ABC's Cuomo Goes after Credit Cards

     The sympathetic, struggling cardholder. The anti-credit card company activist. The heartless business and the beleaguered industry representative. Check, check and check – but “Good Morning America’s” March 27 story wouldn’t have been complete without the patronizing attacks of reporter Chris Cuomo.


     “But with these fees – account management, and all these clever names you have for them – that’s not about borrowing. That’s about squeezing it out of them before the game even begins. Isn’t that unfair? Isn’t that past the line?” Cuomo pressed Chris Stinebert, president and CEO of American Financial Services Association.


     Stinebert was the only voice from the credit card companies in an emotional, shameless attack on the industry. Cuomo bemoaned consumers “Getting sucked in by attractive offers” and being “trapped” by “fee-laden cards” in this installment of the “GMA Gets Answers” series.


     The story centered on 19-year-old Celina Alvarez, who got a credit card to pay her college tuition but then discovered her purchase wasn’t the only charge.


     “I didn’t understand it to begin with,” Celina said. “But then when I saw all those little small charges, I was like, that’s ridiculous.” According to the ABC story, the card included a “$100 origination fee” and a $10.95 charge that Cuomo called a “monthly maintenance fee.” On the screen, Alvarez’s bill showed the $10.95 amount was listed under “purchases and cash advances.”


     To strengthen Alvarez’s case that her card wasn’t fair, Cuomo interviewed Robert Manning, author of “Credit Card Nation.” He asserted millions of Americans were victims of their credit cards.


     “They’re looking for that financial, a life preserver. What they don’t realize is that there’s an anvil at the end of it.” Manning said.


     Manning’s Web site promotes two upcoming documentaries meant to elicit laughs and groans at the expense of credit card companies and other businesses – Morgan Spurlock’s “What Would Jesus Buy?” and Danny Schechter's “In Debt We Trust.” Manning is featured in both.


     Cuomo pointed out that Applied Bank, which issued Alvarez her card, has been embroiled in legal trouble over its business practices. He also featured a former Applied employee describing the fee-based structure of the company. What he didn’t explain, however, is that Applied deals specifically with subprime borrowers who might have trouble getting a credit card otherwise. According to Hoover’s, a reputed source of business information:  


“Applied Card Systems is the servicing arm for Applied Card Bank (formerly Cross Country Bank), a subprime consumer lender that issues secured and unsecured credit cards to customers with dubious or limited credit histories. Applied Card Systems processes payments from and provides customer service to holders of subprime Visa and MasterCard accounts from offices in Florida and Pennsylvania.”


     Companies that supply such cards have to factor in their clients’ credit histories, as Stinebert explained: “Do we make people that are paying on time pay a higher rate and have fewer options, and, or do you make the people that are not making the payments on time have to pay according to what their risk, analyzed, really is?”


     Stinebert said getting a credit card is “a business decision that each individual has to make on their own.”


     “Once again, I think I go back to that making sure the application is very clear on what the fees are going to be. You make that decision.” Stinebert told Cuomo.


     Cuomo wasn’t satisfied.


     “But it seems to me you really go after those people if they stray just a little bit. …the penalties are so fast. Doesn’t that seem wrong on some level?” he said. Later he added, “You can justify it any way you want, but once somebody’s on the ropes, they’re on the ropes, Chris – you know that.”


     “You must be careful; you must read the fine print,” Cuomo concluded. Then he made a plea for more stories like Celina’s: “If you have a story like this, if something has happened to you, please, go to Let us know. Send us an e-mail. Please, we’re looking for them.”


     The March 27 story continues a trend of ABC’s poor reporting on the subject of debt. As the Business & Media Institute found in an earlier study, the networks blame lenders for debt, casting borrowers as blameless victims instead of consumers with responsibility for their finances.



BMI’s Special Report “Debt: Who’$ Responsible?”