Predatory Lending and the Military: Predatory Lending Is Always Problematic, but It's a Special Concern When Military Personnel Are Preyed upon during Active Duty. A New Law Will Help Curb Abuses, and the Federal Reserve Is Playing a Regulatory Role Alongside the Department of Defense (DOD)

Article excerpt

Protective provisions within The John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 (Warner Act) were signed into law in October 2006 and will become effective October l, 2007. Also known as the Talent Amendment, the new legislation will protect servicemen and women and their families from some of the worst practices of loan sharks.

Early in 2005, legislation was proposed to limit predatory lending practices targeting military personnel. The Servicemembers Anti-Predatory Lending Protection Act sought to limit the annual percentage rate (APR) to 36 percent, enhance disclosure of loan terms and restrict automatic loan roll-overs. (See Partners Vol.15, No.2.) Although this bill didn't become law, it paved the way for the new legislation.

Effects of predatory lending

Over the last several years, DOD has been increasing financial education for members of the military. Over 40 percent of military service personnel are under the age of 25, and many are not experienced in financial matters. Thus they are easy targets for predatory lenders.

A 2005 survey of servicemembers rated personal finances more stressful than deployments, health concerns, life events and personal relationships. The most common traps have been payday loans, vehicle title loans, military installment loans, tax refund anticipation loans and rent-to-own purchases.

Financial stress not only affects the well-being of individual service members but also the operation of the armed forces as a whole. Financial strain is so systemic that many members have become unqualified for strategic security clearances, thereby compromising the ability of the armed forces to conduct their missions. As a result of these concerns, the DOD developed a strategic plan to reduce the stress related to financial problems, increase the personal savings of its members, decrease its members' dependence on unsecured debt, and decrease the prevalence of predatory lending practices.

Even though the DOD has been partnering with a number of organizations like the FDIC to provide financial education, these efforts have not been sufficient to stein the tide of predatory lending. DOD therefore pressed Congress to provide greater legal protections from predatory lending practices.

New rules to curb abuses

Section 670 of the Warner Act, "Limitations on Terms of Consumer Credit Extended to Service Members and Dependents," is designed to curtail abusive practices associated with payday lending and other predatory lending practices targeted at military personnel.

The law applies to both service members and their dependents. It stipulates that the APR of a covered extension of credit cannot exceed 36 percent, and it mandates disclosures and terms mirroring the Truth in Lending Act. It also includes a provision against any state or federal preemption, unless those laws provide even greater protections.

Other provisions include the following prohibitions:

* Lenders may not roll over, renew, refinance or consolidate credit unless the new transaction results in more favorable terms to the borrower.

* Borrowers cannot be required or allowed to waive the right to legal recourse.

* In the case of dispute, lenders cannot require the borrower to submit to arbitration or impose onerous legal notice provisions. …