Did The CFPB Just Do a Power Grab?

June 23, 2021 at 9:24 am Leave a comment

Today the CFPB will be publishing in the Federal Register an interpretive ruling explaining why it has the authority to examine the institutions it directly supervises for compliance with the Military Lending Act. Since most of you work for credit unions that have less than $10 billion in assets this document won’t have an impact on your operations, but here’s why you should care:

The Military Lending Act was passed in 2006 as a narrowly focused piece of legislation to protect our service men and women from some of the most egregious predatory lending in existence at the time. After all, there should be a special place in hell for people who specialize in ripping off the underpaid men and women who protect us. Unfortunately, the MLA has been transformed via the rulemaking process from a reasonable piece of legislation into a regulatory monstrosity replete with its own Military APR and its own interest rate cap. But that is water under the bridge.

Another unique aspect of the MLA is that it is not included in the expansive list of federal consumer financial protection laws which congress explicitly listed when it passed the Dodd-Frank Act. Nevertheless, this did not become an issue until 2018 when the CFPB announced that it would no longer conduct MLA examinations as part of its oversight over the institutions it directly supervised because it lacked the legislative authority to do so.

Let’s be honest, to his critics, Mick Mulvaney’s oversight of the CFPB is remembered about as fondly as Voldemort’s rule over Hogwarts.  In our polarized political world the idea that an agency would unilaterally limit its own power was of course met with howls of outrage even though Congress could have and should have easily amended existing law to give the CFPB examination authority. Besides, the CFPB still had the authority to bring enforcement actions against lenders who violated the MLA. 

The language is pretty clear, or so I thought.  §125 provides in part (1) IN GENERAL —The Bureau shall have exclusive authority to require reports and conduct examinations on a periodic basis of persons described in subsection (a) for purposes of— (A) assessing compliance with the requirements of Federal consumer financial laws; (B) obtaining information about the activities subject to such laws and the associated compliance systems or procedures of such persons…

Congress took the time to list precisely what laws were to be considered Federal consumer financial laws and the MLA wasn’t put on the list.

It ends up that we didn’t need to change a law, we simply needed to change administrations. In its interpretive ruling the CFPB explains how, notwithstanding the fact that Congress drafted a definitive list of statutes over which the CFPB would have examination authority, the MLA is also within the CFPB’s scope of authority.

This is the latest example of the CFPB stretching its already enormous powers. The problem is that we live in a nation of laws, not regulations. The same people who complement the CFPB today will be the same people criticizing the CFPB for ignoring the role of Congress next time a Republican administration takes over the CFPB.  It’s time for everyone to remember that in a republic, the ends don’t justify the means.  We simply don’t get to ignore the laws we don’t like or the processes we have in place to change them. 

Entry filed under: Regulatory. Tags: , , , , .

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Authored By:

Henry Meier, Esq., Senior Vice President, General Counsel, New York Credit Union Association.

The views Henry expresses are Henry’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Association. In addition, although Henry strives to give his readers useful and accurate information on a broad range of subjects, many of which involve legal disputes, his views are not a substitute for legal advise from retained counsel.

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