Since I can remember, I wanted a career that I thought would make the world a better place, so consumer law ended up being a perfect fit for me. Not only is it a field where you’re constantly learning and pushing your practice forward, but you have a huge opportunity to help the powerless take on the powerful — and win.
When I started working on credit card issues a decade and a half ago, many companies had atrocious practices. They’d regularly increase or even double a cardholder’s interest rate if they missed one payment, and apply the new rate to any existing balance. As you can imagine, this made it impossible for many people to escape debt — I remember one consumer who started off with a $3,200 debt yet his balance had actually increased to over $5,000 six years later. Companies would also put “trip wires” in place to increase the chances that a consumer would pay late and incur hefty fees — for example, setting payment deadlines in the morning before the mail was delivered, so that even if payment arrived on the due date, it was technically “late.” Bear in mind, this was all perfectly legal!
I was part of a team of NCLC attorneys (including Lauren Saunders and Alys Cohen) who worked hard to help develop and advocate for the reforms that eventually led to the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (Credit CARD Act). It tamped down almost all of those abusive practices, and it was incredibly satisfying when it was signed into law in 2009.
Whenever NCLC and our allies argued that obviously unfair credit card practices should be regulated, credit card companies would contend that any regulation would force them to restrict the amount of credit they could offer. They’d accuse us of being the ones who would cause harm to consumers by making it harder to get a credit card. The passage of the Credit CARD Act showed how spurious this argument was, because of course these companies didn’t stop extending credit once the Act was passed. It was such a huge win for consumers, and I’m especially proud that it has saved consumers billions since it was passed.
Access to affordable credit plays a huge role in both inequality and opportunity in this country. There are widely-documented racial disparities in credit scores, which are reflected in the disproportionate numbers of Black and Latino consumers who end up either being denied affordable credit or burdened with high priced loans. These disparities in credit scores are a direct result of the racial wealth gap, and the barriers to affordable credit that they cause in turn feed that gap — a vicious cycle. The credit reporting industry is in serious need of reform, and one of my priorities is advocating for credit reporting policies that help dismantle some of these baked-in inequalities. Ultimately, we need a better system to measure and evaluate creditworthiness, because our current system makes it so much harder for families of color to access mortgages, apartment rentals, auto financing, even jobs — all the things necessary to economically flourish and build wealth. Now is the time to implement the solutions that might have seemed unrealistic just a few years ago. We’re at an inflection point in our society, and I feel like it’s incumbent upon us to seize this moment and make some real change happen.