Ed's Blog

On this Memorial Day, celebrate servicemembers and veterans. It's important that the CFPB has their backs, since predatory lenders are after their wallets.  As I often say, the idea of the CFPB needs no defense, only more defenders.

When Congress established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, it designated certain at-risk populations for special protection against financial fraud. One group so designated is active servicemembers, veterans and their families. One of then-presidential advisor Elizabeth Warren's first CFPB hires, to run the Office of Servicemember Affairs, was Holly Petraeus, "the mother, sister, daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, and spouse to servicemembers, and former director of the Better Business Bureau Military Line." This recent story in Stars and Stripes highlights current issues the office is addressing.

It's an important job. When servicemembers or their families drive up to a base, they literally run a gauntlet of predatory payday lenders, buy-here-pay-here auto dealers, rent-to-own stores, traditional pawn shops and auto title lenders (they take your car title and a copy of your keys as security for high-cost small loans). On the base, a phalanx of lenders often work the enlisted, non-com and officers' clubs, selling high-cost financial products. When servicemembers or reservists go on active duty or deploy, even well-known banks, as well as other lenders, may fail to comply with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which limits interest on mortgage and other debts to six percent and requires lenders, landlords, credit bureaus and other financial companies to take special steps to recognize the financial hardships they face.

And let's not forget veterans trying to get a better education.

In testimony last summer before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee (full hearing link), Petraeus explained that state attorneys general have assisted the bureau with the widespread problem of unfair for-profit college marketing to veterans, including wounded veterans:

One issue that has been raised consistently throughout my travels is concern over aggressive marketing to military personnel, veterans, and their families by certain institutions of higher education seeking to attract individuals with access to GI Bill benefits. These institutions are pushing not only their educational programs, but also, in many cases, expensive private student loans to pay for the amount of tuition and fees not covered by the GI Bill. [...] For example, a year ago when I was out in Nevada with Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, I spoke with a woman from the VA Regional Office there who was overseeing vocational rehabilitation for veterans. She told me that she had patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who had been persuaded to sign up for college classes and didn’t even remember doing so.

 In that testimony, Holly Petraeus also pointed out that the President has issued "Executive Order 1607 -- Establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members" to protect servicemembers from unfair for-profit school tactics.

Numerous CFPB enforcement actions have helped servicemembers and veterans. Just two weeks ago, enforcement actions (AP story) based on CFPB referrals brought against the behemoth student lender/servicer Sallie Mae by the U.S. Department of Justice and the FDIC returned $90 million directly to servicemembers. The firm paid additional civil penalties of $6.6 million. The U.S. Department of Education aso assisted. And Sallie Mae is not the only "blue-chip" lender that has been caught in the act by the CFPB and other regulators for violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Chase Bank, Wells Fargo, Citibank, Ally Financial (formerly GMAC) are among firms that have paid civil penalties for violations, including illegal foreclosures, for example. U.S. Bank and partners have been caught for illegal auto lending and paid $6.5 million in restitution to servicemembers and veterans.

The CFPB recently released a snapshot of servicemember complaints to its Public Consumer Complaint Database. The CFPB encourages veterans (and everyone else) to submit complaints to the Public Consumer Complaint Database. The snapshot notes that complaints have resulted in over $1 million in refunds, plus other relief, to veterans and servicemembers. Holly Petraeus says: "Even if you don’t have a complaint, and you just want to share an experience in the financial market place, consider telling us your story. We’re listening."

The Office of Servicemember Affairs has numerous other financial resources for servicemembers, veterans and their families, including the Servicemember blog.

U.S. PIRG has a list of important CFPB tools and resources  for all consumers. We've also published a series of reports on how the Public Consumer Complaint Database "Gets Results For Consumers."

On this Memorial Day, celebrate servicemembers and veterans. It's important that the CFPB has their backs, since predatory lenders are after their wallets.  As I often say, the idea of the CFPB needs no defense, only more defenders.

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