Last summer, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released proposed rules intended to prevent borrowers from falling into the costly revolving debt trap that can leave people worse off than if they hadn’t borrowed money in the first place. Since then, those in the payday lending industry have ramped up their efforts to ensure the proposal isn’t finalized.
These efforts — such as sending hundreds of letters to lawmakers in support of the industry — aren’t a surprise.
Even before the CFPB announced its proposed rules in June 2016, those in the payday, auto title, and other small-dollar loan markets — along with their supporters — have battled it out with the agency, lawmakers, and groups pushing for small-dollar loan protections.
However, things are finally coming to a head: The CFPB is expected to release its finalized rules this week.
A Barrage Of Comments
But before the CFPB could craft its finalized rule, it had to sift through more than 1.41 million publicly submitted comments the agency received in the past 16 months.
Under the Administrative Procedure Act, agencies must consider these comments when preparing regulations or other actions.
Of these comments, payday loan executives tell The Wall Street Journal that one million are from those who don’t support the rule.
The comments — from customers and employees of the industry — argue that the CFPB is hurting consumers by requiring lenders to make sure borrowers can repay their loans and limiting borrowers’ ability to reborrow within a certain amount of time.
“It’s time to have real solutions instead of a law that will hurt the people that use cash loans,” one commenter wrote. “I don’t think the CFPB should pass a law saying how many pay day loans I can get over some time. They don’t know my financial situation. I choose these loans because they are the best way for me to keep up with my finances. This law would make it so that I have no good options for borrowing money when I need it.”
“I work for a loan company and I am totally against the proposed rules,” one comment reads. “We understand our customers and their financial needs. As an employee, I have better insight as to what would and would not be beneficial for our customers.”
The WSJ reports that part of the reason there are more comments opposing the proposed rules is that payday lenders have pushed customers to submit them.
For instance, lenders have asked anyone taking out a loan in recent months to share their unique story with the CFPB or offering them prewritten letters.
In Florida, Amscot Financial Inc., which operates 240 locations in the state, provided customers with blank paper to pen their comments.
Amscot CEO Ian MacKechnie tells the WSJ that the company collected more than 600,000 letters and shipped them to the CFPB.
Manipulating The System
Some consumer groups claim that the payday industry’s prevalent use of letters and submitted comments is just a way to manipulate the process.
Allied Progress contends that payday lending groups are using “dubious methods to dramatically inflate the number of comments opposing the CFPB’s efforts to curb the industry’s most wrecking behavior.”
Last year, the group called on CFPB director Richard Cordray to closely scrutinize opposing comments, suggesting that some comments use the exact same phrasing, calling into question their authenticity.
The WSJ reports the CFPB labels these as “duplicates” or “substantially similar” when posting them online.
Allied Progress pointed to a report from the Cleveland Plain Dealer that suggested some payday lenders were requiring customers to submit comments in support of the rule as part of their loan process.
“It should come as no surprise that the payday lending industry might attempt to influence the CFPB’s rulemaking process through potentially underhanded means,” the group wrote.
More Than Just Comments
The massive influx of letters from the payday supporters could be a way for the industry to diminish and undercut those who share their thoughts in favor of the regulations.
If the executives talking to the WSJ are correct and just 400,000 comments in the database are from supporters of the rule, that’s a significant disparity.
Still, there are hundreds of thousands of comments submitted to the CFPB on behalf of those looking to rein in small-dollar lenders.
“Predatory lending to desperate people is wrong,” one supporter wrote to the CFPB. “It should not be allowed as an institution in a civilized country.”
Additionally, consumer groups tell tfconsumer he WSJ that they have used other means to show support for the rule, such as online petitions.
Will The Comments Matter?
As for whether or not the comments will make a difference in the CFPB’s rules, that remains to be seen.
The agency, in the past, has made changes from proposed rules to finalized rules after hearing from stakeholders.
But the comments also give the opposition a leg to stand on in the future. Some payday-industry executives tell the WSJ they would point to the CFPB’s handling of comments if they decided to sue over the rule.