Late Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that allows financial institutions to keep putting clauses in loan contracts—including auto loans—that prevents consumers from banding together to file class-action lawsuits against lenders. Auto dealers are particularly pleased by the vote, which passed 51-50 after Vice President Mike Pence weighted in to break a tie.
This summer, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau—an independent regulator that oversees financial institutions—issued a rule that said companies cannot ban people from joining together to file class-action suits against them.
Over the last several years, more and more companies have started to bury language in the fine print of loan contracts that bars consumers from suing them. Instead, consumers are forced into private arbitration, where they face less-than-favorable circumstances, even if they get screwed over.
The CFPB stepped in to stop the growing trend, aiming to give consumers some protection against banks which, time and again, have displayed a keenness for unsavory conduct. Created by the Dodd-Frank Act, a law passed to rein in financial institutions following the economic collapse of the late-2000s, the CFPB was tasked with studying the arbitration clause, reports Bloomberg, and eventually set about implementing the rule to ban it.
The rule, as The New York Times put it, “would have dealt a serious blow to financial firms, potentially exposing them to a flood of costly lawsuits over questionable business practices.”
It wasn’t expected to go uncontested. The U.S. Treasury, led by Goldman Sachs alum Steven Mnuchin, directly waded into the fight this week, and put together a report that alleged the CFPB’s rule could cost financial firms an estimated $500 million. (Goldman alone generated $30 billion in net revenue last year.)
And after a staunch campaign by financial institutions—despite the major security breach of Equifax and the myriad scandals ensnaring Wells Fargo—Senate Republicans rallied 50 members of their caucus to pass a resolution that would ban the CFPB’s rule from going into effect.
Auto dealers are particularly pleased with the outcome.
Steve Jordan is CEO of the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association, which represents some 40,000 used car dealers. He said in a statement that his group is “pleased the Senate recognized the fallacy behind the CFPB’s ill-conceived arbitration rule.”
“This rule was nothing more than a boon to class action lawyers levied on the backs of America’s hard-working consumers,” Jordan said, parroting one of the many talking points shared Tuesday.
Jordan said arbitration provides more financial relief to consumers than a class-action lawsuit, at an average of about $5,000 a claim. But that’s if they ever even make it to arbitration.
The agency found that once blocked from suing, few people went to arbitration at all. And the results for those who did were dismal. During the two-year period studied, only 78 arbitration claims resulted in judgments in favor of consumers, who got $400,000 in total relief.
So that’s how Jordan ended up with $5,000: He took the total relief over a two year-period ($400,000) and divided it by the small number of claims that actually resulted in judgments favorable to consumers. It’s amazing what you can do with numbers.
The resolution now heads to President Trump, who’s expected to sign it into law.