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The statistics suggest that Americans are paying down debt, except, of course, for those who cannot. In tough economic times, many people depend on credit cards. And this week, Congress is considering legislation aimed at protecting consumers from high interest rates and high fees. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI: The legislation would bar a lot of practices that lawmakers say have hurt consumers. For instance, credit card companies could no longer raise interest rates on balances a person has already built up. They could no longer raise interest rates just because a person has missed payments on some other card. And they would have to stop charging customers for making payments by phone or over the internet. Travis Plunkett is legislative director for the Consumer Federation of America.

Mr. TRAVIS PLUNKETT (Legislative Director, Consumer Federation of America): These practices destabilize the finances of American households, and Congress is stepping in and saying that we have to help these households maintain some financial stability.

ZARROLI: Many of these restrictions have already been enacted by the Federal Reserve and will take effect next year, but the congressional bills go even further and would establish the provisions as law. Bill Himpler of the American Financial Services Association says the new regulations would make it much tougher for credit card companies to make money at a time when many of them have already pulled back on consumer lending.

Mr. BILL HIMPLER (Executive Vice President, American Financial Services Association): Taking credit options away from lenders that protect them against the risk of loss does stand a substantial chance of spooking the markets and thereby leading to a further tightening of credit.

ZARROLI: Still, Himpler acknowledges that the political climate right now makes opposing the legislation more difficult. Consumer groups have been urging Congress to take on the credit card companies for some time. And with so much public anger being directed at the financial services industry, Democrats believe this is as good a time as any to get the legislation passed.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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