That time-honored excuse--the check is in the mail--could take on new, legal significance if Congress passes a law being pushed by a talk radio host and three dozen members of the House.
The bill would require businesses to credit a customer on the date a mailed payment was postmarked.
The idea of avoiding late charges by getting the payment to the post office on time drew applause from consumer advocates Thursday. But the nation's big credit card companies weren't so sure.
Rep. John M. McHugh (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Government Reform postal subcommittee, said there is precedent for the rule in the Internal Revenue Service acceptance of tax returns based on postmark.
McHugh said the law would require that payments received late be credited as on time if they were postmarked by the due date. It would have to be a Postal Service postmark--not a postage meter--and the payment would have to have a correct address and postage.
Years ago, people could walk to their neighborhood bank or loan office to make payments, said Florida talk radio host Bruce Williams, who proposed the legislation.
Lenders may be thousands of miles away and if a payment is delayed in the mail, consumers, through no fault of their own, may be charged a late fee or have their credit rating damaged, he said in prepared testimony.
"In order for the lender to be entitled to a late charge, the lender would be required to provide a photo copy of the payment envelope showing a postmark beyond the stated grade period," Williams said.
"It should be noted that no lender, to my knowledge, gives credit when a payment is made early," he added.