 

During his term in the Oklahoma State Senate, Robert Milacek of Waukomis made it his mission to pass legislation restricting credit card companies from issuing cards to anyone under 21. In 1998 he was contacted by the mother of a University of Central Oklahoma student, who committed suicide after running up huge credit card debts.

Milacek’s legislation never made it to the floor for a vote, but his efforts led to UCO banning many student application promotions for credit cards, Oklahoma State restricting such promotions and Oklahoma offering personal finance classes to teach students about the lure and pitfalls of credit cards.

Milacek’s crusade never resulted in state legislation concerning the marketing of credit cards to young people, but such a law recently was passed, and signed, on the national level.

May 22, President Obama signed into law a bill that will restrict credit card companies from issuing a card to anyone under 21 without either an adult co-signer or information indicating the young consumer has the money to repay any credit extended.

Card companies also can’t provide gifts such as T-shirts and backpacks to students on campus in exchange for filling out credit card applications.

The measures were part of the credit card holders’ “bill of rights” imposing sweeping new restrictions on the industry.

The new rules will keep credit card companies from giving cards to anyone under 21 who merely has demonstrated the ability to sign their name.

Advocates for credit card companies say the burden is on parents to educate their children about the responsibilities that go along with being granted credit cards. They are right. Parents also need to warn their children about the credit card companies’ penchant for throwing card offers at anyone with a pulse, something they will not be able to do when the measure goes into effect.

Too many adults have fallen victim to the seductive lure of credit cards and have found themselves helplessly over their heads in debt. This measure will at least make it tougher for credit card companies to get their hooks in people until they reach 21.

Milacek said for years such legislation was necessary to protect young consumers. Someone finally listened.