WASHINGTON - While banks often protest new regulations, industry officials are cheering a disclosure form being developed by the Federal Reserve Board that would clarify car leasing for consumers.
To simplify car-leasing contracts, the Fed would require a standardized disclosure box at the top of the agreements. Although the measure would mean additional paperwork initially, bankers feel that it would reduce the legal and administrative costs that stem from the complex contracts currently used.
Frank Vella, national sales and service executive for Chase Auto Finance, said the Fed's changes would standardize leasing disclosures, which vary from state to state.
"Right now there is no consistent national standard in lease disclosures," Mr. Vella said. "This means we have to deal with 50 different types of contracts which often change quickly and with little notice."
Such changes are often costly for banks because they require computer reprogramming and staff training. "We believe states will still put their own twists on the leasing contracts, but we think (the Fed's plan) will limit the number of changes," Mr. Vella said.
The Fed, which controls leasing agreements through Regulation M, plans to unveil its new disclosure form for public comment in August. The form is expected to be complete by April, and go into effect by October 1996.
The regulatory changes are motivated in part by the increasing popularity of car leases.
The business has had a 65% share increase over the last 10 years and banks are beginning to play a major role in the $62 billion industry. According to the American Bankers Association, more than 150 banks are involved in auto leasing.
But the increase in leasing has brought with it a wave of lawsuits. Class-action suits have been filed alleging that consumers have been misled.
Daniel W. Morton, vice president and counsel for Huntington National Bank, said the transition to the new form could cost banks hundreds of thousands of dollars. But limiting the industry's exposure to lawsuits will be worth the cost, he added.
"The cost of complying is not insignificant," he said. "But the simplicity and brevity will make it easier to comply, and it leaves less room for lawyers to pick at nits."
The form is designed to highlight information considered important to consumers.
"We believe that we are all better off if we have a contract that is more readable and understandable," said Fed Governor Lawrence Lindsey. "We want to provide useful information so the consumer can make an informed choice when leasing a car."
The Fed's proposal is expected to require disclosure of the "gross cost," which is the cost of the car plus taxes and insurance. While bankers agree the figure should be included, there is disagreement over what to call the number.
Marcia Z. Sullivan, director of government relations for the Consumer Bankers Association, said most lessors are supporting the use of the term "capitalized cost" instead of "gross cost."
But Mr. Lindsey said "capitalized cost" is not a term the average consumer is going to understand.
Mr. Vella at Chase Manhattan said consumers can grow accustomed to "capitalized cost" just as they did to "annual percentage rate" with car loans.
Mr. Lumetta writes for Medill News Service.