Kerry keeps focus on economy, pledging to ease steep credit card fees

Unfair lending practices hurt middle class, he says

August 28, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

DALY CITY, Calif. - Sen. John Kerry pledged yesterday to protect voters' checkbooks as he announced plans to curb exorbitant credit card fees and unfair lending practices.

The Democratic presidential candidate has made the middle class his focus this week, promising more jobs, equitable tax rates and affordable health care. With the Republican National Convention set to open Monday in New York, Kerry has worked to undercut expected claims from President Bush that the economy has "turned the corner."

"The president doesn't have a plan, or the president is out of touch with what's happening to real Americans," the Massachusetts senator told voters at a suburban San Francisco high school.

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt responded: "The American economy has gained 1.5 million new jobs in the past year, a striking turnaround from the 1 million jobs that were lost in just three months after the Sept. 11 attacks. John Kerry's campaign of pessimism is intent on talking down our economy and ignores the challenges and progress we have made."

Kerry argued that the country could do better.

"There is nothing more pessimistic than saying that this is the best that we can do in America," he said.

Keying off new Census Bureau data showing that incomes have fallen during the past three years, Kerry said that average Americans are seeking economic relief. He lashed out at credit card companies that ratchet up interest rates without warning.

"You get these zero percent - right? - with fine print that is so fine that you not only need high-powered specs, you need a magnifying glass to read what it says," he told the crowd.

Kerry, who also made stops yesterday in San Francisco and Seattle, said many in the middle class are falling farther into debt because they're forced to pay their bills with credit cards.

"If you get caught in that cycle, one sickness, one accident, one change in your life can force you into disaster, and that is exactly what is happening today to too many families in our country," he said.

The Democratic candidate called for credit card companies to play fair, saying in a statement that he would require them to inform customers how long it would take to pay off a debt by making minimum payments. He said he would prohibit credit card companies from doubling interest rates if a customer misses a single payment, and he called for an end to abusive mortgage lending.

The Bush campaign noted that the president had signed legislation aimed at expanding access to credit and at preventing identity theft.

But Kerry said that the economy has continued to falter.

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