Senator Mazie K. Hirono, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined a number of her Senate colleagues in urging the Pentagon to change military lending rules to better protect service members and their families from deceptive and predatory lending practices. Hirono and her colleagues sent a letter calling on Defense Secretary Hagel to close a loophole in lending protections that leaves service members vulnerable to abuse through certain types of loans.
"Given the many sacrifices military families make, it is deeply disturbing that predatory lenders would target them with exploitive financial schemes," Hirono said. "I'm proud to join with my colleagues in urging the Department of Defense to tighten up financial protections for military families and close loopholes that leave service members vulnerable to these predatory practices."
The Military Lending Act of 2007 capped the annual interest rates for consumer credit to service members while giving the Department of Defense (DOD) the authority to write rules to protect service members from certain predatory loans and risky financial products. However, the limited definition of "consumer credit" initially approved by DOD failed to include high interest products like overdraft loans, installment loans, non-traditional payday loans and non-traditional car title loans. The Center For Responsible Lending notes that payday lenders often cluster around bases and utilize advertising specifically targeted toward service members.
Hirono's letter comes as DOD reviews currently military lending rules and just weeks after she participated in the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee's hearing titled: "Preserving the Rights of Service Members, Veterans, and their Families in the Financial Marketplace." During the hearing, Hirono asked officials from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and DOD about how successful states have been at curtailing predatory financial products targeting military families. Experts also discussed ongoing issues facing service members like predatory payday and vehicle title loans, as well as other matters. You can watch Hirono's exchange with expert witnesses here: http://1.usa.gov/13A6Sna.
The full text of the letter reads below:
Dear Mr. Secretary:
We are writing in response to the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking addressing "Limitations on Terms of Consumer Credit Extended to Servicemembers and Dependents" issued by the Department of Defense and published in the Federal Register on June 17.
We have repeatedly expressed concern regarding the protection of our service members from predatory and high cost lending. By enacting the Military Lending Act in 2007 as part of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act, Congress sent a clear message that such protection was of paramount importance to the financial security and military readiness of our service members.
Through the Military Lending Act, Congress authorized the Secretary of Defense to write regulations defining the types of consumer credit products to which the law's 36% annual percentage rate (APR) cap applied as well as to provide other protections. The law gave the Department of Defense the authority and flexibility to write robust regulations that would facilitate the protection of our service members and their dependents from high cost lenders and loan products such as payday loans, car title loans, tax refund anticipation loans, installment loans targeted to military borrowers, and rent-to-own products.
Unfortunately, the rules initially promulgated by the Department contained gaps in the definition of consumer credit, which over the years, have been taken advantage of by certain lenders. Currently, the Department's regulations apply to only three narrowly defined types of products: closed-end payday loans of $2,000 or less and repayable in 91 days or less; closed-end vehicle title loans repayable in 181 days or less; and closed-end tax refund anticipation loans.
Due to the narrow definition of consumer credit, certain lenders are offering predatory loan products to service members at exorbitant triple digit effective interest rates and loan products that do not include the additional protections envisioned by the law. As such, a wide range of credit that is structured as open-ended versus closed-ended or that otherwise is structured to evade the limitations set forth in the current regulations fall completely outside the law's intended prohibitions.
The Department was given the authority and has inherent flexibility provided under the law to replace narrow definitions of consumer credit with a more expansive version to which the 36% APR cap and other protections would apply. In its rulemaking, we urge the Department to consider modifying the definition of consumer credit to ensure that it is broad enough to protect service members from all forms of deceptive, abusive and/or high-cost credit, regardless of the duration or structure of the loan. At a minimum, the definition should include but not necessarily be limited to: (i) payday and vehicle title loans of any duration, whether open or closed-ended; and (ii) tax refund anticipation loans of any duration. We also ask that you consider extending the 36% APR cap to unsecured installment loans targeted at the military and all other forms of consumer credit based on an assessment of the evolution of lending practices since 2007.
The Department of Defense has the opportunity to expand the law's protections to address forms of evolving abusive credit not envisioned when it was passed. Service members and their families deserve the strongest possible protections and swift action to ensure that all forms of credit offered to members of our armed forces are safe and sound.