About two years ago, Noel Rappaport noticed his business credit card interest rate had gone up from 16 percent to 32 percent. When he called to find out why, he was told he had paid his bill late a couple of times in the last few years, which he denied.
After looking into it, the credit card company discovered Rappaport was correct, and got rid of his fees. The bank he had been using for 20-plus years to that point, however, still held the punishment against him, so he took all of his money out of that bank. He was also told that if he was using a personal credit card opposed to a business card, the bank might’ve been able to help him.
“Credit cards are ridiculous now, because you need them and you have pay through the teeth for them,” said Rappaport, the president of A&N Rappaport Lock & Alarm Inc., which has offices in Haverstraw and New City. “No matter what they say about the economy, the economy is not doing well for small businesses.”
Stories like Rappaport’s are why U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Rockland/Westchester, is calling for Congress to protect small businesses against deceptive practices by credit card companies with the Small Business Credit Card Act. Lowey defines a small business as one with 50 or fewer employees. The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act passed last year by Congress protects individual customers from unfair and deceptive practices used by credit card companies to increase fees.
“You’d be amazed how many small businesses have similar stories to [Noel’s],” Lowey said Tuesday morning at Perronucci’s Italian Market and Deli in New City, where she held a press conference to announce the bill as well as meet with local small business owners and members of the New City Chamber of Commerce. “Recently I was talking to the owners of a family deli that are juggling through six credit cards.”
Joining Lowey were Steven Weissblatt, president of the New City Chamber of Commerce and owner of Original Designs jewelry store in New City; Roxanne Perrone, owner of Perronucci’s; Clarkstown town Supervisor Alex Gromack; Rockland County Legislator Ed Day, R-New City; Clarkstown Councilman Frank Borelli; Rappaport; Tom Ossa, a web designer for Rockland Web Design and member of the North Rockland Business Alliance; and, Joe Simonetti, of the American Minuteman Sewer and Drain Service, and a member of the New City Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m glad to see all these politicians in the county taking an interest in small business,” Simonetti said.
While Rockland Web Design doesn’t pay out using credit cards, Ossa still supports Lowey’s efforts, and said he plans on reporting back on the act at the next North Rockland Business Alliance meeting.
“Anything to level the playing field between the larger corporations and the smaller main street businesses is good for all involved,” he said.
According to Lowey, the Small Business Credit Card Act would:
- Prevent card companies from arbitrarily raising interest rates on small businesses without proper notice
- Prohibit interest rate increases on existing balances
- Prohibit interest charges on debt paid on time
- Require that any payment over the minimum apply to the balance with the highest interest rate
Day said people need to support Lowey and small businesses because “the people that run these businesses are our neighbors. My sons went to school with Steve’s kids.” Similarly, Borelli said he and Perrone have been friends for a while.
Gromack said Lowey’s message is important because we’ve become a society dependent on credit cards, and “small businesses are the lifeblood of the community.”
Perrone has similar thoughts, and not only wanted to get on board with Lowey’s message, but host her press conference because “we need a champion for small business” and she thinks Lowey is that person.
“Small businesses are the cornerstone of America’s economic success,” Perrone said. “It’s a tough, discouraging time for small businesses. We could use all the help we can get.”