Finally, some happy news for credit card holders. Late last week, Bank of America announced it will no longer require customers who sign up for their credit cards, bank accounts and certain loans to give away their right to sue in a dispute.
Bank of America’s decision is the biggest yet in a growing movement away from mandatory arbitration clauses, which force consumers who have a problem with a service provider into private arbitration forums to settle disputes. These forced arbitration clauses have become ubiquitous in consumer contracts, from cell phones and credit cards to nursing home agreements and employment contracts. Consumers have a lousy track record of winning in these private arbitration forums.
BofA’s change follows news in July that the National Arbitration Forum is halting hearing mandatory consumer arbitration cases (thanks to a lawsuit it settled with the Minnesota Attorney General that the NAF hid its ties to the debt-collection industry). The American Arbitration Association also announced it will halt debt collection arbitration cases until it overhauls its guidelines. In July, JP Morgan Chase also said it would no longer submit consumer disputes regarding credit cards to arbitration. According to USA Today, other credit card issuers, including American Express, are weighing similar moves.
While consumer advocates say the changes are a victory for credit card users, it doesn’t help customers of thousands of other banks, cell phone companies, and other service providers who are still forcing people into private arbitration to settle disputes. Still, the moves should give a boost to a bill pending in Congress called the Fairness Arbitration Act, which would eliminate mandatory arbitration clauses in most consumer contracts. This is an issue on the president’s radar screen, too: In June, Obama called for an end to forced consumer arbitration as part of his financial market reforms.
Tell us: Have you ever had a dispute with a service provider that went to arbitration? How did you fare?