Removing Barriers Blog

FCC Plans Proposal for Changes to TCPA for Federal Debts
Posted March 17, 2016 by Chandler Schuette

We have been hearing recent reports that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released some details of a draft rule to exempt autodialer calls to collect federal debt from Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) restrictions. Those federal debts include federal student loans and FHA/VA guaranteed loans.

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler included the new details of a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in letters responding to federal lawmakers who oppose the new exemption for government debt collectors.

Under the amended TCPA, a call to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the U.S. government will no longer require the prior express consent of the recipient. The exemption applies to calls and texts to cell phone numbers using an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS or autodialer) or an artificial or prerecorded voice, and calls to residential phone numbers using an artificial or prerecorded voice. The law requires the FCC to issue implementing regulations by Aug. 2.

The letter notes that the NPRM will include the following proposals:

  • Only calls made after a debtor has become delinquent are covered by the exception;
  • To limit the calls to creditors and those calling on their behalf, including debt servicers;
  • Robocalls can only be made to the debtor, so as to prevent unwanted robocalls to relatives, friends, and other acquaintances of debtors;
  • To limit the number of calls to three per month per delinquency; and
  • To empower consumers with the right to stop calls from a federal creditor at any time and to require callers to inform debtors of this right.

The draft NPRM also makes clear that the new rules will not open a door for telemarketing calls. "The Commission remains steadfast in its defense of protections against unwanted calls. Congress specified that exempted calls must be 'solely' to collect a federal debt, and we will ensure they do not go beyond that boundary."

Wheeler’s letter also notes that, “Commission staff worked closely with the CFPB staff in drafting the NPRM and developing the aforementioned proposals and has also consulted closely with the Department of Treasury, Department of Education and other federal stakeholders.”

CUNA has previously engaged with the FCC about concerns that the TCPA order from the Commission last summer will detrimentally impact credit unions and other financial institutions. We also filed an amicus brief in the litigation challenging the order, saying that it “severely restricts the ability of financial institutions and other callers to engage in useful, and often urgent, communications with their customers and members.”

Once the NPRM is put out for comment, we plan to weigh in on several aspects of the proposal, and will urge the FCC to consider whether such changes are also appropriate for collecting debts owed to federally insured financial institutions, like credit unions and banks.