March 26, 2020 / 4:07 PM / 5 days ago

U.S. regulators urge banks to get back into small-dollar lending

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. bank regulators told banks on Thursday they should strongly consider extending small-dollar loans to struggling people and businesses to help them make ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a joint statement from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other regulatory agencies, the regulators said banks are well-positioned to help struggling borrowers who are facing severe drops in revenue or income with short-term lines of credit. The statement is aimed at reassuring banks to do more short-term lending, after institutions largely abandoned the practice in recent years amid regulatory scrutiny.

Separately, the CFPB said it would provide mortgage firms temporary relief from data disclosures, including quarterly mortgage loan data, so that lenders could focus on responding to borrowers in need.

The agency said it would also relax disclosure requirements for credit card and prepaid account issuers and that it would ease its supervisory activities in cases where “operational challenges” impede the ability of the firms to help consumers.

On a related front, the Fed announced that banks with under $5 billion in assets would have an extra month to file financial statements that were originally due at the end of March, as those banks may be grappling with “staffing priorities and disruptions.”

The public urging by four bank regulators and a credit union regulator mark the latest example of government watch-dogs publicly and persistently urging financial institutions to do whatever they can to help struggling customers, reassuring them the government is not looking to criticize those efforts.

The agencies said that current rules allow banks to offer a variety of short-term lending products, including installment loans, open-ended lines of credit and single payment loans. They added that banks should place an emphasis on helping borrowers who may struggle to repay such loans in a way that does not require them to borrow even more to cover costs.

The regulators went on to say that they are working longer-term on additional guidance for banks on how to offer small-dollar loans properly in “more normalized times.”

Reporting by Pete Schroeder and Katanga Johnson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler

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