CFPB Stands up for Servicemembers by Stopping Financial Company Abuses

Over the last few months, the CFPB announced enforcement actions against two companies that repeatedly targeted servicemembers with abusive products. The first company, Fort Knox National, and its subsidiary, Military Assistance Company, charged servicemembers recurring hidden fees by abusing a payment system many servicemembers use send money home or pay creditors while deployed.  This process, known as the military allotment system, deducts payments directly from earnings. In this case, it also allowed the company to charge repeated, undisclosed fees to servicemembers’ accounts. The company also made it extraordinarily difficult to learn of these fees: online account information did not include fee charges, and monthly statements were not distributed.  As a result, tens of thousands of servicemember accounts were drained of millions of dollars in fees. The CFPB is now requiring the company to pay $3.1 million in relief to the people they harmed, as well as to stop its deceptive practices.

The CFPB also brought an enforcement action against Security National Automotive Acceptance Company, an auto lender, for illegally threatening current and former servicemembers in order to collect debts. The CFPB is charging the company exaggerated the potential disciplinary action that servicemembers could face after failing to pay their loans; contacted and threatened to contact commanding officers to encourage repayments, threatened to garnish wages, and threatened borrowers with legal action. The Bureau’s lawsuit charges that the company violated the Dodd-Frank Act prohibitions on unfair, deceptive and abusive practices and it is seeking financial penalties, an injunction from further abuses and compensation for victims.

Because servicemembers and their families receive steady paychecks and have unique financial challenges such as lengthy deployments and frequent moves, they are all too often the target of predatory lenders and other financial fraudsters that congregate outside military bases.

With these two actions, the CFPB has now brought six enforcement cases against companies that have violated servicemembers rights.  Those and other enforcement actions can be seen here. To date, more than 100,000 servicemembers have been helped by the Bureau’s work to protect servicemembers from financial abuse and the companies responsible have been hit with fines and restitution charges of over $100 million total.

For more on the CFPB’s work to help servicemembers, see this fact sheet.

— Rebecca Thiess

Congress Moves to Protect Service Members from High-Cost Credit Products

Thanks to provisions included in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013, service members will be better protected against abusive interest rates and loan security requirements in connection with high-cost credit products.

The provisions amend the Military Lending Act (MLA) of 2007 and empower the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the MLA’s 36 percent rate cap and other important safeguards. In addition, the Department of Defense (DOD) will be required to conduct a detailed study of the abusive credit products frequently used by service members. Once that report is issued, the Department will review the effectiveness of existing MLA rules and evaluate the need for new rules to bring lenders into compliance.

The 2007 law set an inclusive rate cap of 36 percent on all loans to service members. It also barred lenders from securing loans with personal checks, debit authorizations, allotments of military wages, or car titles.

Under the DOD’s current rules, however, these protections apply only to short-term payday loans, car title loans, and tax refund anticipation loans, and not to similar loans with longer payback periods. A Consumer Federation of America Report released in June 2012 found lenders taking advantage of these definitional loopholes to offer long-term or “open-ended” variants of the loan products excluded from the DOD definition and not subject to the MLA protections.

On December 4, the Senate approved a Defense authorization bill (S. 3254) that specifically applied the 36 percent rate cap and loan security restrictions to longer-term loans and open-ended credit. The Senate bill would not have required a lengthy study and rulemaking process. Unfortunately, these provisions were not included in an earlier, House-approved bill, and were dropped from the legislation finally approved by both chambers.