GOP Pushes to Repeal Regulations on Prepaid-Card Companies

GOP Pushes to Repeal Regulations on Prepaid-Card Companies

Republican legislators have moved to repeal a rule constraining prepaid–debit card companies before the rule can take effect, marking the latest effort in their recent campaign of widespread deregulation.

Seven GOP senators—led by David Perdue of Georgia—and four representatives—led by Tom Graves, also of Georgia—filed identical resolutions in the Senate and House of Representatives last week, invoking an obscure law called the Congressional Review Act to smother a proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule before it can be enacted.

The CFPB rule, scheduled to take effect in October, would provide safeguards for those who use prepaid cards, which are similar to debit cards but are preloaded with a designated amount of money by the cardholder. The rule would require providers to disclose hidden fees and protect against loss, theft, and unauthorized charges. The rule would also force prepaid-card companies to limit overdraft fees.

NetSpend, a division of the Georgia-based Total System Services (TSYS), is the only major provider of prepaid cards that has overdraft fees and, as such, is the biggest apparent beneficiary of the GOP move. The prepaid-card provider, which has lambasted the rule as “onerous,” announced in an October earnings call that it expected to lose $80 million to $85 million each year in overdraft fees, comprising 10 percent to 12 percent of its current revenue, as a result of the CFPB rule.

“It is outrageous that Congress may block basic fraud protections on prepaid cards so that NetSpend can keep gouging struggling families with overdraft fees that have no place on prepaid cards,” Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), said in a statement.

In 2016, parent company TSYS donated thousands of dollars to the Senate and House campaigns of the Georgia Republicans and also contributed to the campaign of Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, another co-sponsor of the repeal resolution.

The resolution would give NetSpend a reprieve from federal scrutiny of its business practices. The company is currently in the middle of a legal battle with the Federal Trade Commission over deceptive marketing allegations.

Under the Congressional Review Act, which allows federal lawmakers to eliminate recently finalized rules with a simple majority vote in both chambers, the resolution would still require presidential approval. President Trump, who promised to “do a number” on Dodd-Frank, the Wall Street reform law, has shown a penchant for deregulation and would seem a safe bet to sign off on such a resolution.

The Republican push to gut the CFPB rule comes as more and more Americans are giving up on traditional banks and relying more on alternative payment methods like prepaid cards. In 2015, 7 percent of U.S. households, or about 15.6 million adults and 7.6 million children, didn’t have a bank account at all, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Prepaid cards are most popular among low-income people who can’t qualify for a credit card. Even consumers with good credit histories sometimes turn to prepaid cards to avoid high overdraft fees, thereby sacrificing the legal safeguards that come with conventional banking. If the GOP repeal plan is successful, they’ll get the worst of both worlds.