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REPORT: DEBT COLLECTION ABUSES LEADING SOURCE OF SERVICEMEMBER AND VETERAN COMPLAINTS TO CFPB
-- Financial Choice Act on U.S. House Floor Puts Servicemembers in “Financial Harm’s Way,” Threatens Nation’s Military Preparedness –
Boston, MA – Debt collection abuses were the leading source (32%) of 44,000 servicemember complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), according to a new report release today. Further, Congress is taking up a bill this week intended to cripple the CFPB and would place servicemembers, veterans and their families in “financial harm’s way,” thereby threatening unit preparedness.
The bill, HR 10, the so-called Financial Choice Act, but more aptly called the “Wrong Choice Act,” rolls back the powers, funding and independence of the CFPB and it also weakens its pioneering Office of Servicemember Affairs. The bill also eliminates many other financial system reforms of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act enacted after the second-worst financial crisis in the nation’s history.
“The CFPB has already taken at least 12 major enforcement actions against financial firms targeting young servicemembers, older veterans and their families,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director for MASSPIRG. “Gutting the CFPB puts those who protect us in financial harm’s way. That also threatens unit preparedness and mission capabilities because delinquent debt and bad credit reports are a leading cause of revoked security clearances.”
“The men and women who put their lives on the line for our country should not be taken advantage of by predatory financial practices. It is a betrayal of these veterans to suggest that big banks are more important,” said Congressman Seth Moulton (MA-6). “Instead of taking actions to weaken the Office of Servicemember Affairs, we should be working to strengthen it. It is disheartening that some of my colleagues would put the financial security of veterans in jeopardy.”
“I want to commend the MASSPIRG Education Fund/Frontier Group report for shedding light on the unfair and deceptive financial practices that have targeted our servicemembers, veterans and their families,” said state Senator Mike Rush, West Roxbury, Chairman, Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. “Having been deployed as a servicemember, I know firsthand the challenges and hardships families face during this dangerous time. To think that companies would take advantage of these situations is unconscionable. This report has highlighted the need for the federal government to support the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to its full capacity in ensuring that these deceptive and illegal practices are eradicated.”
“The CFPB strengthens and protects servicemembers, veterans and their families. Through enforcement and its ability to provide restitution for servicemembers who have been wronged, the CFPB creates a fairer, more functional financial system they and all consumers can navigate with confidence,” said Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director of the National Military Family Association.
Among the key findings of the MASSPIRG Education Fund/Frontier Group report, “Protecting Those Who Serve: How the CFPB Safeguards Military Members and Veterans from Abuse in the Financial Marketplace” are the following:
- Debt collection complaints, including illegal threats to contact commanding officers about debts, were the leading source (32%) of 44,000 complaints with military tags published in the CFPB Public Consumer Complaint Database. Complaints about mortgages, credit reporting, and bank accounts were the next leading complaint categories. Here in Massachusetts, there were 569 military complaints.
- The CFPB has also advocated to strengthen consumer protections for servicemembers, including by successfully advocating the Pentagon to close loopholes in the Military Lending Act, which caps interest rates on loans and provides other protections to servicemembers.
- The CFPB has taken at least a dozen enforcement actions directly protecting servicemembers.
- For example, in 2016, the CFPB fined Navy Federal Credit Union $28 million ($23 million in restitution and $5.5 million in civil penalties) for illegal debt collection tactics.
- The CFPB took action against two for-profit colleges – ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian Colleges – both of which had been linked to predatory treatment of servicemembers and veterans. The now-defunct Corinthian was ordered to provide $480 million in debt relief to defrauded students, including servicemembers.
- In 2015, the CFPB ordered $3.1 million in restitution from Fort Knox National Company and its subsidiary, Military Assistance Company, which it alleged charged servicemembers millions of dollars in hidden fees.
- In 2013, the CFPB ordered high-cost small dollar lender Cash America to pay up to $14 million in restitution and a $5 million penalty for violations of the Military Lending Act.
- The CFPB provides valuable resources through its Office of Servicemember Affairs, which works full time to help members of the military, veterans and their families avoid bad deals, and find restitution when they are wronged.
“Our nation’s service men and women should never be targets of consumer fraud. Unfortunately, every day they are targeted by scams and financial abuse. The CFPB is the ‘first line of defense’ in financial security for America's military community. From day one, the CFPB has fought tirelessly to protect and defend service members, veterans and their families from economic harm and to win financial restitution for them. The CFPB’s work supports the national security by helping service members overcome fraud, retain their security clearances and continue to serve their nation. The CFPB has been a true friend to America's military,” said Colonel Bob Norton, USA-ret., Veterans Education Success.
"Predatory lenders cluster their storefronts around military bases, putting their operations in the path of servicemembers and their families," said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, a report co-author. "Not surprisingly, complaints to the CFPB cluster around the bases as well."
The report also includes excerpts from servicemember complaint narratives. Since the database began accepting these optional narrative stories, about half of complaints include them:
One complaint, submitted from a servicemember in Massachusetts stated that HSBC NORTH AMERICA HOLDINGS INC., used a subsidiary collection agency that continued to report to his credit bureau that a fully paid account was unpaid – despite the company’s own records that the account had fully been paid. The collection agency continued to report the wrong information causing a negative reflection on his/her credit report. The service member had to resubmit the payoff letter every six months to clear it off as it continued to reappear on his credit report.
In conclusion, Cummings noted that “The so-called Financial Choice Act is the wrong choice for military families and all consumers because it takes away the CFPB’s tools to protect us, allowing financial predators to run amok.”
MASSPIRG is a non-profit non-partisan consumer advocacy organization. www.masspirg.org
Two-page fact sheet: http://www.masspirgedfund.org/reports/maf/protecting-people-who-protect-us
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