Launching an offensive in the battle over consumer bankruptcy reform, a coalition of creditors urged Congress Monday to scrap proposed changes to the law.
The group, which includes Visa U.S.A. and MasterCard International, charged the National Bankruptcy Review Commission is ignoring the needs of lenders.
"The member organizations of the National Consumer Bankruptcy Coalition urge Congress to reject the commission's consumer bankruptcy recommendations as adopted," reads a letter sent to every member of the House and Senate Banking and Judiciary committees.
"We will strongly oppose any legislation which incorporates the fundamental elements of the commission's recommendations."
The review commission was chartered by Congress in 1995 to recommend reforms to the bankruptcy code. In June the group agreed to recommend banning secured loans of less than $500, treating as unsecured debt the portion of a second mortgage that exceeds the value of the home, and eliminating the ability of consumers to reaffirm debts, which means they may agree to repay the creditor in exchange for keeping the collateral.
The commission previously proposed allowing consumers to exempt up to $140,000 in personal property and home equity from debtors. The commission holds its final meeting Aug. 11 and 12 here and must submit its final report to lawmakers in October.
"Unfortunately, and inexplicably in the face of record consumer bankruptcy filings during strong economic conditions, the commission has adopted recommendations which would make filing for bankruptcy far more attractive and lead to a substantial further increase in total bankruptcy filings," the group wrote.
Bankruptcy filings hit a record 1.1 million last year and are projected to exceed 1.3 million this year.
Commission Chairman Brady C. Williamson would not comment on the letter Monday, saying he had just received it.
Lenders have advocated a "needs-based" approach to bankruptcy, which would require debtors with high incomes to repay creditors.
"The commission has thus far ignored new evidence that a significant percentage of debtors who have such repayment ability are avoiding their financial responsibilities under current law," they said.
The group said the commission's proposal would allow a couple with high- paying jobs to file for Chapter 13 protection. This would allow them to eliminate the unsecured portion of their home-equity loan. They then could automatically convert to Chapter 7.
"As a result, their unsecured creditors would receive zero repayment," the coalition said. "The couple would receive a Chapter 7 discharge and could emerge from bankruptcy with aggregate net-worth holdings placing them in the top quarter of all American households."
In addition to the card companies, the coalition includes the American Bankers Association, Independent Bankers Association, America's Community Bankers, American Financial Services Association, Consumer Bankers Association, Credit Union National Association, and National Retail Federation.
David Sandor, Visa's director of public affairs, said the groups wanted to ensure that the commission and Congress realized the extent of the industry's opposition.
"We hope the commission meeting in August will open the door to the needs-based proposal we put forward," Mr. Sandor said. "But should that not occur, we want to be on record with our fundamental problems with the commission's recommendations."
"There was no reason to wait another three months for the commission to issue its final report," said Philip S. Corwin, a lobbyist at Federal Legislative Associates who represents the ABA. "We know the direction they are going to take, and we don't have any time to waste if we want this Congress to address the problem."