On February 1, 2023, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) proposed a rule to curb excessive credit card late fees that cost American families about $12 billion each year. Major credit card issuers continue to profit off late fees that are protected by an expansive immunity provision. Credit card companies have also relied on this provision to hike fees with inflation, even if they face no additional collection costs. The proposed rule would help ensure that over the top late fee amounts are illegal. Based on the CFPB’s estimates, the proposal could reduce late fees by as much as $9 billion per year.
When someone misses a payment due date, even if they paid a few hours after the deadline, the cardholder may be hit with an exorbitant late fee that far exceeds the credit card company’s costs to collect late payments. These excessive late fees may not be needed to deter late payments, nor be justified based on the consumer’s conduct in paying late. These late fees also may be on top of other consequences of paying late, such as a lost grace period on paying interest or a lower credit score, depending on how long the missed payment lasts.
Companies currently charge people as much as $41 for each missed payment, and these fees result in billions of dollars in annual junk fee revenue for credit card companies. The CFPB’s proposed changes, which would amend regulations implementing the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act), would ensure that late fees meet the Act’s requirement to be “reasonable and proportional” to the costs incurred by issuers to handle late payments.
The Federal Reserve Board, by regulation, created the immunity provisions to allow credit card companies to avoid scrutiny of whether their late fees met the reasonable and proportional standard. Over time, those provisions have risen with inflation to $30 for an initial late payment and $41 for subsequent late payments. The CFPB estimates that the income generated by the largest issuers from late fees is approximately five times greater than the collection costs that the companies incur for late payment violations.
- In 2020, for example, credit card companies charged approximately $12 billion in late fees, which represented more than 10% of all credit card interest and fees charged to consumers.
The CFPB’s proposed changes would, if finalized:
- Lower the immunity provision dollar amount for late fees to $8: The CFPB has preliminarily found that late fee income exceeds associated collection costs by a factor of five. Because the immunity provision currently allows issuers to charge late fees of up to $41, the CFPB believes that a late fee of $8 would be sufficient for most issuers to cover collection costs incurred as a result of late payments. The $8 immunity provision would apply to any missed payment. Companies would be able to charge above the immunity provision so long as they could prove the higher fee is necessary to cover their incurred collection costs.
- End the automatic annual inflation adjustment: The CFPB’s proposal would eliminate the automatic annual inflation adjustment for the immunity provision amount. This adjustment is not required by law, nor is it necessarily reflective of how collection costs change over time. The CFPB would instead monitor market conditions and the immunity provision amount for potential adjustments as necessary.
- Cap late fees at 25% of the required minimum payment: The current rule allows a card issuer to potentially charge a late fee that is 100% of the minimum payment owed by the cardholder. The CFPB proposes to restrict any late fee charge to 25% of the minimum payment to be more consistent with Congress’s intent to authorize only reasonable and proportional late fee amounts.
The proposal also seeks comment on other potential changes to CARD Act regulations including whether:
- The CFPB’s proposed changes should apply to all credit card penalty fees;
- The immunity provision should be eliminated altogether;
- Consumers should be granted a 15-day courtesy period, after the due date, before late fees can be assessed; and
- Issuers should be required to offer autopay in order to make use of the immunity provision.
Comments must be received on or before April 3, 2023, or within 30 days after publication of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register, whichever is later.