As expected the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) posse is circling the wagons of the payday loan industry. The CFPB says this week its mission is to end payday debt traps by requiring lenders to take steps to make sure consumers can repay their loans and not make loans on purely on the ability to collect from consumers.
The proposals under consideration would also restrict lenders from attempting to collect payment from consumers’ bank accounts in ways that tend to rack up excessive fees. The strong consumer protections being considered would apply to payday loans, vehicle title loans, deposit advance products, and certain high-cost installment loans and open-end loans.
The CFPB proposals under consideration cover both short-term and longer-term credit products that are often marketed heavily to financially vulnerable consumers. The CFPB says it recognizes consumers’ need for affordable credit but is concerned that the practices often associated with these products – such as failure to underwrite for affordable payments, repeatedly rolling over or refinancing loans, holding a security interest in a vehicle as collateral, accessing the consumer’s account for repayment, and performing costly withdrawal attempts – can trap consumers in debt. These debt traps also can leave consumers vulnerable to deposit account fees and closures, vehicle repossession, and other financial difficulties.
The proposals under consideration provide two different approaches to eliminating debt traps – prevention and protection.
Under the prevention requirements, lenders would have to determine at the outset of each loan that the consumer is not taking on unaffordable debt. Under the protection requirements, lenders would have to comply with various restrictions designed to ensure that consumers can affordably repay their debt. Lenders could choose which set of requirements to follow.
Specifically, all lenders making covered short-term loans would have to adhere to one of the following sets of requirements:
1. Debt trap prevention requirements: This option would eliminate debt traps by requiring lenders to determine at the outset that the consumer can repay the loan when due – including interest, principal, and fees for add-on products – without defaulting or re-borrowing. For each loan, lenders would have to verify the consumer’s income, major financial obligations, and borrowing history to determine whether there is enough money left to repay the loan after covering other major financial obligations and living expenses.
Lenders would generally have to adhere to a 60-day cooling off period between loans. To make a second or third loan within the two-month window, lenders would have to document that the borrower’s financial circumstances have improved enough to repay a new loan without re-borrowing. After three loans in a row, all lenders would be prohibited altogether from making a new short-term loan to the borrower for 60 days.
2. Debt trap protection requirements: These requirements would eliminate debt traps by requiring lenders to provide affordable repayment options and by limiting the number of loans a borrower could take out in a row and over the course of a year. Lenders could not keep consumers in debt on short-term loans for more than 90 days in a 12-month period. Rollovers would be capped at two – three loans total – followed by a mandatory 60-day cooling-off period.
The second and third consecutive loans would be permitted only if the lender offers an affordable way out of debt. The Bureau is considering two options for this: either by requiring that the principal decrease with each loan, so that it is repaid after the third loan, or by requiring that the lender provide a no-cost “off-ramp” after the third loan, to allow the consumer to pay the loan off over time without further fees. For each loan under these requirements, the debt could not exceed $500, carry more than one finance charge, or require the consumer’s vehicle as collateral.
The CFPB proposal has to go through the rule making process which requires input from lenders and consumer.
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