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Department of Defense Expands Ban on Forced Arbitration for Servicemembers

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ellen tavernaToday the Department of Defense (DoD) issued a new proposed rule expanding important protections to servicemembers and their families from predatory lending. The new rule closes the loopholes in the Military Lending Act (MLA) that allowed many financial services to fall outside the scope and protections of the law and put servicemembers at financial risk.

In 2006, the DoD reported to Congress that “…predatory lending undermines military readiness, harms the morale of troops and their families, and adds to the cost of fielding an all-volunteer fighting force.” In response in large part to the DoD report, the MLA, bipartisan legislation passed by Congress and signed by George W. Bush in 2007, capped interest rates at 36 percent and applied other key consumer protections to certain forms of credit.

One very important consumer protection of the MLA includes a ban on forced arbitration clauses. Forced arbitration clauses are buried in the fine print of financial contracts and require servicemembers to resolve disputes with companies in a private system, outside of court. Arbitrators are not required to follow the law, and there is no public review to make sure the arbitrator got it right. In its 2006 reposrt, the DoD states that “Servicemembers should retain full legal recourse again unscrupulous lenders. Loan contracts to Service members should not include mandatory arbitration clauses or onerous notice provisions, and should not require the Service member to waive his or her right of recourse, such as the right to participate in a plaintiff class.”

Unfortunately, the MLA only covers a narrow subset of payday loans, auto title loans and refund anticipation loans and unscrupulous business often founds ways around the law. We applaud the DoD’s new proposed rule to expand the current military financial protections and the ban on forced arbitration to a wide range of high-cost loans made to active-duty servicemembers and their dependents.

We hope the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) follows the lead of the DoD to protect all consumers – both military and civilian.  The CFPB is required by the Dodd-Frank Act to study the use of forced arbitration and is authorized to issue a rule to limit or ban forced arbitration in all consumer contracts for financial services and products under its jurisdiction.  We encourage the CFPB to write a strong rule to eliminate forced arbitration clauses for the benefit of all consumers.

This blog originally appeared in Fair Arbitration Now on September 26, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.fairarbitrationnow.org/department-of-defense-expands-ban-on-forced-arbitration-for-servicemembers/

About the author: Ellen Taverna is the Legislative Director at the National Association of Consumer Advocates. As NACA’s Legislative Director, Ellen identifies and monitors key legislative issues related to consumer justice and consumer financial services issues, organizes and coordinates NACA’s membership to promote these issues, attends various coalitions with other communities who share our agenda, communicates with members of Congress, and builds Hill and Administration contacts on specific legislative and regulatory issues. The issues that she focuses on include, but are not limited to, homeownership/foreclosure prevention, debt collection, payday lending and ensuring the regulatory implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

 


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CFPB Forced Arbitration Study To Go Foward As Consumer Survey Approved

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PaulBlandWeb-172Great news Monday. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can finally continue a crucial study on the effects of forced arbitration on consumers. Under the Dodd Frank Act, the CFPB has to complete a study as to whether the use of forced arbitration clauses by lenders is harmful to consumers. If the Bureau finds that forced arbitration is harmful, then it is required by the act to ban the use of forced arbitration by lenders.

We, among some others, had urged the Bureau to weigh the fact that very few consumers know anything about forced arbitration. While the clauses are justified under a bunch of rhetoric that consumers have supposedly agreed to them, in fact almost no consumers know about the rights they’ve supposedly waived. The Bureau decided it wanted to do a survey of consumers to find out what they do and don’t know about arbitration.

The Chamber of Commerce and corporate groups have vehemently argued that the Bureau should not consider whether consumers know anything about the rights that they use. So long as consumers formally have rights, banks argue, it doesn’t matter whether they know about their formal rights or not. I have been very critical of that position, arguing that of course it makes sense for the bureau to survey consumers. (We believe that the evidence overwhelmingly supports the Bureau banning arbitration in any case, but this is an additional reason.) Here’s something I wrote a while ago on this point: http://www.publicjustice.net/blog/cfpb-surveying-consumers-see-what-if-anything-they-know-about-arbitration

Anyhow, the consumer survey appeared to be slowing things down, because the Office of Management and Budget (picture the little trolls in Dilbert who work in accounting, slowing down everything and killing every good idea) was taking forever to approve this simple survey.

The roadblock has been lifted – the OMB has FINALLY gotten out of the way.

This blog originally appeared in Public Justice Righting Wrongs on September 10, 2014. Reprinted with Permission.

About the author: F. Paul Bland, Jr., Executive Director, has been a senior attorney at Public Justice since 1997. As Executive Director, Paul manages and leads a staff of nearly 30 attorneys and other staff, guiding the organization’s litigation docket and other advocacy.

As staff and senior attorney, he was responsible for developing, handling, and helping Public Justice’s cooperating attorneys litigate a diverse docket of public interest cases. Paul has argued and won more than 30 cases that led to reported decisions for consumers, employees or whistleblowers in six of the U.S. Courts of Appeals and the high courts of nine different states. Paul’s Twitter handle is @FPBland.

Paul has presented at more than 100 continuing legal education or professional conferences in more than 25 states; has testified in both houses of Congress, several state legislatures and administrative agencies; has been quoted in more than 100 periodicals throughout the country and has appeared in several radio and TV stories.

 


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