The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a "preliminary outline" of proposals shortly after midnight aimed at addressing one of the persistent problems of the credit market: "payday loans" with triple-digit interest rates that often become debt traps for borrowers. This is an eary public step in a long process that will test the young agency's ability to regulate an industry that sells a dangerous product to consumers while claiming that borrowers know exactly what they're getting into - as at least some borrowers undoubtedly do.
Although storefront payday lenders do not now operate in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, consumers everywhere are exposed to the risks via Internet-based lending.
Even before the formal release, advocates at organizations such as National Consumer Law Center and the Pew Charitable Trusts warned that the CFPB's alternative approaches could expose borrowers to risky loopholes.
In a statement embargoed until 12:01 a.m. the CFPB said:
Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced it is considering proposing rules that would end payday debt traps by requiring lenders to take steps to make sure consumers can repay their loans. 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.
"Today we are taking an important step toward ending the debt traps that plague millions of consumers across the country," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. "Too many short-term and longer-term loans are made based on a lender's ability to collect and not on a borrower's ability to repay. The proposals we are considering would require lenders to take steps to make sure consumers can pay back their loans. These common sense protections are aimed at ensuring that consumers have access to credit that helps, not harms them."
Today, the Bureau is publishing an outline of the proposals under consideration in preparation for convening a Small Business Review Panel to gather feedback from small lenders, which is the next step in the rulemaking process. The proposals under consideration cover both short-term and longer-term credit products that are often marketed heavily to financially vulnerable consumers. The CFPB 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.
The proposals under consideration would cover short-term credit products that require consumers to pay back the loan in full within 45 days, such as payday loans, deposit advance products, certain open-end lines of credit, and some vehicle title loans. Vehicle title loans typically are expensive credit, backed by a security interest in a car. They may be short-term or longer-term and allow the lender to repossess the consumer's vehicle if the consumer defaults.
For consumers living paycheck to paycheck, the short timeframe of these loans can make it difficult to accumulate the necessary funds to pay off the loan principal and fees before the due date. Borrowers who cannot repay are often encouraged to roll over the loan – pay more fees to delay the due date or take out a new loan to replace the old one. The Bureau's research has found that four out of five payday loans are rolled over or renewed within two weeks. For many borrowers, what starts out as a short-term, emergency loan turns into an unaffordable, long-term debt trap.
The proposals under consideration would include two ways that lenders could extend short-term loans without causing borrowers to become trapped in debt. Lenders could either prevent debt traps at the outset of each loan, or they could protect against debt traps throughout the lending process. Specifically, all lenders making covered short-term loans would have to adhere to one of the following sets of requirements: