Thursday, August 23, 2007


August 22, 2007

American Express
General Counsel’s Office
2900 Commerce Pkwy.
Miramar, FL 33025

Executive Office
Mail Code IL1-6215
2500 Westfield Dr.
Elgin, IL 60124

Re: MD Attorney General’s Office #MU-******
AmEx File #2007*****
Chase Business VISA Acct. #…7011

Dear American Express and Chase:

A contract is a meeting of the minds with reciprocal obligations. Yet it is becoming more and more apparent to consumers that they are getting the shaft.

I remember a time when a credit card company offered an interest rate, and that was that. Today, in these contracts of adhesion offered by American Express and Chase Card Services, you are unilaterally reserving the right to dramatically increase that interest rate – even, as in my case, in the absence of a default. Sadly, what is currently considered to be “customary in the industry,” i.e., “neither deceptive nor misleading,” has become a usurious game that, due to pressure from corporate lobbying, now has somehow managed to obtain an unjust-yet-lawful legitimacy. Despite what you arrogantly proclaim as legal, on a macro scale this fetishization of profit is creating grotesque inequalities.

My purpose in writing my Congressional representatives was not so much to question whether what you are doing is misleading or legal. Rather my intention was to see whether I might be able to prompt Congress to re-examine the nature and equity of credit card contracts in their present, less consumer-friendly incarnation. Unfortunately, those representatives that acted did so with an overwhelming regard to their legality – their sanction under the law – instead of examining the patent unfairness and unconscionability toward consumers. If these “default” interest rates cannot be controlled by the state usury laws, then at the very least these rates should be controlled as a matter of public policy.

As that hard-working consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, has written, “Year after year, the pseudo-contract squeeze intensifies and tips the balance of negotiating power even further in favor of sellers. The more these vendors get away with, the more they seek to get away with, until the consumer becomes a contractual serf.” (Nader, R., The Good Fight, p. 65, Harper Collins: New York, 2004) That Mr. Nader has never been able to rise to elective office or get appointed to an appropriate governmental position is reflective of the supremacy of the “corporate sovereign political economy” we have today.

Consequently, your stress on the letter (as opposed to the inherent inequities or spirit) of the contract, Ms. King – as with the logically argued, somewhat circumspect, and kindly-worded letter from you, Ms. Nino – are quite obviously all a consumer can expect from those tasked with defending a credit card lender these days.

Since this imbroglio began I have refrained from using either of your cards and am warning others about the financial bear traps that are set for consumers by American Express and Chase. I have already paid down my American Express account by $4,000 and I intend to pay off those balances remaining, that are propped-up by your grossly unjust interest rates, as soon as my scruffy financial position permits.

A day of reckoning is coming for big credit card lenders who put profits ahead of people. You could take a cue from the lending practices of The Grameen Bank as an example of what a more just lending institution can be. Your companies could learn a lot about helping people, via lending, to improve their positions in life instead of seeking to lock up a consumer in a tighter and tighter vise of debt.

I am copying my representatives once again, in hopes that they will shine the light of public scrutiny on your current credit card practices. I am also forwarding copies of my correspondence to the Customer Assistance Group at the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Bank Customer Affairs at the Federal Reserve System.

Very truly yours,

Jonathan D. Suss, Ph.D.


Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin
Tower 1, Suite 1710
100 S. Charles St.
Baltimore, MD 21201

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski
Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Suite 503
Washington, DC 20510-2003

Rep. Albert R. Wynn
18401 Woodfield Rd., Suite D
Gaithersburg, MD 20879

Sen. Rona E. Kramer
Miller Senate Office Building, Rm. 214
11 Bladen St.
Annapolis, MD 21401

Del. Hermann L. Taylor, Jr.
House Office Bldg., Rm. 224
6 Bladen St.
Annapolis, MD 21401

Rebecca G. Bowman
Assistant Attorney General
200 St, Paul Pl.
Baltimore, MD 21202-2021

Comptroller of the Currency
Customer Assistance Group
1301 McKinney St., Suite 3450
Houston, TX 77010-9050

Office of Bank Customer Affairs
Federal Reserve System
Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Washington, DC 20429