Chaos concerning the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began brewing even before it was created in 2010. The finance industry was determined to block the new agency, designed to keep it from raiding our bank accounts.
Now, President Trump is taking advantage of executive director Richard Cordray's recent resignation to fulfill his desire to kill the CFPB. He chose Budget Director Mike Mulvaney, a longtime CFPB critic, to replace Cordray and run the agency six feet into the dirt.
Disrupting the agency will cost money to anyone who takes out a loan or has a credit card. The CFPB protects consumers from predatory practices like misleading credit card agreements, steering by banks into unnecessarily expensive loans, payday loans, and the bad mortgages that led to the recession. Among other mortgage reforms, the CFPB requires banks to make sure borrowers can pay back their loans.
In its brief existence, the bureau has helped 29 million consumers get back $12 billion. That's a lot of money taken out of the pockets of those who would exploit consumers. It's easy to see why certain entities in the finance industry want the CFPB blown up.
Some of the most sinister finance companies aren't shady figures in shiny suits. They're your neighborhood bankers and payday lenders. They are also large banks like Wells Fargo, which the CFPB famously fined $100 million in 2016 for opening up bank accounts in customer names without permission.
Closer to home, a federal jury in Philadelphia convicted Charles Hallinan of Villanova on 17 counts including fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy this week. Hallinan pioneered the despicable practice of trapping consumers into huge debts, some carrying effective triple-digit interest rates
When states, including Pennsylvania, responded to consumer outrage, Hallinan evolved his game by using a bank and an American Indian tribe as fronts to skirt regulations. But the jury didn't buy it. Not only did it send Hallinan packing, it also convicted Wheeler K. Neff, an attorney who helped him in his schemes.
The payday industry argues that it provides loans to people who couldn't otherwise get them. What it really does is prey on people who are just a car repair or doctor's bill away from financial ruin. They take out short-term loans, hoping to pay them back with their next paycheck, but are slapped with such high fees and interest rates, they're trapped into taking out additional loans to cover the original debt.
The CFPB was working to end the cycle, which often ends with a family in financial ruin.
It was fitting that U.S. attorneys prosecuted Hallinan using laws crafted to go after mobsters. With the CFPB's future threatened, the Justice Department must continue its good work. Soon it may be the only federal watchdog protecting the public.
If Trump kills or just cripples the CFPB, he will unleash predators who will take your money with high interest rates and misleading agreements on student loans, mortgages, credit cards, and car purchases. So, hold on to your wallets and tell your elected representatives to protect the only agency standing between the loan sharks and your money.