This article considers the reasonable behavior of consumers in relation to law and the policies that tolerate the assessment of late payment penalties, fees, and surcharges. Attention is trained principally on the inadequately-regulated cycle of creditor billing and debtor repayment practices, setting aside the problem of the magnitude of late fees. It is apparent from this study that the problems associated with late fee billing cycles cut a wide swath of recurring debt repayment—telephone, electricity, and water bills, for example—and, more importantly, this article argues that the variety of different demands on consumers interacts to magnify consumer difficulties. The article then identifies some common deficiencies in legal regimes that aid and abet those who send out bills, with attention to information-processing and other cognitive difficulties that arise from the late payment regime. It evaluates existing statutory and common-law causes of action through which consumers might hope to recover from billers who intentionally or recklessly diminish the likelihood that deadlines will be met, and, in light of deficiencies, proposes a Late Payment Act which could be adopted on a state- or nationwide basis to address key shortcomings.

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