Is the TCPA Stopping You From Receiving Valuable Information?
Regulators must consider the original intent of the TCPA, focus on bad actors and create clear and workable rules for the industry.
12/21/2018 8:00 AM
By ACA International CEO Mark Neeb
In a recent review of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection’s education outreach materials, I was reminded of an interesting fact accounts receivable management industry professionals often mention when engaging with consumers: knowledge is power when maintaining your finances. This rings true in a hypothetical scenario the BCFP provides to consumers to help them understand the nuances of paying off debt based on a $1,000 credit card debt with a 14 percent interest rate. Here’s how they break it down:
- Paying the minimum of approximately $20 a month will take 110 months to pay off, and cost $700 in interest.
- Paying more than the minimum at approximately $50 a month will take 23 months to pay off, and cost $150 in interest.
- Paying more than the minimum at approximately $90 a month will take 12 months to pay off, and will cost $80 in interest.
As bills from holiday season spending may be coming in, it is imperative that consumers have access to this type of valuable information so that they can save money, stay financially healthy, and access other credit when their debt is resolved.
Much like the BCFP, accounts receivable management industry professionals are in the business of educating consumers about finances when they make contact regarding overdue debts.
Unfortunately, outdated federal laws and unclear rules for communicating using common technology sometimes hinder the industry’s ability to connect with consumers to provide this type of helpful information.
Specifically, the rules associated with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act continue to make it extremely difficult for all types of businesses including schools, charities, small businesses and major corporations to provide important information that consumers need. And, in 2015, the Federal Communications Commission made matters worse when they issued a ruling that sent thousands of these legitimate businesses into further disarray about how to comply with TCPA interpretations. Despite having been struck down in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in March 2018, the ruling has presented a great deal of confusion, fueled inaccurate press, and has inhibited important informational communications with consumers. Moreover, litigation in federal courts has muddied the waters by failing to provide clear standards or a roadmap as to what is expected for TCPA compliance, including the definition of what is considered an autodialer. Instead, the conflicting court rulings have created more confusion for small and large businesses alike, as well as the consumers the TCPA was originally meant to protect.
There is no question that consumers are harmed by illegal or abusive telemarketing calls, and the TCPA sought to address these scams when it was when enacted in 1991. As the CEO of ACA International and as a consumer myself, I can assure you that our industry greatly dislikes abusive, illegal calls and urges Congress and federal regulators to use every tool in their toolbox to stop them.
However, treating all consumer calls as suspect ―even if, for example they are made by legitimate businesses and could include pertinent information such as the BCFP’s warning about credit card debt―does not help consumers. In fact, as you can see in the BCFP hypothetical, less knowledge can cause consumer harm. It is important that Congress and the FCC distinguish between illegal robocallers and informational business communications when making rules so that legal actors are not punished and unfairly inhibited from communicating critical information. While a consumer may not necessarily look forward to discussing financial issues like their credit card debt―or take the time to listen to the message being delivered― being more informed and making educated decisions can ultimately benefit them.
In the coming weeks and months as the FCC continues to contemplate what new rules are appropriate in this area and as Congress determines how to move forward, I hope they will consider the original intent of the TCPA, and maintain a focus on bad actors. The FCC must act to create clear and workable rules under the TCPA for legal businesses working to provide important information to people for their own financial health and safety.
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