A Panic Over Plastic

Consumers are wising up about pricey late fees

There's something really scary stalking the credit-card industry: the specter of the enlightened consumer. That frightening creature, it seems, is behind the troubles at Bank One Corp., which issued a dire profit warning on Aug. 24. Consumers, Bank One disclosed, are giving up cards issued by its First USA unit in droves because of the company's increasingly aggressive policy on late fees. Bank One shares plunged 23% on Aug. 25, shaving $15 billion from its market capitalization. But nearly all credit-card company shares fell, too, even though none has reported the same problem.

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