President Obama, sometimes criticized for an excess of coolness, had something close to an “I feel your pain” moment Friday — and that pain was caused in no small part by his personal credit card use.
The moment came as he announced he had appointed Elizabeth Warren as a special Treasury adviser, a role in which she will shepherd into existence a new federal consumer watchdog agency. (See Connie Prater’s blog from Thursday that anticipated Warren’s appointment.)
I could have used that watchdog myself early in my career, the president told those attending the Rose Garden ceremony at the White House.
Before talking about his personal credit card woes, he gave mortgage lenders, banks and credit card issuers a sharp stick in the eye.
“Part of what led to the financial crisis were practices that took advantage of consumers,” Obama said, “particularly when too many homeowners were deceived into taking out mortgages on their homes they couldn’t afford. But we also know that these practices predated the crisis and these practices don’t just exist in the housing market.
“For years, banks and mortgage lenders and credit card companies have often used fine print and confusing language and attractive front-end offers to take advantage of American consumers. We’ve seen banks charge unreasonable overdraft fees, we’ve seen credit card companies hit folks with unfair rate hikes, we’ve seen mortgage lenders offer cheap initial monthly payments and interest rates that later skyrocketed.
“All this has cost middle-class families billions of dollars — tens of billions of dollars that they could have used to pay their bills, to pay their mortgage or send their kids to college.”
Then he got personal.
“And I have to say, when Michelle and I were first starting a family, that we had to navigate a lot of these financial decisions, whether it was buying a first home or paying off our college loans or putting a lot of debt on credit cards. Obviously we were a lot better off than a lot of families, but we still often found ourselves confused or finding ourselves in tough situations as a consequence.
“So we’ve got a pretty good idea — I personally have a good idea — of how this can be difficult and sometimes confusing for the average consumer.”
Watch the full video on C-Span, or read a transcript of Obama’s statement.