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Newest 'Don't Tax' Rally Draws 9,000 CU Advocates To Website

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WASHINGTON (10/4/13)--The response to Wednesday's online Don't Tax my Credit Union rally was outstanding, "and we urge credit unions to keep up this up-tempo advocacy activity going forward," Credit Union National Association Senior Vice President of Political Affairs Richard Gose said Thursday.

Overall, 9,000 unique visitors logged on to the Credit Union National Association's www.DontTaxMyCreditUnion.org site. Seventy percent of these hits came from first-time visitors. Many more viewed the rally on TheHill.com's online event stream, and the stream received public play in office conference rooms across the country.

The online rally again stoked credit union advocates into action, with more than 2,300 emails and nearly 2,200 tweets being sent on to members of the U.S. Congress. In total, the campaign has sent well over 1 million messages to congress.

Rally participants were encouraged to use Facebook, Twitter and other forms of online media to demonstrate their support of credit unions and send a unified message to members of Congress: Don't Tax my Credit Union!

"All told it's hard to say exactly how many eye balls were on the rally but we had a lot of participation and are very pleased," Gose added. But, CUNA has emphasized that this increased level of credit union tax status advocacy will need to continue going forward.

During the Wednesday webinar, CUNA Senior Vice President of Legislative Affairs Ryan Donovan underlined that "advocacy is a long game" and "we need to make sure we stay engaged." (For News Now coverage of credit union league Capitol Hill meetings this week, see: CUs' Hill Visits Fruitful Despite Shutdown.)

CFPB Takes Debt Settlement Action

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WASHINGTON (10/4/13)--The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Thursday took action against debt settlement payment processor Meracord LLC, alleging that the firm helped debt-settlement companies collect illegal fees from consumers.

Meracord, according to CFPB Deputy Director Steve Antonakes, helped debt settlement companies "collect money that should have gone to pay down a consumer's debt but instead went to the debt-settlement companies in the form of illegal advance fees."

Antonakes in a release noted the Telemarketing Sales Rule specifies that companies that engage in debt-settlement services cannot charge or collect a fee unless they first reduce or alter a debt. "This law protects consumers from paying upfront for services that may not materialize and that may leave them even deeper in debt. We believe that Meracord knew or should have known that it was processing illegal upfront fees charged to consumers in violation of this rule," he wrote.

The CFPB alleges that Meracord processed more than 11,000 payments.

Under the terms of a CFPB order, Meracord and company owner Linda Remsberg would pay a $1.376 million civil penalty. The company would also be required to halt all illegal activities, and Meracord and Remsberg would be banned from processing payments of any kind for debt relief or mortgage assistance relief providers.

The CFPB would monitor the company going forward to ensure compliance with the order.

The order was filed in federal district court in the Western District of Washington on Thursday, according to the CFPB.

CUNA Backs Rep. Huizenga's Amended CFPB Bill

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WASHINGTON (10/4/13)--Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) last week introduced a pared-down version of the Consumer Mortgage Choice Act (H.R. 3211),  a bill which would address some credit union concerns regarding point and fee definitions in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's amended final "Ability to Repay" rule.

H.R. 3211 is a revised version of H.R. 1077, which Huzienga introduced earlier this year. The legislator simplified his earlier bill to increase its chances of final passage, CUNA Senior Vice President of Legislative Affairs Ryan Donovan said.

The CFPB's "Ability to Repay" rule, which will require lenders to determine a borrower's ability to repay before writing a mortgage loan, is slated to take effect on Jan. 10, 2014. CUNA remains concerned about the definition of points and fees in the rule, CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney wrote. "Specifically, we are concerned that the inclusion of affiliated title charges remains as part of the points and fees definition," he said.

Huizenga's new bill, which was referred to the House Financial Services Committee late last week, would exclude from the definition compensation which is retained by a creditor or its affiliate as a result of its participation in an affiliated business arrangement as defined under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.

"Defining points and fees in this way will maintain a competitive marketplace, prevent over-pricing or limiting choice in low-moderate income areas and allow consumers to enjoy the existing benefit of working through one entity for their new mortgage or refinance," Cheney wrote.

Cheney thanked Huizenga for introducing the bill, and said CUNA looks forward to helping him move the bill through Congress.

CUs' Hill Visits Fruitful Despite Shutdown

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WASHINGTON (10/4/13)--While the government shutdown continued to make news from coast to coast, credit union advocates from 10 states were undeterred in their advocacy efforts, taking to Capitol Hill to again spread the good news about credit unions and urge the continuation of their tax status.

State credit union league and credit union representatives from Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska and Ohio joined the Don't Tax My Credit Union fight by hiking Capitol Hill this week, backing the Credit union National Association's own Wednesday online efforts. (See related story: Newest 'Don't Tax' Rally Draws 9,000 CU advocates to Websites.)

More than two dozen credit union advocates traveled as part of a Michigan Credit Union League (MCUL) and Affiliates group, meeting with someone from nearly every legislator's office. "All of the congressional staff and lawmakers we talked to understood our issues and were engaged in the conversation," league President Dave Adams said, noting that both staff and lawmakers were engaged in the discussion of credit union issues, despite the turmoil over the government shutdown that is dominating most conversations in Washington right now. "It's obvious they have heard the credit union message loud and clear," he added.
 
All 16 members of the Michigan congressional delegation have said they support credit unions, with some specifically saying they would not vote for a bill that changed the credit union tax status.

Click to view larger image Ohio Credit Union League Director of Public Affairs Patrick Harris poses with his group's leave-behind lunchbox, packed with credit union fact sheets and Buckeyes candy, in front of that state's official flower, the Scarlet Carnation.  The flower is part of a series of state flowers displayed in Credit Union House on Capitol Hill. (CUNA photo)
The Ohio Credit Union League and credit unions from that state took a unique approach to their visits, bringing along steel lunch boxes as leave-behinds for members of Congress. The lunch boxes, which are packed with credit union fact sheets and Buckeyes candy from that state, are meant to give legislators food for thought and respond to banks that claim credit unions are "eating their lunch." An accompanying tag notes that "credit unions aren't eating anyone's lunch. They're simply a banking alternative for 2.7 million Ohioans who choose a not-for-profit financial co-op to serve their families' needs."

The Missouri credit union group has also reported positive results from their meetings. Shannon Payne, a Poplar Bluff FCU board member, said she is sending a simple message to her legislative representatives. "We don't want to be taxed...we're for the community."