Cheat Sheet: What to Expect from CFPB on Payday Lending

American Banker, April 7, 2014 | Go to article overview

Cheat Sheet: What to Expect from CFPB on Payday Lending


Byline: Kevin Wack

The payday loan business -- loathed by some, misunderstood in others' eyes -- stands on the verge of its biggest shake-up ever.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is in the late stages of formulating the first nationwide rules for payday lending. The regulations will apply to all 20,000 or so payday stores across the country and many more online.

The industry has been preparing for tougher consumer protection rules since at least 2010, when Congress established the CFPB and gave it authority over payday stores.

Payday lenders are taking a pragmatic approach with their new overseers. Firms are migrating away from short-term loans tied to the borrower's pay cycle and toward longer installment loans, a move that could help mitigate the impact of the new regulations.

Meanwhile, the payday industry's biggest trade group hired Dennis Shaul, a longtime aide to former Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, in an effort to shape the CFPB rules. While Shaul maintains that many payday borrowers are helped by the loans, he also acknowledges that a certain percentage of customers are harmed, and says it's appropriate for CFPB to enact new protections for those borrowers.

"The question is: how do we detect them, and how do we protect them?" says Shaul, chief executive officer of the Community Financial Services Association of America.

What follows is a list of key questions and answers about the upcoming payday loan regulations.

Will CFPB establish a nationwide interest-rate cap?

No. At a CFPB hearing last week in Nashville, representatives of the payday industry voiced concern that the agency will cap annual interest rates at 36%.

That usury cap number has a long history in state law, it was adopted by Congress in 2007 legislation that restricts small-dollar loans to members of the military, and it was part of a 2008 campaign promise by then-candidate Barack Obama.

But despite the industry's hand-wringing, an interest rate cap is not going to happen. The Dodd-Frank Act bars CFPB from setting one.

How will the CFPB rules interact with state regulations?

The federal rules are likely to set a regulatory floor below which the states may not fall.

Today there is tremendous variation in state laws governing payday lending. Close to 20 states ban the loans entirely, and the rules in states that allow them vary considerably.

That patchwork will not go away. Observers expect the existing state-level bans to remain in place, while lenders in states that currently have few restrictions will be forced to adapt to the tougher federal rules.

It's possible that one or more of the states with laxer rules will challenge the CFPB's new regulations in court, arguing that the federal government is usurping state powers. But such a lawsuit seems unlikely, Shaul says.

Speaking about the CFPB, he adds, "I don't they're looking to engage in activity which would raise the ire of the states."

Will the rules include an ability-to-pay standard?

The CFPB isn't tipping its hand, but this issue is the top priority for consumer advocates.

They contend that most payday borrowers are unable to pay off their debt without rolling into a new loan, and the payday industry's profits depend on this cycle of repeat borrowing. So consumer advocates are calling for a requirement that all borrowers be evaluated to determine whether they can afford to pay off their loans without taking out new ones.

"Let's look at their accounts, and look at whether they have a positive flow over a period of time that will allow them to pay off the loan," says Paul Leonard, West Coast director at the Center for Responsible Lending.

An ability-to-pay standard could be structured in different ways. …

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