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Financial reform and your wallet

The planned creation of a consumer financial protection agency isn't the only aspect of financial regulatory reform that could impact your wallet.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The planned creation of a consumer financial protection agency isn't the only aspect of financial regulatory reform that could impact your wallet.

Although much of the legislation working its way through the Senate is aimed at Wall Street, among nearly 200 proposed amendments are dozens that address consumer issues. From capping credit card interest rates and ATM fees, to limiting third-party access to your credit report, senators have put forth an array of proposals that could affect your financial life.

Here are some of the most notable:

1. Free credit scores
One of few amendments that has bipartisan backing is a requirement that each of the three credit reporting agencies provide a free credit score once a year, the same way they must now provide a free annual credit report. The companies could charge "reasonable fees" for providing further scores.

2. Make FDIC insurance increase permanent
As part of the government's response to the financial crisis, the limit on Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. coverage for individual accounts was raised to $250,000 from $100,000 in an attempt to calm depositor's fears and prevent runs on banks. The extension expires on Jan. 1, 2014. This amendment would make the higher limit permanent. Supported by both the banking industry and consumer advocates, it's likely this amendment will make it through.

3. Extend fiduciary duty to investment advisers
Brokers, dealers and investment advisers would be required to act "in the best interest of the customer" when providing personalized investment advice to average investors. The amendment would require that they disclose conflicts of interest; sell only suitable investments to their customers; and let their customers know when they sell a limited range of products, such as only annuities or mutual funds marketed by the company that employs them. There are several amendments supporting similar approaches from different senators.

4. Ban the use of credit checks for employment
Lawmakers in at least 16 states have proposed prohibiting current or prospective employers from using credit checks for employment purposes, even if an individual consents. This amendment would make such a ban federal law — with exceptions for certain jobs related to national security, working with specified state or local government agencies, or handling customer funds or company financial accounts. The strength of the exceptions will be a big factor in how much support this measure gathers.

5. Exclude nonfinancial merchants
Several amendments would exempt businesses that extend credit — but that aren't banks or credit unions — from the protections on consumer lending. One amendment excludes auto dealers and another small retailers that offer credit. There's likely to be heated debate over which businesses should be covered by the law and which get a pass.

6. Set rules for payday loans
This amendment would bring payday lending — short term loans that carry high interest rates — under federal regulation. It would limit consumers to six payday loans in a 12-month period; require lenders to offer extended repayment plans if the borrower is unable to pay under the original terms, and prohibit the sale of other products at a payday lender's location. In states where payday lending regulations are stricter, those rules would still apply. The amendment's sponsors are mostly liberal Democrats, and there's also a counter proposal to exempt payday lending from federal oversight, so it's unclear if this measure will succeed.

7. Credit card interest rate caps
One proposal would limit credit card interest rates to a maximum 15 percent. The amendment would also prohibit card companies from charging other fees, not considered finance charges, to evade that limit. The amendment would cap the total sum of such fees so that they don't exceed the interest charges. It contains a provision for the limit to increase if market interest rates rise.

A second amendment would allow states to set caps on interest rates under usury laws. Banks have already seen their card profits diminished by credit card reforms that took effect in February, so these proposals face strong opposition.

8. ATM fee cap
This amendment would require fees charged for transactions done at ATMs to "bear a reasonable relation to the cost of processing the transaction," and would be capped at 50 cents per transaction.

The proposal would cut into the profits of independent ATM operators, along with banks. It has just a handful of liberal sponsors and faces an uphill battle to pass.