WASHINGTON - Bankers say they support efforts by the Federal Reserve to make leasing disclosure forms easier to read, but they warn that some of the proposed changes won't lessen customer confusion.
Apparently, the Fed is listening. On Monday, the agency extended the comment period on the proposed changes to Regulation M. The industry now has an extra three months, until Feb. 15, to make its views known.
W. Kurt Schumacher, staff attorney at the Fed, said the comment period was extended so the agency could form focus groups of consumers to review the proposed changes.
Ninety-eight letters were received by the original Nov. 17 deadline, with most backing the proposal in principle while questioning the specifics.
Mr. Schumacher said the agency isn't expecting many more letters from bankers and has begun examining the comments already in hand.
The extension isn't expected to delay implementation of a final rule, which should occur in the second quarter of 1996.
In the proposal, issued Sept. 13, the Fed said 11 disclosures should be highlighted in each lease, including such new points as: gross cost, residual value, and estimated lease charge.
Banks would have a number of options for emphasizing the 11 disclosures, such as the use of distinct typefaces.
Among the new disclosures, gross cost is defined as the total value of all items included in a lease at consummation. Residual value is the property's predetermined worth at the end of the lease term. Estimated lease charge is the amount of interest and fees the customer pays either up front or during the term of the lease.
It also said customers must be provided an estimate of any charges that may apply if the lease is terminated early.
Garry W. Marquiss, corporate lease manager at Barnett Banks Inc., Jacksonville, Fla., and many other bankers agreed that some disclosures needed to be distinguished from other information in the lease. But he argued in his comment letter that the new disclosures needed to be tweaked.
For example, he said, the early termination charge could even be used to trick the customer.
"At best, it is an educated guess," Mr. Marquiss said, adding that "leasing companies could manipulate this figure to disclose a lower early termination charge, thereby obtaining a competitive advantage over others in the industry."
Several bankers took issue with other disclosures. Patrick M. Frawley, director of regulatory relations at NationsBank Corp., said the gross cost was distorted because it included up-front fees and charges.
A. Lee Hardagree 3d, counsel at Amsouth Bancorp., Birmingham, Ala., said the estimated lease charge in the proposal was "overbroad, since it includes sales taxes and tag-and-title fees that are clearly not part of the financing of the transaction."
Also, the Credit Union National Association said the $25,000 threshold should be removed, so consumer leasing rules can apply regardless of dollar amount.