September 26, 2017

Whitehouse, Warren, Merkley, Reed, Sanders Introduce Bill to Protect Consumers from Abusive Lending

Senators’ legislation would allow states to cap credit card interest rates for their residents

Washington, DC – Today, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced legislation to protect Americans from runaway credit card and other consumer loan interest rates.  The Empowering States’ Rights to Protect Consumers Act would restore states’ ability to limit consumer loan interest rates for their residents and help address the over $1 trillion Americans hold in credit card debt.

“Right now, Wall Street banks and their credit card subsidiaries can jack up interest rates on American consumers against state laws.  States should be able to protect their citizens,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “This will bill will help states like Rhode Island control abusive credit card rates and protect their residents.”

“We need to ensure states have the ability to enforce their own rules against lenders doing business within their borders,” said Senator Warren. “States should be empowered to take action to protect consumers from tricks and traps buried in the fine print by credit card companies.”

“Allowing a race to the bottom in state bank regulation is dangerous and puts every American consumer at risk.  This bill ensures that states are able to stand up for their own consumers and enforce the strong consumer financial protections on their books,” said Senator Merkley.

“States should have the power to protect their citizens, but federal courts have prevented states with strong consumer protection laws from fully enforcing them.  This bill would restore Rhode Island’s ability to protect citizens from abusive interest rates,” said Senator Reed.

“Big banks need to stop acting like loan sharks and start acting like responsible lenders,” Senator Sanders said.  “If we are going to create a financial system that works for all Americans, we have got to stop financial institutions from ripping off the American people by charging sky-high interest rates.”

Since the very founding of our country, each state had the ability to enforce usury laws against any lender doing business with its citizens.  That changed in 1978 when the Supreme Court in Marquette National Bank of Minneapolis v. First of Omaha Service Corporation decided that a national bank is bound only by the lending laws of the state in which the bank is based, rendering states powerless to impose lending restrictions against lenders headquartered in other states.  This decision effectively ended usury protections in the United States, as credit card companies located in states with weak or non-existent consumer lending protections.  Without these protections, many consumers now get stuck with interest rates of 30 percent or more.

The Senators’ bill would amend the Truth in Lending Act of 1968 to clarify that consumer lenders—regardless of their location or legal structure—must abide by the interest rate limits of the states in which their customers reside.  Rhode Island, for example, had a state-level interest-rate cap for many years, but abandoned the cap after the Marquette decision rendered it moot.  The Empowering States’ Rights to Protect Consumers Act would allow Rhode Island to re-instate a cap.

According to a study by personal finance website NerdWallet, American households with credit cards averaged balances totaling $16,883 in 2016, and paid an average of $1,292 in credit card interest every year.  Total debt in the United States increased 11 percent in the past decade to $137,063 per household.

Whitehouse and Warren introduced similar legislation in the 113th and 114th Congresses.



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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921