We don’t really pay members of our Armed Forces all that much. A quick visit to the Defense Department’s finance section shows that a recent enlisted person (2 years or less) gets $1,546.83 in basic pay. A person at E5 status can expect $2,202.90 per month. Twenty years of service topping out at the E9 category yields $5,730.41 in basic pay. Those rare souls who last 40 years are looking at $7584.60. There are some added bonuses – not exactly extraordinary – for clothing allowances, there are also allowances for hardship duty pay, assignment incentive pay, and hazardous duty incentive pay (as if the whole idea of being in the military weren’t intrinsically hazardous). There are retention bonuses for medical, dental, and veterinary personnel. Proficiency in foreign languages will also merit some extra pay. But, no matter how many times the figures are totaled the pay still doesn’t place any member of the services in the lap of luxury; not anywhere close.
This is why the following bit of news is especially disturbing:
“The military has been grappling with the financial impact of predatory lending on service members for years. In 2006, Congress passed legislation cracking down on some forms of high-interest credit, particularly payday lending. Lenders responded by exploiting loopholes in the law, and late last year, the Department of Defense proposed a new set of regulations designed to curb these creative workarounds that target troops.” [HuffPo]
Worse still, this is the second time the House Republicans have tried to block the Department of Defense efforts to control predatory lending to military members and their immediate families.
“Republicans have been working to kill those regulations before they can take effect. This week, Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) will offer legislation that would block DOD from finalizing its rules until a host of unrealistic technical certifications could be made for a database of active-duty military members. The House will vote on Stivers’ plan as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, a major bill that establishes military funding.” [HuffPo]
Why all this effort to block Defense Department rules meant to contain the scourge of predatory lending to members of our Armed Forces? And, why all the GOP fussing about the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau? One example unearthed by the CFPB in its report on predatory loans to military personnel may serve to illustrate the issue:
“A lender licensed under the Illinois Consumer Installment Loan Act extended an auto title loan to the spouse of a servicemember at an APR of 300 percent. For the 12-month contract term, the $2,575 loan, including a $95 lien fee, carried a finance charge of $5,720.24. The loan agreement provided the lender with a security interest in the borrower’s vehicle and contained a binding arbitration agreement. Although the Military Lending Act prohibits lenders from taking a non-purchase money security interest in the vehicle of a borrower covered by the law, charging a rate of interest in excess of 36 percent, and requiring covered borrowers to submit to arbitration, the auto title loan in Illinois was not subject to the protections of the Military Lending Act because it had a duration longer than 181 days.” [CFPB pdf]
And there’s another loop hole for the predatory lenders demonstrated by this example:
“An internet-based lender located offshore that targets military borrowers through their marketing extended to a servicemember a line of credit with an APR of 584 percent. In addition to the stated finance charge, the lender charged a “credit access fee” and a “transfer fee” for each draw on the $1,447 credit line. The contract provided the lender with authorization to debit the borrower’s bank account for the minimum payment due each payment period. This loan made to a borrower in Delaware was not subject to the protections of the Military Lending Act because it was structured as an open-end line of credit.” [CFPB pdf]
There were more, equally egregious, examples provided by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report.
Representative Stivers has been the beneficiary of $42,500 in campaign contributions from pay day and predatory lenders. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) took in $65,500; Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) received $53,257; Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) received $41,200; and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) received $32,500. [OPSecrets] Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) received $6,700 in donations from pay day and predatory lenders. [OPSecrets] Predatory lending accounted for $190,150 in contributions to Democrats, and $748,585 in donations to Republicans in Congress. [OPSecrets]
However, no matter how generous the donation, there is no ethical or moral way to justify blocking protections for members of the U.S. Armed Forces from the practices mentioned above on the part of predatory lenders. The White House was quick to respond:
“On Monday, in response to reporters’ questions, White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the potential addition to the annual authorization bill a significant concern for President Obama.
“It’s almost too difficult to believe that you’d have a member of Congress looking to carry water for the payday loan industry, and allow them to continue to target in a predatory fashion military families who in many cases are already in a vulnerable financial state,” he said.
Earnest said he “can’t imagine (the amendment) earning the majority support in the United States Congress.” [MilitaryTimes] [The Hill]
Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) didn’t cover himself in glory the last time this subject emerged [Desert Beacon] one can only hope he’s seen the light since and will oppose the Stiver’s Amendment. At best he can avoid some of the more lame excuses offered by the proponents of this amendment.
Stivers is anxious to tell everyone that he was a member of the military for 30 years – so he cares! And that the Obama Administration doesn’t have a good track record of getting systems going on ‘day one’ noting the computer problems with the health insurance rollout. [TheHill] The “I care” argument is specious if not associated with legislation the intent of which is to protect those about whom one “cares.” Secondly, it is a rare policy indeed which works perfectly the first day – in the public or private sector. in this instance the Representative is making the Perfect the enemy of the Good.
There’s another excuse which needs rehabilitation: “Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) added, “I would quickly point that there are always unintended consequences,” citing concerns of “drying up sources of credit for folks at the bottom end of the economic scale.” [TheHill] “Concerned” is getting to be one of the words commonly connected to opposition to any policy or legislation which might help someone. The question is: Are you more concerned about payday lenders being forced to shave a bit from their profits than about enlisted personnel and young officers being shaved by the pay day lenders?
As for pay day lending drying up any time soon, probably not. In March 2013 the Washington Post reported on some big banks who were treading into the shark pool of pay day lending. By April 2013 the FDIC and the Comptroller of the Currency were looking at the banks’ payday lending practices. [NYT] The spotlight must have been a bit too bright because by January 2014 the larger banks were dropping the pay day loans and trying to find options which “fit within current regulatory expectations.” [CNNMoney] However, the banks were still selling account data to pay day lenders until January 21, 2015. [Bloomberg] And, nothing prevents the major banks from financing the operations of “independent” pay day lenders. [ConsAffairs]
While the big banks may have scurried back out of the light, the payday lending industry continues along,
“Currently, there are about 22,000 storefront payday loan stores nationwide, according to the Consumer Federation of America in Washington, D.C. On average, the industry makes $40 billion in loans and collects $6 billion in finance charges from borrowers each year.” [Bankrate]
There are alternatives. For example: (1) Credit Union loans; (2) Small bank loans; (3) Credit Counseling assistance; and (4) options like credit card advances and credit negotiations. [Bankrate] Representatives Heck, Stivers, and Conway would be better advised to promote the efforts of the Services to provide credit counseling and information to members of the military and their families. The Army Community Service offers a Financial Readiness Program for those who need basic financial information and education. The U.S. Navy offers training in Personal Financial Management. The Air Force has its own Financial Readiness Program, and the Navy and Marine Corps oversees a Relief Fund for urgent financial needs along with caseworkers to assist personnel.
Promoting financial education, and providing services for urgent and emergency needs is a far better way of assisting our service members than protecting the pay day lenders who extend usurious loans to those who are at the “bottom end of the economic scale.”