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/