“Unqualified” Trump appointee set to take over consumer protection agency

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

If all goes according to Republican plan, this is the week a person with no experience in consumer protection will take over the consumer watchdog agency that the party has been steadily weakening to the point of irrelevancy.

Kathy Kraninger, a White House budget official, received the green light for final approval last week after Republican senators shut down debate on her nomination with a party-line vote of 50 to 49. The only wild card is whether memorial services for former President George H.W. Bush will delay action by a few days.

Kraninger would replace White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, who has been leading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on an interim basis and fulfilling President Trump’s pledge to make the agency friendlier to the businesses it was intended to crack down on — banks, payday lenders and others.

“If the Senate approves this unqualified acolyte of Mick Mulvaney, who has no consumer protection or financial regulation experience, expect her to simply follow his playbook,” said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the federal consumer program for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

That means Kraninger will “leave service members and their families at the mercy of predatory lenders, work with payday lenders to eliminate the payday lending rule even Congress was afraid to vote to repeal, and reduce enforcement penalties, if any, to parking tickets, not punishments,” he said.

Read the complete article here.

FICO Plans Big Shift in Credit-Score Calculations, Potentially Boosting Millions of Borrowers

From today’s Wall Street Journal:

Credit scores for decades have been based mostly on borrowers’ payment histories. That is about to change.

Fair Isaac Corp. FICO -4.72% , creator of the widely used FICO credit score, plans to roll out a new scoring system in early 2019 that factors in how consumers manage the cash in their checking, savings and money-market accounts. It is among the biggest shifts for credit reporting and the FICO scoring system, the bedrock of most consumer-lending decisions in the U.S. since the 1990s.

The UltraFICO Score, as it is called, isn’t meant to weed out applicants. Rather, it is designed to boost the number of approvals for credit cards, personal loans and other debt by taking into account a borrower’s history of cash transactions, which could indicate how likely they are to repay.

The new score, in the works for years, is FICO’s latest answer to lenders who after years of mostly cautious lending are seeking ways to boost loan approvals.

This is occurring at the same time the consumer-credit market appears relatively healthy. Unemployment is low and consumer loan balances—including for credit cards, auto loans and personal loans—are at record highs, and lenders are looking for ways to keep expanding loan volume.

Borrowers currently have little control over what is in their credit reports, save for the ability to contest information they believe is inaccurate. Lenders, collections firms and other parties feed payment-history data to the major credit-reporting firms, Experian PLC,Equifax Inc. and TransUnion, and that information determines consumers’ FICO scores.

Read the complete article here.

Betsy DeVos loses lawsuit after delaying student loan protection rule

From today’s CNN News:

A federal judge ruled that the Betsy Devos-led Department of Education improperly delayed implementing a rule to give some student loan borrowers relief.

U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss sided with attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia who sued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos after she froze an Obama-era rule known as Borrower Defense to Repayment. The rule is intended to help students receive debt forgiveness if they were cheated by their college.

It was rewritten under the Obama administration in the wake of the collapse of Corinthian College, a for-profit school that misled prospective students with inflated job placement numbers. More than 130,000 borrowers have applied for debt forgiveness since 2015, a majority of whom attended for-profit colleges.

“Today’s decision in federal court is a victory for every family defrauded by a predatory for-profit school and a total rejection of President Trump and Betsy DeVos’s agenda to cheat students and taxpayers,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who led the coalition.

The rule was due to take effect in July, but DeVos delayed the implementation after a group representing for-profit colleges in California sued the Department of Education seeking to block it from taking effect.

A spokesperson for DeVos said the department is reviewing the ruling. Moss found the department’s argument for delaying the rule “procedurally defective” and said it “was arbitrary and capricious.” In his 57-page opinion, he wrote that some of the department’s legal rationales “lack any meaningful analysis.”

Read the complete article here.

Why Are We All Still Using Venmo?

From today’s Wired Magazine:

VENMO, THE POPULAR payment app owned by PayPal, has become the default way millions of Americans settle a check, pay a friend back for coffee, or buy a concert ticket off Craigslist. Writers have argued that Venmoing makes us petty, and that the app has nearly killed cash. Fewer have questioned whether it’s really the best service for exchanging money, or storing sensitive banking information.

The app has reigned supreme for over half a decade, but in 2018, there are more secure and easier-to-use payment options worth considering as replacements. Venmoing may be standard, but here’s why I’ve switched.

Most Venmo competitors, like Square’s Cash app, share the same core feature: You can send money with a few taps and swipes. Venmo is unique in that it has a social networking component. By default, all peer-to-peer Venmo transactions—aside from the payment amount—are public, to everyone in the world.

Creepy, right? Venmo does give users the ability to limit who can see transactions both before and after they’re sent, but many people don’t choose to adjust their privacy settings. When I opened Venmo recently, the first payment on my news feed was from a friend whose concerns about privacy have led him to delete both his Instagram and Facebook accounts. Despite taking drastic steps to limit his digital footprint, I know who he ate sushi with last night, thanks to Venmo.

Venmo’s insistence on mimicking a social networking app isn’t just weird—it can have unnerving consequences. In July, privacy advocate and designer Hang Do Thi Duc released Public by Default, a site that taps into Venmo’s API to highlight how much information can be gathered about you from your public activity on the app. She was able to trace the exact spending habits of a couple in California, documenting what stores they shopped at, when they took their dog to the vet, and when they made loan payments.

Read the complete article here.

Senators urge CFPB not to ‘abandon’ duty to protect troops, families

From today’s Military Times:

In the wake of reports that a key federal consumer protection agency is considering pulling back from efforts to protect service members from predatory lenders, 49 senators have signed a letter asking for a commitment that the bureau will continue to ensure troops are protected.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “should not be abandoning its duty to protect our service members and their families” the senators wrote in a Wednesday letter to Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The lawmakers — all 48 Senate Democrats and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — asked for a commitment that the CFPB will use “all of the authorities available to the CFPB to ensure that service members and their families continue to receive all of their [Military Lending Act] protections.”

Rather than actively examining lenders’ records to determine whether they are following the law under the Military Lending Act, several sources say the CFPB instead would rely on complaints from service members and their families to trigger potential investigations. CFPB officials reportedly have expressed a concern that they don’t have the authority to conduct these lender examinations, although they have been doing so for years.

According to the CFPB, their enforcement actions have resulted in about $130 million that has been provided in relief to service members, veterans and their families.

The possible change was first reported in the New York Times. The move wouldn’t change the law itself, only the enforcement techniques. In the past, some lenders have expressed concern to Military Times about what they perceived as aggressive and unfair practices by the CFPB.

Read the complete article here.

Mick Mulvaney says CFPB’s priority is ‘free markets and consumer choice’

From today’s LA Times:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Mick Mulvaney told lawmakers Wednesday that the agency’s new priority is “to recognize free markets and consumer choice” and take “a humble approach to enforcing the law,” according to prepared remarks released in advance.

In his first testimony to Congress since his controversial appointment as the bureau’s acting director, Mulvaney acknowledged that many lawmakers have disagreed with his actions in the job, “just as many members disagreed with the actions of my predecessor.”

Mulvaney blamed lawmakers’ frustrations on the structure of the bureau, an independent watchdog created in the wake of the financial crisis. He was an outspoken critic of the bureau as a Republican congressman, and last week he formally asked Congress to reduce the bureau’s authority.

Mulvaney and other Republicans have said the bureau is unaccountable because its funding, like that of other financial regulators, is outside the appropriations process, and the president can fire the bureau’s director only for cause, rather than at will.

Read the complete article here.

CFPB to reconsider rule on payday loans

From CNN Money Edition:

The watchdog agency said in a statement Tuesday that it intends to “reconsider” a regulation, issued in October, that would have required payday lenders to vet whether borrower can pay back their loans. It also would have restricted some loan practices.

If the rule is thrown out or rewritten, it would mark a major shift for an agency that had zealously pursued new limits on banks and creditors before Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s budget director, became the CFPB’s acting director.

Mulvaney took over the top job at the CFPB in November following a leadership scramble. A vocal critic of the CFPB when it was run by President Obama appointee Richard Cordray, Mulvaney since said the agency would cut back on burdensome regulations.

Tuesday’s announcement does not amount to a formal repeal of the payday lending rule. But it does cast doubt on whether it will ultimately be implemented.

Payday loans provide those in need with small amounts of cash — typically between $200 and $1,000. The money needs to be paid back in full when a borrower receives his or her next paycheck, and such loans often come with exorbitantly high interest rates.

Consumer advocates that have supported the CFPB’s restrictions on the loans say such transactions often take advantage of people in desperate financial situations.

“The CFPB thoroughly and thoughtfully considered every aspect of this issue over the course of several years,” Karl Frisch, executive director of progressive group Allied Progress, said in a statement. “There is no reason to delay implementation of this rule — unless you are more concerned with the needs of payday lenders than you are with the interests of the consumers these financial bottom-feeders prey upon.”

The sentiment was echoed in a statement by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat who helped create the CFPB.

“Payday lenders spent $63,000 helping Mick Mulvaney get elected to Congress and now their investment is paying off many times over. By scrapping this rule, Mulvaney will allow his campaign donors to continue to generate massive fees peddling some of the most abusive financial products in existence,” Warren said.

Read the complete article here.

Bad news for American consumer rights, as CFPB director announces departure

Richard Cordray, the head of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is stepping down at the end of the month. The bureau was created in the wake of the financial crisis and has recovered $12 billion from financial firms on behalf of consumers, but Republicans have fought Cordray and the bureau, claiming its very existence is illegal and that it has harmed consumers by stifling lending.

Listen to the NPR Roundtable discussion about his announcement, and what it means for American consumers here.

Pence casts deciding vote in Senate to deny consumers rights to sue banks

From today’s Washington Post by Ken Sweet:

Call it a win for “the swamp.”

President Trump and Republicans in Congress handed Wall Street banks a big victory by effectively killing off a politically popular rule that would have allowed consumers to band together to sue their banks.

The 51-50 vote in the Senate, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the deciding vote, means bank customers will still be subject to what are known as mandatory arbitration clauses. These clauses are buried in the fine print of nearly every checking account, credit card, payday loan, auto loan or other financial services contract and require customers to use arbitration to resolve any dispute with his or her bank. They effectively waive the customer’s right to sue.

The banking industry lobbied hard to roll back a proposed regulation from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would have largely restricted mandatory arbitration clauses by 2019. Consumers would have been allowed to sue their bank as a group in a class-action lawsuit. Individual consumers with individual complaints would still have to use arbitration under the rules.

President Trump is expected to sign the Senate resolution into law, overturning yet another Obama-administration initiative. Trump spent months of the 2016 campaign accusing his opponent Hillary Clinton of being in the pocket of the big banks and therefore unwilling to take on Wall Street.

At least among voters, the CFPB’s regulations had bipartisan support. A poll done by the GOP-leaning American Future Fund found that 67 percent of those surveyed were in favor of the rules, including 64 percent of Republicans. Other polls on the subject show similar levels of support.

The overturn marks a significant victory for Wall Street. After the financial crisis, Congress and the Obama administration put substantial new regulations on how banks operated and fined them tens of billions of dollars for the damage they caused to the housing market. But since Trump’s victory last year, banking lobbyists have felt emboldened to get some of the rules repealed or replaced altogether. Top or near the top of the list was the CFPB’s arbitration rules.

“(The) vote is a giant setback for every consumer in this country. Wall Street won and ordinary people lost. This vote means the courtroom doors will remain closed for groups of people seeking justice and relief when they are wronged by a company,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, in a statement.

The big banks and its lobbyist groups are calling this a victory for U.S. consumers, saying that arbitration is faster and the rules would have been an economic stimulus package for class-action trial lawyers. They also cite statistics from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s own 2015 study that show that the average award from a class-action lawsuit is roughly $32 while an award from arbitration is $5,389.

But reality is more complicated. At best, the banking industry’s arguments twist the truth.

The reason why the award for most class-action suits is small is because people don’t typically sue individually his or her bank over a small sum of money, like an overdraft charge or account service fee, because it’s not worth the financial effort to recover a $10, $25, or $35 fee. Arbitration cases are less common, and usually involve more substantial disputes, hence the larger awards. Also the majority of consumers resolve their dispute with their banks in person, typically at a branch or over the phone.

If the CFPB’s rules had gone into effect, companies like Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Equifax would have been exposed to billions of dollars in lawsuits for future bad behavior. The Center for Responsible Lending estimates the U.S. banking customers paid $14 billion dollars in overdraft fee last year, and the industry has gotten in trouble in the past for shady tactics like transaction reordering, where a bank would reorder a day’s debits and withdrawals to extract the most overdraft fee income from its customers that day.

To overturn the CFPB’s rule, Congress used the Congressional Review Act. The CRA allows Congress to overturn any executive agency’s rules or regulations with a bare majority vote, but more importantly, the law prohibits that agency from issuing any “substantially similar” regulations without Congressional authorization. That means that until Congress passes a law to restrict arbitration, the CFPB’s hands are now permanently bound on this issue.

The political winds are in Wall Street’s favor going forward. Cordray’s term at the CFPB will end in mid-2018 but he is expected to step down before then to make a run for Governor of Ohio. Trump will be able to choose his own appointee and will likely pick someone more likely to favor the banks.

The CFPB was created after the financial crisis as part of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform law that passed in 2010. The bureau was crafted to be independent and powerful, funded by the Federal Reserve instead of through the traditional Congressional appropriations process. Its director has considerable authority to pursue issues he or she considers important and generally cannot be removed from office.

There’s another major financial consumer protection now pending in front of Congress focused on the payday lending industry. The CFPB finalized new regulations weeks ago that would severely restrict the ability for payday lenders to make loans that its customers, often the poor and financially desperate, cannot afford. The payday lending industry is pushing hard to overturn these rules using the same process that was used to overturn the arbitration rules.