President Barack Obama Friday signed sweeping credit card reforms into law, aiming to shield consumers from predatory fees and shock rate hikes, despite complaints from the industry.
"Credit card debt is easily a one-way street," Obama said, as he signed the legislation at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.
"It is easy to get in, but almost impossible to get out," Obama said, decrying small print on credit card statements containing traps for unwary borrowers.
The White House's Democratic allies have cast the legislation as a central piece of their effort to re-write the rules of the US economy to help consumers battered by the global financial meltdown.
It forbids rate increases on existing balances unless consumers are at least 60 days late paying their bill or the initial rate was a promotional rate that has expired, and requires 45 days' notice to raise rates.
The measure bans fees for payment processing -- such as surcharges for paying by telephone; imposes steep restrictions on issuing cards to people under 21 years of age, and requires that promotional interest rates on new cards stay valid for six months.
The credit card industry has argued the bill could result in a tightening of credit at a time when a credit crunch is already depressing spending amid an economic crisis.
Obama said that for some borrowers, credit cards become a temporary "crutch" which can turn into a long-term trap.
Other desperate borrowers he said, got into trouble by using their cards to bail them out when medical costs got too high, or they lost their jobs.
While condemning credit card companies for predatory practices, Obama however also said borrowers must be responsible in managing debt.
"I want to be clear about this. Credit card companies provide a valuable service. We don't begrudge them turning a profit, we just want to make sure that they do so while upholding basic standards of fairness, transparency and accountability."
Obama signed the bill despite a controversial clause inserted in the legislation by allies of the gun lobby group National Rifle Association.
The language permits gun owners to carry concealed weapons in national parks, a rule which gun control advocates complain threatens public safety.
"Passage of this legislation that would allow firearms of all kinds in national parks is an absolute travesty," said Bill Wade, Chairman, of the executive council of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees:
"There is simply no need for it, given the extremely low risks that visitors face in national parks compared with everywhere else."
But proponents of the measure say it simply harmonizes gun rules between state parks and national parks.
"This step brings clarity and uniformity for law-abiding gun owners visiting our national parks and wildlife refuges," said Chris Cox, director of the National Rifle Association's lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action.
"NRA will continue to pursue every avenue to defend the American people's right of self-defense."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs sidestepped a question in his daily briefing over Obama's position on the legislation.
"Obviously it's not related to the credit card reforms, and I don't know individually how the president views the legislation, but thinks overall the credit card reform bill is important for consumers and should be signed."