The total number of credit cards issued by commercial banks in China has climbed as of this month to 210 million.

The China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) has tightened the rules on the issuance and use of credit cards to limit misuse in business, as credit card usage explodes by 44% over last year.

The CBRC ruled that minors under 18 may not have a bank credit card except as a supplementary card affiliated to a family member’s bank account. In addition, it placed a tight borrowing limit on young cardholders and mandated that they receive education in the use of credit cards.

Banks were told they could not charge fees on non-activated credit cards and must talk with cardholders to set up a personalized contract if they have acceptable reasons for missing payments.

“The rules were designed to better cater to the rapid development of the credit card business, which the current regulations, from 1999, cannot do. We must protect the legal rights of consumers while guaranteeing the whole market can develop in a healthy and orderly way,” said Yin Long, deputy head of the Supervisory Cooperation Department for Banking Innovation under CBRC.

The total number of credit cards issued by commercial banks in China has climbed as of this month to 210 million, up by 28 percent year-on-year.

In 2010, credit card turnover in China reached 5.1 trillion yuan ($775 billion), a 46 percent year-on-year increase. Consumers’ credit card spending rose by 44 percent year-on-year to 2.7 trillion yuan, according to CBRC.

The regulations come shortly before the Spring Festival, which begins on Feb 3. To maximize their profits, commercial banks usually launch intensive promotional campaigns as the nation’s biggest festival draws near.

“Owing to the lack of unified regulatory rules, some banks have ignored consumers’ interests and randomly issued cards and assessed fees,” said Zhang Qian, head of the Bank Card Risks Supervision Office of CBRC.

Chinese consumers gave credit card service a 72.59 out of a possible 100 approval rating, and nearly 30 percent complained of unreasonable and hard-to-understand fees, according to a survey conducted by Bankrate, an international service institution specializing in collecting data on, and researching, financial products and information.

But the new rules do not regulate credit card interest rates or the penalties for late payments, Yin said. Also, financial institutions licensed by regulators other than CBRC, such as those licensed by the People’s Bank of China, will temporarily not be affected by the regulations.

The CBRC also ordered on Thursday that the financial derivatives business of commercial banks may not comprise more than 3 percent of their total capital.

Currently at major commercial banks in China, the derivatives business comprises no more than 1 percent of the capital, but that figure is higher at other banks, said Huang Zhi, a senior official at CBRC.

Via China Daily