Credit unions have been given the cold shoulder from the federal government for a number of years now, but it appears that their “zero rating” program has finally been put to the test.
The US Department of Education announced Tuesday that it will no longer support the program in the face of an ongoing crackdown on predatory lenders and the inability to make it work effectively.
The Department of Justice has been taking a more active role in prosecuting predatory lending, and in March the DOJ announced it would not be pursuing the same charges against the nation’s largest credit union, the American Bankers Association.
“The Department has taken a more aggressive approach to predatory lending,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Petersen said in a statement.
“We are confident that the DOJ will be able to enforce the law to protect taxpayers and our credit system.”
But the program was in danger of being shut down because of the growing number of predatory lenders operating in the industry.
“This is not about us.
This is about the people who are trying to prey on vulnerable Americans,” said Chris Hurd, CEO of the National Association of Credit Unions.
“If we can’t protect people, we’re going to shut down the banks.”
The program, which had been in place since 2005, allowed a company to get a federal waiver to be considered a “financial institution” under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
That allowed the company to be exempt from federal regulations and restrictions, such as reporting on the names of its customers and limiting the amount of information they can share.
But the DOJ has stepped in and stopped this program, saying it’s now impossible to ensure that a financial institution has zero ratings.
“Under the Obama administration, credit unions have repeatedly been told that they are too small to be counted on to protect consumers and that there is nothing they can do about it,” Hurd said.
“It’s just too late.
They’re being shut out of the credit system.
This has been a disaster for them.
They have been left in the dark.”
The government will also now be taking a tougher stance against lenders that do not follow the government’s rules and practices when it comes to predatory credit.
“For too long, the government has ignored predatory lenders, allowing them to prey against vulnerable Americans by failing to adequately monitor their operations,” Petersen said.
This week, the US Treasury Department announced a $1.1 billion settlement to settle claims that it failed to properly monitor and track the financial activity of the American Express, Chase and Wells Fargo.
The DOJ said it will also step up enforcement of federal rules against predatory lenders by creating an Office of Fair Lending.
The settlement agreement comes just days after the Justice Department announced it was opening a criminal investigation into Wells Fargo and its subsidiaries, the Federal Reserve Bank and the Credit UnIONS.
The investigation will look into the conduct of three executives in those companies and how the financial institutions handled customers and customer accounts.
In its announcement, the Department of the Treasury said the settlement will allow it to provide more financial resources to law enforcement agencies to conduct more robust and comprehensive investigations into predatory lending.
The government also announced it will spend an additional $1 billion over the next two years to ensure banks can comply with the Fair Lender Act.