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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District Court denies EFTA safe harbor in overdraft class action

Courts EFTA Overdraft Safe Harbor Regulation E Fees Class Action Disclosures CFPB Consumer Finance

Courts

On November 8, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire denied a credit union’s motion to dismiss claims concerning its overdraft fees and policies. Plaintiffs filed a putative class action alleging that the defendant failed to properly disclose how it assessed overdrafts in violation of EFTA and implementing Regulation E. According to the plaintiffs, the defendant’s overdraft fee opt-in disclosure did not provide a “clear and readily understandable” explanation of the meaning of “enough money,” nor did it specify whether overdrafts are calculated based on the actual balance or the available balance. The defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that the opt-in disclosure should be read in conjunction with a separate membership agreement that outlines the account terms and discloses the defendant’s use of the “available balance” method to determine when an account is overdrawn. The defendant further contended that it did not violate Regulation E and that it qualifies for EFTA’s safe harbor provision. The court disagreed, ruling that the plaintiffs had plausibly alleged a violation of Regulation E, as it requires the opt-in disclosure to be “segregated from all other information.” Among other things, the court stated that “[c]ountless courts examining virtually identical language have agreed” that language similar to the phrase “enough money” can plausibly amount to a violation of Regulation E’s “clear and readily understandable” explanation of overdraft fees.

With respect to defendant’s safe harbor claim, the court observed that EFTA may provide safe harbor to banks using an appropriate CFPB model clause (15 U.S.C. § 1693m(d)(2)) or a disclosure form “substantially similar” to the Bureau’s Model Form A-9, which states “[a]n overdraft occurs when you do not have enough money in your account to cover a transaction, but we pay it anyway.” The court agreed, however, with the reasoning of several courts that using language identical to that in the A-9 does not necessarily provide safe harbor defeating plaintiffs’ claims where, as here, the plaintiffs “have plausibly stated a claim that the clause from Model Form A-9 was not ‘appropriate’ because the language did not describe [defendant’s] overdraft policy in a ‘clear and readily understandable’ way.”

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