2015 was a big year for Woodstock Institute and allies working to expand opportunities for workers to save for retirement and to receive unbiased investment advice. Please take action on two retirement issues described below.
Over the past year, Woodstock has expanded the work it has done to promote greater access to safe and affordable credit for small businesses, building on our 2014 report, Discredited: Disparate Access to Credit for Businesses in the Chicago Six County Region. That report examined lending by large banks to businesses in lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color, specifically small loans that are most likely to go to locally-owned, neighborhood businesses that provide jobs to local residents. The analysis of lending patterns showed that businesses in those neighborhoods were much less likely to have received loans from large banks than businesses in more affluent, predominantly white neighborhoods.
This morning it was my honor to join United States Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs, Senator Daniel Biss, John Rogers of Ariel Investments, and others for a roundtable and press conference to announce the much anticipated proposed rule on retirement savings that will positively impact over a million Illinois private-sector workers. The proposed rule is open for public comments for 60 days.
Years ago, as a young married person contemplating starting a family and saving for my children’s college education, I engaged for the first time with a financial planning firm. I learned the hard way the difference between an advisor who earns commissions based on sales of insurance and investment products, and an advisor who works for fees only on a fiduciary basis and does not sell products or earn commissions (such as a fee-only Certified Financial Planner). My initial planner recommended that I invest in a particular 529 college savings plan, without telling me that the recommend plan paid the highest commissions, rather than in a 529 plan with lower costs and better opportunities to grow savings. While I eventually switched my college investments to a lower-cost 529 plan, many people remain stuck in less advantageous college investments because they received advice from advisors who are not acting under a fiduciary standard, which requires that the advisor put the investor’s interests first, not the interests of lining the advisor’s own pockets. Fiduciary standards are needed to protect consumers and help families save more for college.
Illinois has been operating without a budget for two months. The impact has been immediate and felt across the state. No budget means no money for vital services for children and families. Woodstock Institute worked with the Responsible Budget Coalition (RBC) earlier this summer to urge lawmakers to pass a budget that focuses on generating revenue over simply cutting more services. Now is the time for lawmakers to take the lead and produce a budget that puts these services back in order.
A growing number of financial products and services are becoming available online. From mortgages to student loans to small business loans, consumers and business owners are able to borrow with a few strokes of the keyboard. While the increased accessibility of products and services may have some benefits for consumers, a number of unregulated financial products may actually do more harm than good. In order to further assess the situation, the United States Department of the Treasury has sent out a request for information about online lending, specifically focusing on small business lending and consumer lending. The data that the Treasury Department receives will help it determine what kind of regulation may be needed to protect borrowers in the online marketplace.
The U.S. House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) passed HR 1731, “Reforming CFPB Indirect Auto Financing Guidance Act,” last week. This bill sets limits to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) jurisdiction over auto financing products. Both Illinois congressmen on the HFSC, Representative Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and Representative Bill Foster (D-IL), voted in favor of the bill. Now the bill goes to the full House of Representatives. Woodstock Institute is disappointed that our elected officials on the HFSC voted in favor of HR 1731.We strongly urge Congress to vote against this bill to keep consumers safe from exploitive car finance products.
Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). This act made discrimination against people with disabilities illegal and ensured that the proper accommodations are made for people with disabilities in employment, government services, public and commercial facilities, and transportation. People with disabilities make up about 20 percent of the United States population, according to 2012 census data. The ADA has made it easier for people with disabilities to live their lives and be self-sufficient, but the battle for full economic inclusion is ongoing.
President Obama endorses initiatives to make retirement savings available to workers: “To me, the answer is clear. We need to uphold the basic tenet that says, in America, a lifetime of hard work should be rewarded with a retirement that is secure and dignified,” he wrote. Woodstock Institute agrees with the President, who stated: “This is about more than bank accounts or bottom lines. It’s about the values that make America great — honesty, fair play, dignity. And it’s about our commitment to each other and respecting everyone’s value, no matter how young or old you are.” The President recently called for the Department of Labor to develop rules that will help states set up automatic retirement savings programs for private-sector workers. Woodstock Institute supports this development and calls on the Department to issue the rules quickly.
Illinois has spent almost a month without an operating budget, forcing providers to cut vital services to Illinois’ children, families, and communities, and eliminate essential jobs. The budget standoff leaves the state’s most vulnerable populations at risk. The Responsible Budget Coalition (RBC) is urging lawmakers to enact a budget that includes adequate revenue and does not leave social services in the dust.
It was very fitting that the Obama Administration and Department of Defense (DoD) released the final Military Lending Act (MLA) rules on the fifth anniversary of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank) and the fourth anniversary of the launch of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on July 21, 2015. The final MLA rules are a great example of how to conduct evidence-based policymaking to protect consumers from unfair and abusive financial products and practices.
Americans are living longer, and so the money they set aside for retirement has to stretch further. Also, more seniors are experiencing financial insecurity in the aftermath of the housing market crash. To deal with living costs, many seniors turn to reverse mortgages, which allow them to receive loan payments based on the equity in their homes. However, reverse mortgages are complicated, and most consumers do not really understand their potential risks and pitfalls. Seniors in Illinois may soon have less to worry about because the state legislature approved a bill that would add consumer protections to reverse mortgages.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently asked the public what it can do to improve student loan servicing through a request for information (RFI). Response to the RFI, which closed on Monday, was overwhelming: over 30,000 people and organizations submitted comments. We submitted our own comment letter as well as joined with over 100 organizations from across the country urging the CFPB to improve student loan servicing. Many student loan borrowers told stories about their difficulties repaying their loans, like these borrowers who we profiled in our comment letter about Sallie Mae earlier this month:
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is collecting consumer comments about student loan servicing until July 13. This process lets the CFPB know about potential consumer protection risks and could be the first step towards regulating the massive student loan servicing industry, so we urge you to tell the CFPB about your experiences repaying your student loans and whether you have encountered trouble seeking an affordable repayment plan, getting your payments applied correctly, communicating with your servicer, or other issues.
Woodstock Institute and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, along with 13 partner organizations, submitted a comment letter to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) today raising concerns about Sallie Mae Bank’s banking and lending practices. Sallie Mae Bank is falling short on its Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) obligations. This is largely due problems with its “non-traditional” private student loans, which are loans to college students with low credit scores, particularly those who attend for-profit colleges. In 2008, Sallie Mae Bank announced that it would discontinue making these type of loans, but they owned and serviced non-traditional loans during its CRA examination period.