Tag Archive | "Congress"

Four Trade Groups Ask Lawmakers to Instate Five-Person Board to Lead CFPB


WASHINGTON, D.C. —  Four associations representing 12,000 banks and credit unions submitted a letter to Senate leaders urging them to consider replacing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’s single-director structure with a five-person bipartisan commission next year.

The associations listed in the letter, which was sent on Wednesday to Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader-elect Chuck Schumer (D-NY),  include the Consumer Bankers Association (CBA), the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), and the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU).

“The CFPB is an independent regulatory agency that provides the sole director unprecedented authority over financial institutions, with minimal oversight,” read the letter, which was sent to Senate leaders on Wednesday. “As the sole decisionmaker, the director can promulgate regulations and levy enforcement actions that have sweeping and long-lasting effects on credit availability for consumers. The current single-director structure leads to regulatory uncertainty for consumers, industry, and the economy.”

The associations cited the recent federal appellate court decision in PHH Corp. v. CFPB D.C. Circuit Court Case as further evidence of the need to replace the bureau’s structure. In that case, the appellate court ruled the in favor of the mortgage company, deeming the the bureau’s single-director structure unconstitutional. The court also gave the president the power to remove the CFPB’s director at will, as well as direct the regulator’s activities.

“This result makes it even more apparent what a whipsaw effect the single-director model presents, inhibiting the ability for financial institutions to plan for the future, which in turn limits economic growth and hurts consumers,” the associations stated in their letter.

A five-person bipartisan board or commission would be more in line with other financial regulators and would provide a balanced and deliberative approach to supervision, regulation, and enforcement over financial institutions, the associations stated. A five-person commission would also be better suited to handle the bureau’s authority over rules and regulations within the financial industry, the letter added.

“As we approach the beginning of a new administration, it is crucial we finally put in place a governing structure at the CFPB to ensure it does not become a political weapon, something we are certain Senate leaders McConnell and Schumer can appreciate,” said CBA President and CEO Richard Hunt. “In addition, the governing structure of the agency makes the potential for abuse of power and political influence not only possible, but inevitable.”

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CFPB Supporters Ask Federal Appellate Court to Rehear CFPB Decision


WASHINGTON, D.C. — In an amicus brief sent Tuesday, a group of current and former members of Congress that supported the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 urged the federal appellate court that deemed the Consumer FInancial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’s structure unconstitutional to rehear the case.

Arguing that the court’s October decision fundamentally altered the CFPB, the group wants all 17 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia’s judges to be present, not just the three judges that ruled that the CFPB’s single-director structure violates the federal Constitution.

The group consists of 21 current and former members of Congress, including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass, who is considered the architect of the CFPB, and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). Every name listed in the brief were either sponsors of the Dodd-Frank Act, participated in drafting the law, serve or served on committees with jurisdiction over the federal financial regulatory agencies and the banking industry, or served in the leadership when Dodd-Frank was passed, the letter stated.

“The panel decision fundamentally altered the CFPB and hampered its ability to function as Congress intended,” the brief read. “It also called into question the constitutionality of other regulatory agencies with similar structural features. For those reasons alone, this case involved a question of ‘exceptional importance’ that merits reconsideration by the en banc court.”

The appelate court’s October decision gave the president the power to remove the CFPB’s director at will, as well as direct its activities. In its majority opinion, the court noted that CFPB Director Richard Cordray possessed “enormous power over American business, American consumers, and the overall U.S. economy.”

Granting the president the power to remove the director at will was the group’s biggest objection. In its letter, the group brought up the opposing side’s argument that by having removal restrictions, the president would be impeded in his ability to perform his constitutional duty. They argued, however, that the original provisions that allowed the director to be removable for cause, such as “’abusing [his] office[e],’ committing a ‘breach of faith,’ or ‘neglecting his duties or discharging them improperly,’” were enough to keep the director accountable, and gave the president enough power to remove the director if needed.

“The panel’s conclusion that the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional flatly contradicts all of these decisions, and it does so principally because it views multi-member commissions as superior to agencies led by a single director,” the brief stated, in part. “The panel improperly elevated that policy judgment — one properly made by Congress — into a holding of constitutional law. That was plainly wrong, and consideration by the en banc court is thus warranted.”

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103 Lawmakers Call on CFPB to Eliminate Mandatory Arbitration


WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, more than 100 members of Congress called on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to proceed with its effort to eliminate forced arbitration.

In two separate letters, 103 members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senatepraised CFPB Director Richard Cordray for his agency’s proposed rule prohibiting mandatory arbitration clauses in finance contracts. They claim that eliminating such clauses will protect consumers from a process from which they rarely benefit.

“We wholeheartedly agree, and we offer our strong support for the CFPB’s proposal that rightfully recognizes the expansive harms of forced arbitration, prohibits the unfair use of class action waivers, and requires greater transparency concerning the arbitration of individual claims,” stated the letter signed by 38 U.S. Senators.

“The proposed rule is in the public interest and will protect consumers,” read the letter signed by 65 members of the House of Representatives. “As you know, Congress expressly granted authority to the bureau to research the impact of forced arbitration clauses in financial products and services, and based on this evidence, to promulgate a rule to prohibit or impose conditions on the use of forced arbitration if the bureau finds that it would be ‘in the public interest and for the protection of consumers.’ There is little doubt that the bureau’s proposed rule will serve these twin goals.”

The CFPB’s first proposed its rule on forced arbitration this past May, more than a year after the bureau issued its 728-page report on the use of pre-dispute arbitration clauses in consumer finance markets. The rule the bureau proposed stated that companies would be able to use arbitration clauses in finance contracts; however, use of such agreements could not bar consumers from being part of a class action lawsuit.

“There is overwhelming evidence that class-action waivers in financial products and services agreements undermine the public interest. Originally used primarily in commercial settings, forced arbitration clauses have proliferated in everyday contracts, and are now prevalent in financial services agreements,” stated the House letter. “By restricting class actions and class-wide arbitration in consumer contracts, these clauses enable corporations to avoid public scrutiny by precluding access to the courts.”

These waivers, the letter further stated, are particularly problematic in small, diffuse misconduct. These small claims are often the most harmful to consumers because they’re either too expensive for individuals to pursue or are so small consumers aren’t aware of the misconduct, lawmakers claimed.

“Forced arbitration shields corporations from accountability for abusive, anti-consumer practices, which only encourages unscrupulous business practices by allowing violations of the law to go unchecked. This comes at the expense of consumers, small businesses, and — just as importantly — law abiding businesses. Recognizing this, the CFPB has proposed a narrowly-tailored but important rule to restore access to our civil justice system and promote transparency within the forced arbitration system,” read the Senate’s letter.

But not all findings in the study support the lawmakers’ claims. For instance, the study showed that in many class action cases where the principal purpose of seeking class relief was to pressure a settlement, members of the class action got nothing or next to nothing. It also found that class action cases almost never make it to trial, while a significant percentage of arbitration proceedings actually resolve the disputes. The study also showed that arbitration is both faster and more economical than litigation.

“Late last year, the CFPB released a study on arbitration, which the bureau says shows that consumers are harmed by arbitration agreements as opposed to class action lawsuits. However, a careful review of the CFPB’s study demonstrates that the opposite is true …,” the American Financial Services Association wrote in a news brief published just prior to the CFPB issuing its proposed rule. “In 60% of class actions studied by the CFPB, consumers received no remuneration at all.

“In the 15% of cases where consumers received monetary compensation in class actions, they received an average of just $32.25, after waiting an average of 23 months,” the associated added. “In contrast, consumers who prevailed in arbitration agreements, on average, received $5,389. The real winners in class action lawsuits are plaintiff’s attorneys, who divided approximately $424 million in fees.”

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Provision in New Tax Bill May Benefit Dealers


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congress recently passed the “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015,” a $622 billion tax bill that will allow dealers and their customers to expense a larger portion of business equipment purchases, according to a release from the National Automobile Dealer Association. The NADA said the provisions included in the Act will interest people purchasing passenger automobiles and trucks for business purposes, reported F&I and Showroom.

A provision in the act will grant dealers an additional $8,000 in first year-depreciation for certain business-related vehicles purchased in 2015. However, to use the provision in 2015, dealers must purchase qualifying vehicles before Dec. 31, 2015. The additional $8,000 continues into 2016 and 2017 but will be gradually phased out starting in 2018, according to the NADA.

The legislation has received strong support from the NADA and American Truck Dealers and has been signed by President Barack Obama.

The Act will also permanently extend and modify the limitations and treatment of certain real property as Sec. 179 deductions. The current $25,000 and $200,000 expensing limitation and phase-out amounts will be increased to $500,000 and $2 million, respectively, and will be indexed for inflation starting in 2016.

The current $250,000 expensing limitation for qualified real property will also be eliminated in 2016, according to the NADA. Furthermore, air conditioning and heating units placed in service in tax years beginning after 2015 will be eligible for expensing.

The act will also increase the amount of unused AMT credits that may be claimed in lieu of bonus depreciation starting in 2016. Bonus depreciation for property placed in service during 2015-2017 will be set at 50 percent, 40 percent in 2018 and 30 percent in 2019. Tax payers will continue to be able to choose to use AMT credits in lieu of bonus depreciation under special rules for property placed in service during 2015, according to the NADA. Qualified improvement property will now also be included as bonus depreciation.

The NADA encourages dealers to consult their tax advisor to determine the best way to maximize potential tax savings.

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CFPB Accused of Using ‘Junk Science’ to Regulate Auto Lending


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’s Richard Cordray was met with hostility Tuesday as House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) attacked the “junk science” he said the bureau is using to impose regulations on indirect auto lending. The hearing occurred a day before the committee passed two bills aimed at reforming the bureau.

The CFPB has been pressuring auto lenders — most recently Fifth Third Bank — to cap the amount their dealer partners can mark up the interest rate on retail installment sales contracts as compensation for arranging a car buyer’s financing. The bureau alleges such practices result in minority car buyers paying higher rates for auto loans. But during the CFPB’s semi-annual report to Congress Tuesday, lawmakers repeatedly pointed to studies that show the CFPB’s method of determining the presence of discrimination in auto lending has high error rates.

Earlier this month, American Banker reported that internal CFPB documents acquired by the news source — including a memo from assistant director of the bureau’s Office of Fair Lending, Patrice Ficklin — indicate that bureau officials are aware that the agency’s methodology overestimates disparities.

“I believe I am roughly familiar with various memos I have seen,” Cordray said when asked about Ficklin’s memo during Tuesday’s hearing.

The director went on to say that “‘Accurate’ is in the eye of the beholder,” and that the regulator is working to find the most reliable method possible. Those methods, however, do not include taking the creditworthiness of car buyers into account.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say that credit scores can explain the disparities,” Cordray told Rep. Hensarling.

In its joint enforcement action with the Department of Justice Monday, the CFPB claimed that Fifth Third Bank’s dealer markup policy resulted in African American and Hispanic car buyers paying, on average, $200 more for car loans than similarly situated Caucasian customers.

“The CFPB have done some good things, but this business with the auto dealers is a bad thing,” said Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) at Tuesday’s hearing. “… You based that on a report that was shamefully flawed, it was inaccurate, and to tell you the truth, it was downright insulting to African Americans because you just assumed our last name was Johnson or Williams or Robinson or maybe even Scott.”

The hearing preceded the House Financial Services Committee’s approval of two bills, H.R. 957 and H.R. 1266, that aim to restructure the CFPB to provide more transparency and oversight.

Sponsored by Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), H.R. 957 would create an independent inspector general for the bureau. That individual would be nominated by the president and confirmed by the senate. It passed the committee by a 56-3 vote.

H.R. 1266, which the committee passed by slimmer 35-24 vote, would remove the CFPB from within the Federal Reserve System and reestablish it as a standalone agency governed by a five-member, bipartisan commission. All powers of the CFPB would remain unchanged.

“Consumers are understandably concerned about our economy. We remain stuck in the worst recovery of the last 70 years,” said Hensarling after the committee’s approval of both bills. “At the same time, they’re concerned that Washington is taking away their choices and raising many of their costs. Our committee has the privilege — and responsibility — to fight for them.”

Testifying before the House Financial Service Committee, Cordray offered auto finance data countering the belief that the bureau’s activities have stunted market growth. In the first half of 2015, he noted, more than 14 million consumers obtained new auto loans, an 8% increase from a year ago.

“For auto loans, this marks a 45% increase since 2011 (when the bureau began operations) and a nine-year high,” he noted, with Rep. Maxine Water backing the bureau’s work during her opening statements at the hearing.

“It is unfortunate, however, that rather than working to encourage good behavior in our markets and support American consumers, opponents on this committee continue to promote measures to eliminate or weaken the bureau,” the lawmaker said. “They perpetuated false narratives of an agency that is unaccountable and lacks transparency despite the record number of times [Cordray has made himself] available to Congress and the many checks and balances contained in Dodd-Frank.

“So what we’re seeing now that the CPFB has celebrated its fourth birthday is that the dire predictions that the Republicans on this committee have made have not come true.”

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Members of Congress Call on CFPB to Eliminate Arbitration Agreements


SAINT PAUL, Minn. — More than 50 members of Congress, led by U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), signed a letter asking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to issue new rules that would eliminate the use of forced arbitration clauses in consumer financial service contracts.

The letter, submitted to CFPB Director Richard Cordray on May 21, commends the bureau for its study of arbitration clauses, but asks the CFPB to take its work in that arena one step further. A similar appeal by more than 100 groups was made to the regulator in late March.

“In total, the study conducted by CFPB at Congress’s request roundly confirms that individuals unknowingly sign away their rights through forced arbitration agreements, which do not reduce consumer costs for financial services,” the letter read, in part. “Moreover, forced arbitration shields corporations from liability for abusive, anti-consumer practices, encouraging even more unscrupulous business conduct at the expense of individuals and law abiding businesses.

“Based on this substantial bedrock of evidence, we urge the CFPB to move forward quickly to use its authority under the Dodd-Frank Act to issue strong rules to prohibit the use of forced arbitration clauses in financial contracts and give consumers a meaningful choice after disputes arise.”

On March 10, the CFPB released the results of its study of pre-dispute arbitration clauses in consumer finance markets. It indicated that more than 75% of consumers don’t know whether they are subject to an arbitration clause in their agreements with their financial service providers. The report also concluded that it is common for arbitration clauses to be invoked to block class action lawsuits.

At a field hearing coinciding with the report’s release, Cordray told stakeholders that the results of the study would “provide the basis for important policy decisions that the Consumer Bureau will have to make in this area.”

But not everyone is taking these findings at face value. In an April article, F&I and Showroom legal columnist and Hudson Cook LLP Partner Tom Hudson criticized the CFPB’s report for its “gaping holes” — such as failing to address the growing consumer-friendless of arbitration clauses.

“In fact, it isn’t unusual to see clauses that provide for the payment by the creditor of some or all of the costs of arbitration,” Hudson wrote. “Creditors also frequently call attention to the presence of an arbitration agreement by using large type, separately boxing the clause or having it separately signed or initialed. The study offers no insight on whether these best practices might change any of its conclusions.

“There’s much to dislike about the CFPB’s work on arbitration,” Hudson added. “You’d think arbitration must have some things to recommend it, since Congress passed the Federal Arbitration Act and nearly all states have enacted laws permitting arbitration. But the bureau seems determined not to see any good in the process.”

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