Reforms Looming, Card Issuers Hike Fees

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Disneyland was the setting for the Los Angeles premiere of of Walt Disney's "Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End" on May 19, 2007. Proceeds from the premiere benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America and Make-A-Wish International.
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Help is one the way for struggling credit card holders. Starting today companies must give consumers 45 days notice of any rate increases instead of 15 days. Consumers can opt out and pay their balances off at the lower rate. Companies also must send statements 21 days before payment is due, instead of 14 days.

It's just the beginning of a slew of new reforms. But, as CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallace reports, credit card companies are trying to make as much money as they can now - before the new rules take effect.

The companies say they're just adjusting to the marketplace. But consumers say it's a money grab.

Outside Tampa, Pam and Joe Fortune never missed a payment, but still saw their interest rates on one of their Bank of America cards more than double to 39 percent.

"I feel that it's a sad state of affairs when we bail out Bank of America and they turn around to make money on us," Joe Fortune said.

Card issuers appear to be locking in profits before the toughest limits on interest rates hikes and fees begin next February.

Since President Obama signed the reforms into law, the average variable rate has increased from 10.8 percent to 11.2 percent. A new report today finds credit limits have been slashed for 33 million people - half of them with excellent credit scores.

"I don't think we've seen the end of the reign of terror of credit card companies," said Adam Levin, founder of Credit.com.

According to BillShrink.com, Capital One has increased its interest rates to almost 12 percent. Discover has hiked fees 30 percent. And Citigroup is beginning to add new annual fees, some in excess of $30.

But the industry denies it's waging a pre-emptive strike to cash in before all the rules kick in.

"That's a red herring," said Scott Talbott of the Financial Services Roundtable. "The two main factors in changing the interest rate or your credit limit are the customer's risk profile as well as general economic lending conditions. That's what's driving the train here."

That also may be driving people like Daisy Mitchell out of business.

When Chase raised Mitchell's credit card rates from 10 to 14 percent, she says she was forced to shut down her children's boutique near Orlando.

"At first I thought, 'Is this even legal?'" Mitchell said. "I lost everything, apparently for no reason."

The new rules are designed to protect consumers. But before the strictest reforms take effect, consumers may find themselves more vulnerable than ever before.