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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

States ask Treasury to exempt stimulus payments from garnishment and urge CFPB to “vigorously enforce” FCRA

Federal Issues CFPB Department of Treasury Forbearance Consumer Finance CARES Act State Attorney General FCRA Regulation V Debt Collection Identity Theft Covid-19 Credit Reporting Agency

Federal Issues

On April 13, a coalition of state attorneys general and the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection (states) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, calling for immediate action to ensure that stimulus checks issued under the CARES Act to consumers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic are not subject to garnishment by creditors and debt collectors. While the CARES Act does not “explicitly designate these emergency stimulus payments as exempt from garnishment,” the states claim that a “built-in mechanism” contained within a provision of the CARES Act can rectify the legislative oversight. Specifically, the states point to Section 2201(h), which “authoriz[es] Treasury to issue ‘regulations or other guidance as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of this section,’” and ask Treasury to immediately designate the stimulus checks as “‘benefit payments’ exempt from garnishment.”

The same day, another coalition of state attorneys general sent a letter to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger urging the Bureau to rescind an April 1 policy statement directed at consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) and furnishers (covered by InfoBytes here) that stated the Bureau will take a “flexible supervisory and enforcement approach during this pandemic regarding compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act [(FCRA)] and Regulation V.” According to the states, the policy statement suggests that the Bureau does not plan on enforcing the CARES Act amendment to the FCRA, which requires lenders to report as current any loans subject to Covid-19 forbearance or other accommodation. The Bureau’s decision, the states contend, may discourage consumers from taking advantage of offered forbearances and other accommodations. The states also argue that allowing CRAs to take longer than the FCRA-prescribed 30 days to investigate consumer disputes puts consumers at risk. The states stress that the recent increase in Covid-19 scams has heightened the need for the Bureau to vigorously enforce the FCRA, and that, moreover, the thousands of complaints received by the states, FBI, FTC, and DOJ concerning phishing and other scams designed to gather consumers’ financial information have highlighted identity theft risks. The states emphasize “that even if the CFPB refuses to act. . .we will not hesitate to enforce the FCRA’s deadlines against companies that fail to comply with the law.”

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