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U.S. House passes bill supporting triple-digit predatory lending

CHARLENE CROWELL | 3/5/2018, 1:23 p.m.
The U.S. House of Representatives broke the hearts of a broad and diverse coalition of advocates after Members of Congress ...
Charlene Crowell

Center for Responsible Lending

The U.S. House of Representatives broke the hearts of a broad and diverse coalition of advocates after Members of Congress passed predatory lending legislation on Feb. 14.

A bill passed the lower chamber that would render useless state laws in the majority of states, including the 15 states and the District of Columbia where state interest rate limits prevent payday lending. HR 3299, titled the Protecting Consumers’ Access to Credit Act, passed the House on a 245-171 floor vote.

If passed in the Senate and signed into law by President Donald Trump, the measure will pre-empt state interest rate caps that now limit the annual percentage rates on loans to no more than 36 percent. These respective rate caps now save consumers an estimated $2.2 billion in fees every year. If HR 3229 is enacted, these significant savings will be lost.

Additionally, the bill would also allow high-cost installment loans. Currently 34 states, now limit interest rates on a $2,000, 2-year installment loan to no more than 36 percent, and once again, consumers would wind up paying the higher cost.

For Congressman Patrick McHenry, who co-sponsored the bill with New York Congressman Greg Meeks, the measure “marks an important step toward modernizing our financial system and ensuring financial inclusion for all Americans."

That’s one lawmaker’s opinion. But a California congresswoman had a vastly different take. Minutes before the floor vote, Congressman Maxine Waters, the Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee spoke.

“H.R. 3299 would go much further to allow other third-parties, including payday lenders, to evade or outright disregard state-level laws, and collect debt from borrowers at unreasonably high rates of interest if they purchase loans from a national bank,” said Waters. “These arrangements are called “rent-a-bank” or “rent-a-charter” agreements, and they allow payday lenders to use banks as a front for predatory behavior and the evasion of state interest rate caps.”

More than 150 organizations spanning consumer advocates, civil rights and faith organizations across the country as well as 20 state attorneys general agree with Waters. Together these state officials and advocates remain determined to preserve the ability of their respective jurisdictions to protect consumers by enforcing existing rate caps that were either enacted by voter referendum or state legislation.

Another claim by the bill’s proponents argued that the legislation would expand lending opportunities for consumers who are now underserved by financial institutions.

That claim was also refuted.

“The claim that this bill will help underserved urban and rural areas by expanding access to credit is false,” said Scott Astrada, director of the Center for Responsible Lending’s Federal Advocacy. “The reality is that it will expand unchecked predatory lending and allow lenders to make high-cost loans, such as short-term and long-term payday loans and car title loans, at rates that exceed existing state interest rate limits.”

As the measure now moves to the U.S. Senate for further consideration, perhaps the upper chamber would be wise to remember that this nation was founded as a democracy – and that its actions would be by, for and of the people. Any loan that charges triple-digit interest rates costing far more than the actual principal borrowed is predatory and could not be construed to be somehow helping anyone.