A plan to repeal major aspects of Dodd-Frank — legislation enacted to regulate the types of lender behavior that contributed to the 2008 economic crisis — crossed its first major hurdle last week when the U.S. House passed the Financial Choice Act.
The bill still has to pass the U.S. Senate and be signed by the president before becoming a law. However, if it does, significant changes would be made to some regulations that might require consumers to pay more attention to their financial decisions.
“[The Financial Choice Act] stands for economic growth for all, but bank bailouts for none. We will end bank bailouts once and for all. We will replace bailouts with bankruptcy,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), House Financial Services Committee chairman, said in a press release. “We will replace economic stagnation with a growing, healthy economy.”
What’s at stake with the Financial Choice Act, and how does it impact your finances? We’ll explore these questions in this post.
What did the Dodd-Frank Act do, anyway?
Bailouts: After it was implemented in 2010 by President Barack Obama, one of the law’s main pillars was enacting the “Orderly Liquidation Authority” to use taxpayer dollars to bail out financial institutions that were failing but considered “too big to fail” — meaning their collapse would significantly hurt the economy. In addition, Dodd-Frank created a fund for the FDIC to use instead of taxpayer dollars for any future bailouts.
Consumer watchdog: Dodd-Frank also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent government agency that focuses on protecting “consumers from unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices and take action against companies that break the law.”
In one of its most high profile cases to date, the CFPB in 2016 fined Wells Fargo $100 million for allegedly opening accounts customers did not ask for.
The CFPB’s actions against predatory practices in a number of industries, including payday lending, prepaid debit cards, and mortgage lenders, among others, have won the agency many fans among consumer advocates.
“In fewer than six years, [the CFPB has] returned $12 million to over 29 million Americans, not just harmed by predatory lenders or fly-by-night debt collectors, but some of the biggest banks in the country,” says Ed Mierzwinski, director of the consumer program for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for consumers.
And how would the Financial Choice Act change Dodd-Frank?
No more bailouts: The Financial Choice Act would replace Dodd-Frank’s Orderly Liquidation Authority with a new bankruptcy code. So financial institutions would have a path to declare bankruptcy in lieu of shutting down completely.
Fewer regulations for banks: The act will provide community banks with “almost two dozen” regulatory relief bills that will lessen the number of rules small banks need to comply with, making it easier for them to operate.
A weaker CFPB: It would convert the CFPB into the Consumer Law Enforcement Agency (CLEA) and make it part of the executive branch. The Financial Choice Act also gives the president the ability to fire the head of the newly created CLEA at any time, for any reason, and gives Congress control over it and its budget. These changes will take away much of the power the CFPB holds to monitor the marketplace and pursue any unfair practices.
“It not only took the bullets out of [the CFPB’s] guns, it took their guns away,” Mierzwinski says.
Specifically, he says the CFPB would no longer be able to go after high-cost, small-dollar credit institutions, such as payday lenders and auto title lenders.
However, some experts see benefits from taking the teeth out of the CFPB.
“I personally think that’s a good thing because I think the way that the CFPB is structured is fundamentally flawed,” says Robert Berger, a retired lawyer who now runs doughroller.net, a personal finance blog. “You basically have one person with very little meaningful oversight that can have a huge impact on the regulations of the financial industry.”
The bill also would roll back the U.S. Department of Labor’s new fiduciary rule, which isn’t part of Dodd-Frank, but requires retirement financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interests. It went into partial effect on June 9.
What does this mean to consumers?
If the Financial Choice Act becomes law, opponents say it could mean that consumers will have to be even more careful with their financial choices and who they trust as a financial adviser because there will be less government oversight.
“If you’re a consumer, you’re going to have to watch your wallet even if you have a zippered pocket with a chain on your wallet,” Mierzwinski says.
If the bill passes the Senate, it could still face some hurdles. Any changes to Dodd-Frank regulations would need to be approved by the heads of the Federal Reserve System and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Comptroller of the Currency.
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