WASHINGTON — Democratic senators pressed their case Tuesday for several legislative measures that would provide greater financial protections to members of the military.
Service members ought to have stronger protections regarding payday loans, private student loans and foreclosures, Democrats argued during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on how to protect members of the military from financial fraud.
"It is important to remember that military consumers differ from other consumers," Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said. "Many service members are young, have debt, and have little financial education. The military lifestyle requires frequent relocations, forcing spouses to find new employment and families to sell their homes if they've chosen to live off base."
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., pushed two pieces of legislation Tuesday.
One of the measures, which is part of the annual defense authorization bill currently under consideration by the Senate, would tighten an existing law that bars lenders from charging members of the military more than 36% interest on certain loans.
Reed's legislation would direct the Pentagon to extend the existing rate cap to loans structured as open-end revolving credit lines, rather than just those that are structured as closed-end loans.
"Well, open-ended lending is now going to be subject to the cap, too," Reed said. "I don't think we're talking about losing good access to credit."
Under questioning by Reed, Col. Paul Kantwill, director of legal policy at the Pentagon's personnel and readiness office, said that the Defense Department is considering making the proposed legislative change through administrative action.
"We will examine that very, very closely," Kantwill said.
Another bill sponsored by Reed would expand certain credit protections available to members of the military under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
For example, it would extend statutory protections from foreclosures for active-duty service members to include their surviving spouses. It would also expand the kinds of military orders that allow service members to claim active-duty-related credit protection.
Those ideas got support from Holly Petraeus, who testified as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Office of Servicemember Affairs.
"I've heard more than once what a challenge it was when the financial institution would only accept certain written orders, especially for reservists, frankly, who go on and off active duty, very frequently and sometimes very rapidly," Petraeus said.
Also testifying at the hearing was Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden. He joined several Senate Democrats in calling for legislation to tighten an existing law that prohibits for-profit colleges from obtaining more than 90% of their revenue from federal student-aid programs.
Today, loans made under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill do not count toward the 90% cap, but that would change under a bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.