With the pending release of an additional round of COVID-19 federal stimulus funds to struggling U.S. consumers, RMAI continues to advise our members to avoid seeking these funds as a potential source of payment on outstanding consumer obligations. This is the same guidance RMAI shared with our members on April 13, 2020 and December 17, 2020.
In addition, please note that Version 9.0 of the Receivables Management Certification Program, which took effect on March 1, 2021, has a revised standard related to government emergency relief funds which reads:
A Certified Company shall take reasonable steps to avoid soliciting or otherwise attaching to government emergency relief funds. A company may accept government emergency relief funds for the payment of a debt if the consumer voluntarily chooses to use those funds for payment. [Standard # A18(c)]
Further, in addition to the changes to Standard # A18 concerning actions to be taken during a State of Emergency, the Certification Council also adopted a new Standard #A20 requiring certified companies to adopt a formal Hardship Policy containing provisions that their agents:
(a) Actively listen for consumer hardships such as reduced work hours, loss of income, loss of employment, and medical issues associated with the state of emergency or other identified circumstances and to respond appropriately;
(b) Work with and are sensitive to consumers who have encountered unforeseen circumstances;
(c) Except for litigation, accept consumer requests in both oral and written form, to the degree it is reasonably possible;
(d) Provide consumers that have demonstrated a hardship with the available options that are contained in the hardship policy based on the circumstances unique to each consumer. These options may include, among others, temporarily or permanently suspending collection activities; grace periods for payments; balance reduction; suspension of interest accumulation; or offering other forms of assistance;
(e) Cease collection activities when it is verified the consumer’s only income is from exempt sources, such as Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits, and that the consumer has access to no other assets until circumstances change;
(f) Place collection holds on all open accounts associated with the consumer who is experiencing the hardship, provided it is reasonably possible; and
(g) Are prepared to make operational adjustments to remain compliant with regulatory guidance issued during a state of emergency.
RMAI has requested Congress pass legislation earmarking these funds, so they are identifiable in consumers’ bank accounts similar to what they did in the second round of stimulus payments.
RMAI encourages members to share this guidance with their Chief Compliance Officer, Legal Counsel, and Operational staff.