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Kerry promises to protect consumers under pressure from banks, credit cards

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DALY CITY, Calif. (AP) _ Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry criticized the president Friday as neglecting the middle class and being out of touch with ordinary Americans.

``Either the president doesn't have a plan or the president is out of touch with what's happening to real Americans,'' Kerry said to an audience gathered a high school auditorium. ``I think what we need is leadership that knows how hard this struggle is.''

As Kerry campaigned, the Commerce Department reported that the economy grew at a relatively modest 2.8 percent annual rate in the second quarter _ slower than previously thought and evidence that the business recovery hit a rough spot in the spring and early summer.

The Bush-Cheney campaign said President Bush has created 1.5 million new jobs in the past year, reversing losses sustained after the Sept. 11 attacks.

``John Kerry's campaign of pessimism is intent on talking down our economy and ignores the challenges and progress we have made,'' said spokesman Steve Schmidt.

Kerry talked about the economy as he promised to curb credit card fees and protect home buyers and military families from unfair lending practices a pitch aimed squarely at voters' checkbooks.

He promised to protect consumers drawn in by unscrupulous credit card offers with ``fine print that is so fine that you not only need high-powered specs, you need a magnifying glass to read what it says.''

Kerry's proposals ask financial companies to disclose more information to customers, including requiring that credit card bills display the number of months it would take a customer to pay off the balance by making the minimum monthly payments.

Other proposals would block credit card companies from changing the interest rates on purchases retroactively and require them to notify customers before raising their interest rates.

Kerry said President Bush gets too many campaign contributions from the financial industry to make the changes that consumers need. ``For four years, George Bush has put narrow interests first while hardworking families pay the price,'' he said.

The Bush-Cheney campaign countered that Kerry's campaign benefits, too, from financial donations.

``For John Kerry to attack over support from bankers when he is the No. 1 Senate recipient of banker donations over the past 15 years just demonstrates his willingness to say one thing and do another,'' spokesman Matt McDonald said.

The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign donations, shows that President Bush has received $586,225 from the financial industry during this election season, compared with the $92,751 donated to Kerry.

In the Senate, Kerry leads this cycle in contributions from commercial banks and is the No. 2 recipient of contributions from finance and credit card companies.

Bush's re-election campaign also noted that the president signed a bill to help protect consumers from identity theft that also provides consumers free credit reports and sets up a national fraud-alert system to minimize damage once a theft has occurred.

To curb credit card fees, Kerry wants to bar lenders from allowing consumers to charge over their limit and then charging a fee without approval from the customer.

The Democratic candidate also wants to put some limits on sub-prime loans, which help customers who don't qualify for prime credit rates get loans. The new curbs would limit penalties for paying down the loan faster than scheduled, along with fees and points charged for financing arrangements.

Two financial products would be virtually banned _ loans that let the customer pay only interest up front, on the grounds that they pay off the entire principle at the end of the term, and insurance that requires homeowners to pay upfront instead of monthly installments.

Kerry drew on research by Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, whose recent book, ``The Two Income Trap,'' lays out proposals for limiting financial industry practices that squeeze the middle class.

``Without a strong middle class, we are not a strong country. Without a strong middle class, we're not a strong democracy,'' she said.
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