ACTION ALERT: Stop the Trump administration from allowing predatory lenders to target low-income families

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created to protect people from predatory lending practices. However, under the Trump administration, the CFPB is now proposing to gut important consumer protections from the 2017 Payday Loan Rule, putting the interests of unscrupulous lenders over our families.

Please tell the Trump administration not to repeal regulations that protect low-income borrowers!  

In 2017, after conducting extensive research on storefront loans and payday lending, the CFPB finalized regulations to protect people from some of the worst predatory lending practices. The 2017 Payday Rule, scheduled to go into effect this August, mandates that lenders assess a borrower’s ability to repay a loan as a condition of making high cost title and payday loans.

Trump’s CFPB is proposing to revoke this protection that requires lenders to only provide loans that can be repaid, prioritizing the profits of payday and car title lenders over the consumers the agency was created to protect.

The storefront lending industry is built on making loans that borrowers cannot afford to repay. Payday lenders encourage borrowers to rollover their loans and take on more debt when they cannot make payments.

The debt trap is still common in New Mexico even though the state no longer permits short term loans. Instead, in our state lenders trap families in longer term debt at rates as high as 175% APR. Many payday lenders are national corporations that do business in New Mexico.

The 2017 Payday Rule should be implemented as it was originally written.

Protect the rights of consumers to fair loans by submitting your public comment! 

Information on submitting your comments and suggested content is below. 

Submit your comment here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/02/14/2019-01906/payday-vehicle-title-and-certain-high-cost-installment-loans’

The deadline is May 15, 2019. 

To maximize its impact, make sure at least a third of your comment is original text; otherwise, the CFPB might not consider it a valid comment. It is most important to note how high cost loans are harmful in our state, even if your comment is very brief. 

Content to consider in your comment: 

The 2017 CFPB Payday Rule is vital in stopping the debt trap of payday lending.

  • Requiring payday and car title lenders to assess whether customers can afford to pay loans back before entering into a contract is a commonsense foundation of responsible lending.
  • Payday lenders will stop at nothing to prevent this reasonable requirement because they want to perpetuate their business model that is driven by trapping people in longterm debt. 
  • The CFPB says that repealing the Payday Rule will be a “benefit” to payday lenders, but it will directly harm consumers who are stuck with unaffordable loans.
  • Rescinding the 2017 Payday Rule ignores extensive public comment and a wealth of research on the dangers of unregulated payday borrowing conducted by the CFPB itself.
  • The debt burden of payday loans forces families to choose between paying their bills or face ever-growing fees including overdraft fees, closed bank accounts, and even bankruptcy.
  • For car title loan borrowers, there is a huge risk that a family will lose their vehicle – frequently a low-income household’s sole means of getting to work, school, or medical appointments.

The proposal will hurt low-income borrowers.

  • In name, payday loans are not allowed in New Mexico. In reality, longer term installment loan products have taken their place, extracting just as many resources from cash-strapped families regardless of what they can afford.
  • Most storefront lenders in New Mexico operate in multiple states. Allowing the 2017 Final Rule to go into effect as planned will create a norm for the storefront lending industry that will help New Mexicans who take out loans from multi-state lenders and could support the development of similar consumer protections in New Mexico state law.

The CFPB should both implement the 2017 Payday Rule, and also study the impact of similar protections on longer-term loans to protect consumers across the country from predatory debt trap practices.

Legislative Wrap Up 2019

Dear friends,

This legislative session was a turning point for New Mexico. The efforts of the Center on Law and Poverty and our partners paved the way for historic changes for our state and started long overdue dialogue about the bold changes that must be made for children and families. This could not have happened without you! THANK YOU for the countless phone calls, emails to your legislators, testimony in committee hearings, and sharing of information with your networks and through social media.

We have much to celebrate together and are especially proud to share several major victories.

Our advocacy efforts and expert testimony were instrumental in achieving:

Historic wins for workers in New Mexico
Domestic and home care workers are now protected by basic labor laws. Along with our partners, we successfully eliminated outdated, discriminatory practices in our state so people doing some of the toughest jobs, like caring for others’ loved ones and cleaning houses, are protected by New Mexico’s minimum wage standards and other wage protections.

After a decade of stagnant wages, hard working New Mexicans will finally get a raise. Hundreds of workers from across New Mexico mobilized in support of a wage increase this session. It was a long and challenging fight, but starting in January 2020, the state minimum wage will be raised to $9 an hour and increase annually until reaching $12 an hour in 2023. This will directly impact 150,901 workers in our state—nearly 20 percent of the workforce.

Loopholes closed in small loans laws
Everyone should be able to understand the terms of their loans, especially when these loans are taken out from storefront lenders. Our advocacy with our partners led to significantly more accountability and transparency by mandating that lenders report relevant data to the state and by aligning our small loan laws so all New Mexico families receive fairer loans.

Public education a top priority
After winning the Yazzie/Martinez court ruling on behalf of families and school districts, we joined with education, tribal and community leaders, and students to form the Transform Education NM coalition and used this historic opportunity to bring education to the forefront this legislative session. New Mexico’s education system must be rooted in a multicultural framework for our diverse student body, and our coalition won much needed funding for culturally and linguistically responsive instruction in rural areas. Overall, New Mexico saw an increase in education funding, and teachers got long overdue raises. However, we still have a long way to go, and we will not stop until every child has the education they need to succeed and are entitled to by the New Mexico Constitution. 

Progress toward innovative and affordable health coverage
Dozens of families, healthcare professionals, and advocates joined the NM Together for Healthcare campaign to work tirelessly for a Medicaid Buy-in option for New Mexicans who struggle to afford the outrageous costs of private insurance but don’t qualify for Medicaid. The Human Services Department will now receive funding to further study and begin the administrative development of a public option plan, including pursuing federal funding to help pay for it.

The path ahead
We’re focused on New Mexico’s future, and together with you, we will continue to push for complete transformation of our education system, expansion of early childhood education—including pre-K, childcare assistance and home visiting services—better pay and working conditions for workers, financial and food security, and access to healthcare for all of our families.

Sincerely,

Sireesha Manne                                                  
Executive Director

Governor signs bill closing loopholes in small loans law

SANTA FE—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill today cleaning up state law that regulates storefront lenders. House Bill 150, Installment & Small Loan Changes, sponsored by Representative Georgene Louis, protects New Mexico borrowers by ensuring accountability and transparency in the storefront lending industry.

“Today we’ve made great progress toward fairness and transparency for New Mexican borrowers,” said Lindsay Cutler, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “HB 150 cleans up loopholes in state law by requiring lenders to report relevant data to the state and aligns our small loan laws so all New Mexico families can receive fairer loans.”

New Mexico’s first across-the-board interest rate cap went into effect in January 2018, capping interest rates on storefront loans at 175 percent APR. However, high fees and loan rollovers continue to drain income from New Mexico borrowers. The two laws that regulate storefront lenders, the Small Loan and Bank Installment Loan Acts, still contain inconsistent fee and disclosure provisions, do not require sufficient reporting to the state’s Financial Institutions Division to enforce consumer protections, and do not make clear borrowers’ rights on loan renewals.

Starting January 1, 2020, HB 150 will:

  • Require lenders to provide relevant data on small loans, enabling the FID to verify storefront lenders are adhering to small loans law and for the state to evaluate how the law is impacting New Mexicans;
  • Allow borrowers 24 hours to rescind a high-interest loan;
  • Align fee provisions and disclosure requirements in the Small Loan and Bank Installment Loan Acts so consumer protections are consistent for all borrowers;
  • Protect New Mexican borrowers from potential loopholes when they renew or rollover loans by clarifying the definition of new loans; and
  • Align the penalties for violating the small loan laws and the language around the Unfair Practices Act to ensure that companies are held accountable for unfair, deceptive and unconscionable practices.

“The small loan industry makes hundreds of millions of dollars from hardworking New Mexico families,” said Cutler. “HB 150 goes a long way to make sure our small loan law is clear of ambiguities and provides meaningful consumer protections that hold small loan companies accountable. Small loan reform is absolutely necessary if we hope to stop predatory lending practices.”

Bill closing loopholes in small loans law awaits governor’s signature

SANTA FE—The New Mexico Senate passed a bill today cleaning up state law that regulates storefront lenders. House Bill 150, Installment & Small Loan Changes, protects New Mexico borrowers by ensuring accountability and transparency in the storefront lending industry. The bill now awaits Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature for approval.
 
“Everyone deserves fairness and transparency when taking out a loan,” said Lindsay Cutler, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “HB 150 cleans up loopholes in state law by mandating effective data reporting to the state and providing consistency so all New Mexico families can receive fairer loans.”

New Mexico’s first across the board interest rate cap went into effect in January 2018, capping interest rates on storefront loans at 175 percent APR. However, high fees and loan rollovers continue to drain income from New Mexico borrowers. The two laws that regulate storefront lenders, the Small Loan and Bank Installment Loan Acts, still contain inconsistent fee and disclosure provisions, do not require sufficient reporting to the state’s Financial Institutions Division to enforce consumer protections, and do not make clear borrowers’ rights on loan renewals.

If signed into law, HB 150 would:

Require lenders to provide effective data on small loans, enabling the FID to verify storefront lenders are adhering to small loans law and for the state to evaluate how the law is impacting New Mexicans;

  • Allow borrowers 24 hours to rescind a high-interest loan;
  • Align fee provisions and disclosure requirements so consumer protections are consistent for all borrowers;
  • Protect New Mexican borrowers from potential loopholes when they renew or rollover loans by clarifying the definition of new loans; and
  • Align the penalties for violating the small loan laws and the language around the Unfair Practice Act to ensure that companies are held accountable for unfair and deceptive and unconscionable practices.

“The small loan industry makes hundreds of millions of dollars from hardworking New Mexico families,” said Cutler. “ We need our laws to be clear of ambiguities and provide meaningful consumer protections that hold small loan companies accountable. We’re optimistic that the governor will sign the bill. Small loan reform is absolutely necessary if we hope to stop predatory lending practices.”

House passes bill closing loopholes in small loans law

SANTA FE—The New Mexico House of Representatives passed a bill today cleaning up state law that regulates storefront lenders. HB 150 protects New Mexico borrowers and ensures accountability and transparency in the storefront lending industry.
 
“All New Mexicans deserve access to fair and transparent loans under reasonable terms, but unfortunately, the current law has loopholes that fail to carry out the legislature’s intent to protect borrowers,” said Lindsay Cutler, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “HB 150 proposes effective data reporting requirements and consistency in consumer protections for all borrowers, ensuring New Mexico families receive fairer loans and that the state can better monitor storefront lenders.”

New Mexico’s first across-the-board interest rate cap went into effect in January 2018, capping interest rates on storefront loans at 175 percent APR. Yet high fees and loan rollovers continue to drain income from New Mexico borrowers. The two laws that regulate storefront lenders, the Small Loan and Bank Installment Loan Acts, still contain inconsistent fee and language provisions, do not require sufficient reporting to the Financial Institutions Division to enforce consumer protections, and do not make clear borrowers’ rights on loan renewals.

If passed by the Senate and signed into law, HB 150 would:

  • Require lenders to provide effective data on small loans, enabling the FID to verify storefront lenders are adhering to small loans law and evaluate how the law is impacting New Mexicans;
  • Allow borrowers 24 hours to rescind a high-interest loan;
  • Align fee provisions, disclosure requirements, and penalty provisions so consumer protections are consistent for all borrowers; and
  • Define what it means to make a new loan to protect New Mexican borrowers from potential loopholes in loan rollovers and renewals.

“The small loan industry makes hundreds of millions of dollars from hardworking New Mexico families,” said Cutler. “The House has taken an important step in passing HB 150 and we are optimistic that the Senate will follow suit. We cannot allow lenders to continue to circumvent protections put in place two legislative sessions ago. Small loan reforms are absolutely necessary if we hope to meaningfully stop predatory lending practices.”

New analysis reveals New Mexicans suffer disproportionately under weight of student debt

Legislature considers key student loan bill as more than one in five New Mexicans are severely delinquent on their student loans 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new analysis of government data demonstrates the gravity of the student debt crisis in New Mexico. The analyzed data, released by the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC), American Federation of Teachers New Mexico (AFT-NM), and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, show that more than one in five New Mexico consumers are now delinquent on their student loan debt.

New Mexico’s House is currently considering HB 172 which sets out to oversee and crack down on illegal practices by student loan companies.

“Debt stretching for decades after the completion of study is a real crisis impacting New Mexico students and is reason we need legislation like HB 172,” said Stephanie Ly, President of AFT New Mexico. “AFT New Mexico’s goal is to promote increased transparency within the student loan industry and provide mechanisms for relief should borrowers have concerns about their loans. We’ve been fortunate to have champions like Rep. Roybal Caballero carry this bill for several years now, and appreciate Rep. Hochman-Vigil’s joining this fight during her first legislative session.” 

“College should lead to opportunity, not financial ruin,” said Lindsay Cutler, attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The analysis makes a clear and compelling case that New Mexico lawmakers need to protect student loan borrowers from illegal industry practices.”

Student loan debt in New Mexico has skyrocketed over 129 percent in the last decade.

The close look at data made available by federal sources shows the student debt crisis growing for borrowers across the state, including:

  • New Mexico has the second highest student loan default rate in the country;
  • New Mexicans now owe more than $6.8 billion in student debt;
  • More than 1 out of every 5 student loan borrowers in New Mexico are severely delinquent on their debt;
  • New Mexico ranks eighth in the country of states with the highest percentage of delinquent debt, and eleventh in percent of borrowers with delinquent debt; and
  • Nearly a quarter of all borrowers living in rural New Mexico are severely delinquent.

“As student loan borrowers in New Mexico suffer each day from the burden of their debt, state leaders must take action,” said Seth Frotman, Executive Director for the Student Borrower Protection Center. “The federal government has walked away from this crisis, casting millions of New Mexicans aside in the process. The borrowers across New Mexico cannot wait any longer for predatory student loan companies to be held accountable.”

As part of HB 172, sponsored by Rep. Roybal Caballero and Rep. Hochman-Vigil, student loan servicers would be required to be licensed and subject to oversight by the New Mexico Financial Institutions Division. These proposals would help ensure that student loan servicers do not mislead borrowers, misapply payments, or provide credit reporting agencies with inaccurate information.

HB 172 is particularly important because the federal government continues to ignore mounting evidence of the nation’s growing student debt crisis. Not only has the federal government halted efforts to protect student loan borrowers, it is turning a blind eye to predatory practices and enabling bad actors to harm borrowers.

SBPC HELPING STATES FIGHT FOR 44 MILLION AMERICANS WITH STUDENT DEBT

In the face of continuing systemic abuses across the student loan industry, state governments are taking action to expand protections for student loan borrowers and halt illegal practices by predatory companies. Last year, the Student Borrower Protection Center launched States for Student Borrower Protection, an initiative that highlights the student debt crisis in states across the country, and is designed to support the leaders in and out of government working to end this crisis through state level actions. Today’s release offers further evidence that state action is urgently needed.

The analysis is part of an ongoing series of original research, projects, and campaigns by SBPC designed to help student loan borrowers by shedding light on the crisis and empower advocates.

###

About the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC): The Student Borrower Protection Center (www.protectborrowers.org) is a nonprofit organization solely focused on alleviating the burden of student debt for millions of Americans. SBPC engages in advocacy, policymaking, and litigation strategy to rein in industry abuses, protect borrowers’ rights, and advance economic opportunity for the next generation of students. Led by the team of former federal regulators that directed oversight of the student loan market at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, SBPC exposes harmful and illegal practices in the student loan industry, drives impact litigation, advocates on behalf of student loan borrowers in Washington and in state capitals, and promotes progressive policy change. SBPC accomplishes these goals by partnering with leaders at all levels of government and throughout the nonprofit sector.

About the American Federation of Teachers – New Mexico (AFT-NM): The American Federation of Teachers is a union of professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are committed to advancing these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through the work our members do.

About New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP): The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is dedicated to advancing economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. We work with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty.

Regulations on small loans law do not adequately protect borrowers

ALBUQUERQUE— The Financial Institutions Division issued regulations today implementing a state law that caps interest rates on storefront loans. The FID made almost no changes to the minimal regulations it proposed earlier this year, even though New Mexicans overwhelmingly asked the state to improve enforcement by collecting data on the industry, closing loan renewal loopholes, and requiring lenders to disclose the true costs of loans to borrowers and to make those disclosures in the language a borrower understands.

“All New Mexicans deserve access to fair and transparent loans under reasonable terms, but unfortunately, these regulations completely fail to fulfill the legislature’s  primary intent to protect borrowers,” said Lindsay Cutler, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “In fact, they are so lacking in teeth that New Mexico families have no guarantees that the terms of their loans will be clearly explained to them. Worse still, the regulations are completely bare of mandatory data reporting requirements, which will make it impossible to verify that storefront lenders are actually following the law.”

Before passage of HB 347 in the 2017 legislative session, many small loans were unregulated and borrowers were frequently charged interest rates of 300 percent APR or more. Reforms to the Small Loan Act went into effect January 1, 2018, capping interest rates at 175 percent APR and eliminating traditional short-term payday and title loans.  All storefront and online loans made in 2018 must have a minimum loan term of 120 days, and require a minimum of four payments.

However, the FID did not issue regulations to reflect the new standards until today, a full eight months after the law went into effect. The regulations the division did issue do not require lenders to provide borrowers with meaningful information about the costs of their loans and the consumer protections required by the new law. The regulations also fail to address the need to make disclosures and financial information available in a language that the borrower understands.

“It’s unfortunate that New Mexico FID did not take the opportunity to include language assistance as part of the new regulations, knowing that a majority of border town small loans are from Navajo consumers. It is important that we continue to advocate for legal contracts to be explained in the Navajo language or any other language in which consumers are able to fully comprehend the contracts they are signing,” said Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.

The new regulations also fail to close loopholes in loan renewals, which may extend old loan terms, leaving borrowers vulnerable to interest rates and fees that are now illegal under the law. In addition, the regulations do not require lenders to provide data on small loans, making it impossible to tell if storefront lenders are adhering to the law and how the law is impacting New Mexicans. The FID failed to explain why it elected to ignore the dozens of comments submitted by New Mexicans asking the division to enact meaningful consumer protections.

Without meaningful regulations and reporting requirements, the FID and legislators cannot verify that the consumer protections intended by the new law are reaching New Mexico families. This means that the small loan industry, which makes hundreds of millions of dollars from New Mexico families, will continue to operate without transparency.

“We’re pleased that the FID has, at long last, finalized and posted regulations to implement the 2017 law. However, these regulations do very little to address our concerns and lack the substantive consumer protections we have been advocating for,” said Michael Barrio, director of advocacy at Prosperity Works. “An appropriate regulatory framework that adequately addresses areas that allow lenders to continue to circumvent limitations and protections that have been put in place by the 2018 small loan reforms is absolutely necessary if we hope to honestly protect hard working New Mexicans from predatory lending practices.”

The finalized FID regulations can be found here: http://164.64.110.134/nmac/nmregister/adoptedxxix16

A factsheet on regulations the FID should enact to enforce the small loans act can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/fact-sheet-fid-must-enact-regulations-to-enforce-the-small-loans-act-2018-07/

Indian Affairs Committee asks for FID report on law capping store front loans  

CHAMA—At a legislative hearing in Chama today, the New Mexico Indian Affairs Committee passed a resolution asking the Financial Institutions Division to report on how it is enforcing a new law that caps interest rates on small loans and to provide data collected from lenders on the loan products they sell. The FID report is due for presentation to the committee later this fall.

“All New Mexicans deserve access to fair and transparent loans under reasonable terms, but generations of low-income families and Native American communities have been aggressively targeted by unscrupulous store front lenders,” said Lindsay Cutler, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The FID has a duty to enforce the new law and protect families from unfair lending practices. The new law went into effect in January, but FID still hasn’t updated its regulations to reflect the new standards. Without information on FID enforcement, we don’t have a clear picture of how the small loan industry is doing business with New Mexico families and how the new law is affecting New Mexicans. We’re grateful that the Indian Affairs Committee has asked the FID to report on its enforcement efforts.”

Before passage of HB 347 in the 2017 legislative session, most small loans were unregulated and borrowers were frequently charged interest rates of 300 percent APR or more. Reforms to the Small Loan Act are now in effect, capping interest rates at 175 percent APR and eliminating traditional short term payday and title loans. The new law requires lenders to provide clear information about the costs of loans, allows borrowers to develop a credit history when they make payments on small-dollar loans, and sets minimum contract terms for small loans, including at least four payments and 120 days to pay off most loans. Refund anticipation loans are exempt from those requirements.

The FID proposed regulations to implement HB 347 in late February 2018 to eliminate inconsistencies between the new law and the old payday lending regulations. Loan renewals, however, are not addressed by the FID’s proposed regulations. This loophole could leave borrowers vulnerable to interest rates and fees that are now illegal under the law for new loans. The Center urges the FID to close this loophole by clarifying that renewals are subject to the law’s fee limit, interest rate cap, and payment schedule requirements for new loans.

“Passing HB 347 was a necessary first step, but enforcing regulation and compliance with the law is the critical next step in protecting our families and ensuring that all New Mexicans have equal access to affordable loans and protection from predatory lending practices,” said Michael Barrio, Director of Advocacy for Prosperity Works. “The data and reporting transparency we seek is necessary to close loopholes that could render HB 347 ineffective, and to augment existing consumer protections in New Mexico. Our focus, now, is on creating transparency and eliminating loopholes that can be used to continue exploiting hard-working New Mexicans. We’re making progress every day.”

The FID’s proposed regulations can be found here: www.rld.state.nm.us/financialinstitutions/

The Center’s comments on the proposed regulations can be found here: https://wp.me/a7pqlk-10H

A factsheet on regulations the FID should enact to enforce the small loans act can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/fact-sheet-fid-must-enact-regulations-to-enforce-the-small-loans-act-2018-07/

Hearing on proposed small loan regulations Monday

CHAMA—The New Mexico Legislative Indian Affairs Committee will hold an interim legislative hearing in Chama on Monday regarding the Financial Institutions Division’s proposed regulations on HB 347, which imposes a 175 percent APR interest rate cap on small loans. The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and Prosperity Works will ask the committee to pass a resolution requesting the FID provide information about how it is enforcing this new law and present that report to the committee later this fall.

Before passage of HB 347 in the 2017 legislative session, most small loans were unregulated and interest rates were even higher. HB 347 ensures that borrowers have the right to clear information about total loan costs, allows borrowers to develop a credit history when they make payments on small-dollar loans, and sets minimum contract terms for small loans including at least four payments and 120 days to pay off most loans. Refund anticipation loans are exempt from those requirements.

While the law and proposed regulations signal progress for fair loan terms, much more work remains to be done to ensure fair access to credit for all New Mexicans. Storefront lenders with predatory business practices that trap people in a cycle of unaffordable debt have deep roots in the state and have aggressively targeted generations of low-income families and Native communities, pushing loans with high-interest rates or arbitrary fees with no regard for an individual’s ability to repay.

The FID’s proposed regulations can be found here: www.rld.state.nm.us/financialinstitutions/

The Center’s comments on the proposed regulations can be found here: https://wp.me/a7pqlk-10H

The Center’s suggested changes to the proposed regulations can be found here: https://wp.me/a7pqlk-10I

WHAT: 
Indian Affairs Committee interim legislative hearing on proposed HB 347 regulations, which impose a 175 percent interest rate cap on small loans.

WHEN:
Monday, July 2, 2018 at 12:30 p.m.

WHERE:     
Lodge and Ranch at Chama
16253 S Chama Highway 84, Chama, NM 87520
Chama, NM 87520

WHO:
Indian Affairs Committee
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
Prosperity Works
FID
Member of the public

FID must fix loopholes in regulations to protect New Mexicans from predatory loans

GALLUP— The New Mexico Financial Institutions Division must close loopholes in storefront loan renewals and ensure greater transparency in the small loan industry, said the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty at a hearing in Gallup today. The FID held the hearing to gather public comment on its proposed HB 347 regulations. The law, passed during the 2017 New Mexico legislative session, imposes a 175 percent APR interest rate cap on small loans. Previous to its passage, most small loans were unregulated and interest rates were even higher.

Gallup, which is almost 50 percent Native American, has the highest concentration of storefront lenders in New Mexico with nearly 50 licensed lenders for a population of less than 23,000. Storefront lenders have long aggressively targeted low-income families and Native communities in the state, pushing loans with high-interest rates or arbitrary fees with little regard for an individual’s ability to repay.

“The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission office receives a variety of consumer complaints about small loans that Navajo citizens enter,” said Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission. “Often times the Navajo consumer is an elder who has been misinformed or not informed of the conditions involving their loans.”

HB 347, in addition to the APR cap, strictly limits the fees that lenders are permitted to charge borrowers, eliminates interest-only payments on the majority of storefront loans, and stipulates that all such loans, except refund anticipation loans, have an initial maturity of 120 days.

Loan renewals, however, are not addressed by the FID’s proposed regulations. This creates a major loophole that leaves consumers vulnerable to interest rates and fees that are now illegal under the law for new loans. The Center urges the FID to close this loophole by clarifying that renewals are subject to the law’s fee limit, interest rate cap, and payment schedule requirements for new loans.

“All New Mexicans deserve access to fair and transparent loans under reasonable terms, including low-income families. But we have a lot of work to do to create a more inclusive economy in our state,” said Christopher Sanchez, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Predatory lending has hurt New Mexican families and our economy in concrete ways, draining millions of dollars from the pockets of those who can least afford it. The FID can meaningfully address this damage to consumers in 2018 by first fixing the loopholes around loan renewals in its regulations.”

In New Mexico, storefront lenders frequently market and encourage borrowers to “renew,” “refinance,” or “rollover” their existing loans. High-cost small loans, with interest rates and fees that add up to several times the loan principal, are often nearly impossible for borrowers to pay off in the short terms that lenders offer.

For many people, the only solution at the end of the repayment period is to renew the loan and pay costly fees and extended high interest payments. Repeated renewals dramatically increase the cost of a small loan and make it extremely difficult for a borrower to calculate the long term financial consequences of the extension.

For example, a Zuni man with a full-time income was struggling to make payments on a $125 loan he took out from a Gallup company 10 years ago. When he was unable to pay back the principal, interest, and high fees by the date the loan was due, he renewed the loan rather than default. He has now renewed his loan over a dozen times and paid the company thousands of dollars in interest and renewal fees. He still cannot pay off the principal.

The FID’s proposed regulations also fail to address the lack of transparency in storefront lending practices. It is all too common in the industry for storefront lenders to mislead borrowers about the true cost of small loans through confusing contract terms, expensive and often useless add-on products, and by marketing loans that conceal long term costs. Because of this intentional subterfuge, it is often difficult or impossible for consumers to calculate the true costs of their loans.

“We should all be able to walk into a small loan store and see how much a loan will actually cost,” said Sanchez. “The market operates more effectively when all members of the public can understand the terms of the contracts they are entering. It’s important that the regulations ensure that loan terms are disclosed to borrowers in clear, straightforward terms.”

The Center also suggests the regulations include improved methods of data collection, greater protections for borrowers of refund anticipation loans, and expanded language accessibility.

“While a small loan business may have a Navajo employee interacting with the Navajo customers, our Navajo plaintiffs indicate that the Navajo employee does not speak the Navajo language well enough to communicate effectively with Navajo elders,” said Gorman. “The new administrative rules must include provisions for explaining the small loan entirely in the language preferred by the customers. Without a language assistance provision, Navajo consumers with difficulty understanding the English language will continue to be disenfranchised because they cannot fully understand the loan documents.”

The FID’s proposed regulations can be found here: www.rld.state.nm.us/financialinstitutions/

The Center’s comments on the proposed regulations can be found here: https://wp.me/a7pqlk-10H

The Center’s suggested changes to the proposed regulations can be found here: https://wp.me/a7pqlk-10I