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SOTU from POTUS: Banking and finance played a lead role in President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday night. For one, Obama vowed to keep Dodd-Frank intact, saying the law's rules and the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are protecting American consumers. However, Obama avoided direct bashing of banks, declining to take up the same rhetoric as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. An example of Obama's speech that touched on banks shows he could have taken a far tougher approach: "We have new tools to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts and a new consumer watchdog to protect us from predatory lending and abusive credit card practices." Still, Obama again talked of a new fee levied on the biggest banks, calculated based on their levels of risk, which has been called a "financial crisis responsibility fee." The fee would probably be directed at not only banks, but also other financial institutions. Obama didn't discuss the tax in any detail. Most media outlets noted that, with a Republican-led Congress, Obama's proposals stand little chance of passage.
Cash in Their Pockets: With tax season underway, Walmart has declared war on a new front with banks: handing out tax refunds in cash for little or no fees. It's the retailing giant's latest move into financial services. Walmart's product, called Direct2Cash, is being developed in partnership with Republic Bank & Trust, a Louisville, Ky., bank that once offered tax refund-anticipation loans before running afoul of regulators, and Tax Products Group. The Direct2Cash product will be available in about 3,000 of its stores. Customers will be able to get their refund in about a week, the same time it would take if for a direct deposit refund on an electronically filed return, the Times reported. The service is aimed, as are most of Walmart's financial-services products, at underbanked consumers who likely don't have a bank account. A customer will be able to pick up a maximum of $7,500 cash refund. The service is available through select tax-preparation companies (Walmart hasn't released the list of those firms yet) and is not available to people who file their taxes electronically.
Wall Street Journal
The Supreme Court will take up the issue of disparate impact on Wednesday, a subject with wide-ranging effects for mortgage lenders. Countrywide (now part of Bank of America), SunTrust and Wells Fargo are among the banks that reached financial settlements with the Justice Department after they were accused of charging higher rates to minority borrowers. But the state of Texas wants to roll back Fair Housing Act requirements and continue to give subsidies to developers that build housing in low-income, mostly African American areas, without the fear of discrimination lawsuits. Housing advocates want the law to continue to be enforced, saying the developers who build in these areas and who receive subsidies should be held accountable by being forced to build subsidized housing in higher-income areas as well.
The "Heard on the Street" column looks at why American Express is viewed as a premium credit card, but shares of American Express don't trade at a premium compared to rivals.
New York Times
The Times convenes a group of six industry experts and players to weigh in on the topic of payday loans. Commentators like Gary Kalman of the Center for Responsible Lending and Valerie Wilson of the Economic Policy Institute say predatory interest rates should be banned, while Jamie Fulmer of the lender Advance America, says banks and nonbanks should be allowed to compete by the same rules, and thus on a level playing field. Former CFPB deputy director Raj Date carves out a middle ground, of sorts, saying an improved regulatory scheme could allow consumers to continue to access short-term credit, but without the punishing interest rates and fees.