Don’t worry, Equifax, Senate Republicans have your back

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Senate Republicans do not want their constituents to be able to defend themselves against banks and credit card companies. 

The Senate split its vote down the middle on Tuesday over a new rule that would have protected consumers’ ability to sue financial institutions via class-action lawsuits. Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote to revoke the rule, which had barely been on the books for a month

What this means, in short, is that anyone interested in suing their bank is now less likely to do so—and less likely to win.

The rule would have stopped companies from forcing consumers to agree to mandatory arbitration clauses when they, for example, sign up for a credit card or open an account with a bank.

This bears some explanation. Arbitration clauses force consumers to settle any disputes they have with the company via a non-partial third party—in other words it happens outside the U.S. court system. This takes time, energy, and money that your average person either doesn’t have or isn’t willing to invest. Even if a person did have all three, plenty of disputes between consumers and companies boil down to an amount of money that, for the consumer, is often best to just let go in the face of what it would take to win via arbitration. 

Arbitration prevents class-action lawsuits, in which people can group together to challenge a company in a single lawsuit. This makes it easier for people with little power to form a effective challenge to big companies. It’s hard to imagine constituents aren’t in favor of being able to sue these companies via class-action lawsuits. 

You may, of course, remember the name Equifax. In September, the credit reporting company let the world know that hackers had stolen personal data from Equifax that pertained to 143 million United States consumers, a number that is, I think, reasonably called “crazy huge” (and was later revised to 145.5 million). 

After the company told the world about the hack, Equifax reportedly tried to force consumers to revoke their right to sue via class action if those consumers so much as checked to see if they were part of the 145.5 million whose data had been stolen. 

Equifax eventually took out the arbitration language, but the Senate’s vote may mean the company doesn’t need that language to be protected from class action lawsuits.

Equifax botched just about every aspect of their reaction to the hack, but perhaps it doesn’t matter how much Equifax has lost the trust of consumers. Do big financial firms need a good share of the public’s trust if much of the public can’t do anything to those companies when they feel they’ve been wronged?

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