Can the CFPB Bring Debt Collection Laws into the 21st Century?

When the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) takes authority on July 21, debt collectors and communications companies should pay close attention. If the CFPB has its way, the rules may be changing.

Old laws, new technologies
The rules governing consumer communications for debt collection haven’t seen a major update since they were written in 1977. While the FTC has enforcement power in this area, it can’t write rules—Congress must provide direction. Consequently, the rules guiding the debt collection industry have evolved based on decisions by the courts.

In the meantime, technology has outpaced the law. Debt collectors have taken advantage of the latest available methods of communication, such as cell phones, autodialers and email, while the compliance requirements have largely remained murky.

At the same time, complaints about debt collection practices to the FTC continue to rise. While the number is relatively low compared to the amount of overall activity, the FTC receives more complaints about debt collectors than any other industry. The agency has also raised concerns about how new communication tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, will impact the future of debt collection.

Priorities for the CFPB
While mortgages, credit cards and payday loans will be the early priorities for the CFPB, high on the list of to-do items will be to update the laws governing consumer communications for debt collection. Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB will be responsible not only for enforcing the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), but it will also have a new ability to write the rules. This raises new issues, such as how new regulations will affect how debt collection companies can contact consumers.

Even as lenders and communications companies have expressed concern about the CFPB writing the rules, the hope is that the agency will create a more predictable legal structure that covers new technologies and reduces the uncertainty around compliance. Faced with the prospect of clarifying the compliance requirements around debt collection, the ACA (Association of Collection and Credit Professionals) has started to get in front of the CFPB by putting together its own blueprint.

Will the CFPB be ready by July 21?
Over the last year, the CFPB has been busy building an organizational structure but still lacks a leader appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. (Elizabeth Warren is currently the unofficial director.) Without a permanent director in place, the agency will be unable to gain full regulatory authority on July 21 – the date set by the Treasury Department. Until then, the CFPB will be able to enforce existing laws but will be unable to write new regulations.

Despite the political uncertainty, debt collectors and communications firms still need to be prepared. One way is to ensure you’re following industry best practices established by ACA.

To help you be ready for any outcome, we’ll continue to follow this issue and keep you apprised of the CFPB’s direction.

Let us know your thoughts and concerns in the comment section. Or feel free to contact your Experian rep directly with any questions you may have.

Helpful links:

Association of Credit and Collection Professionals
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (PDF)
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)