Payday Lenders Get Warning From CFPB Regarding How They Treat Servicemembers

Payday loans are among the most expensive forms of credit available in the U.S. Unfortunately military members often take advantage of these short term, high interest loans that, when annualized, can easily run well over 100%. Today the CFPB stepped in and issued a tacit warning to the payday industry, which is that the rules are different when it comes to lending to servicemembers.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released guidelines to its examiners on how to identify consumer harm and risks related to Military Lending Act (MLA) violations when supervising payday lenders. The CFPB is committed to ensuring that payday lenders comply with the Act, which provides greater protections for military families, including capping annual percentage rates at 36 percent. The new guidelines are included in an updated exam manual that the CFPB released today for the short-term, small-dollar lending industry.

“Protecting servicemembers is a priority for the CFPB,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We will use the authority Congress gave us to enforce the Military Lending Act and to safeguard our men and women in uniform from illegal payday loans.”

Payday loans are typically designed as a way to bridge a cash shortage between pay or benefits checks. Such loans are generally for small-dollar amounts and borrowers must repay them quickly. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act specifically tasked the CFPB with supervising payday lenders for the first time at the federal level. The CFPB began that work in January 2012.

In 2006, the Department of Defense issued a report concluding that predatory lending practices by payday lenders and other creditors near military bases were a threat to military personnel and their families. In 2007, Congress passed the MLA to help address this problem and the Department of Defense issued rules to implement the law. In general, the law shields active-duty military personnel, active National Guard or Reserve personnel, and their dependents from lending practices that Congress determined should not be tolerated in lending to servicemembers. In 2012, Congress amended the law by, among other things, giving the CFPB the authority to enforce it.

Through its enforcement and supervisory work, the CFPB will be scrutinizing lenders to make sure that they are following the MLA requirements when they make short-term, small-dollar loans to servicemembers and their dependents. Specifically, payday lenders must follow the requirements of the law for all closed-end loans of $2,000 or less and with terms of 91 days or less. These requirements include:

Annual percentage rate capped at 36 percent: Because most payday loans are for several hundred dollars and have finance charges of $15 or $20 for each $100 borrowed, a typical two-week term can equate to an annual percentage rate (APR) ranging from 391 percent to 521 percent. Payday lenders must cap the APR – which incorporates all fees and costs associated with the loan – at 36 percent when lending to servicemembers.

No rolling over of loans: When consumers cannot pay back the loan at the time it is due, borrowers can often pay only the finance charges and renew the loan. This fee does not reduce the amount owed. If a payday loan is rolled over multiple times, it’s possible to pay several hundred dollars in fees and still owe the original amount borrowed. Payday lenders are banned from rolling over loans for servicemembers, unless the new transaction results in more favorable terms for the servicemember.

No signing away of servicemember rights: The MLA prohibits lenders from making servicemembers waive their rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act or other state or federal laws that provide critical consumer protections. The MLA also prohibits lenders from requiring servicemembers to waive their right to seek resolution of any legal claims in court.

No requiring allotments to repay: Under the military allotment system, military personnel can repay their loans by having payments directly deducted from their paycheck before their salary is deposited in their account. When servicemembers pay by allotment, they lose certain consumer protections as well as their flexibility to adjust their budget if a financial emergency comes up. The MLA bans lenders from requiring military members to pay by the allotment system and gives servicemembers control over how their income is spent.

In January 2012, the CFPB published its first short-term, small-dollar lending procedures manual. The field guide describes the types of information that the agency’s examiners gather to: evaluate payday lenders’ policies and procedures; assess whether lenders are in compliance with federal consumer financial laws; and identify risks to consumers throughout the lending process. Risks to consumers resulting from MLA violations are significant and subject to CFPB enforcement.

Credit Reporting Expert, John Ulzheimer, is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and CreditSesame.com, founder of www.creditexpertwitness.com, and a Contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.  He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry.  You can follow John on Twitter here.

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