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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB issues guidance on “junk fees”

Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB Consumer Finance Biden Overdraft Junk Fees CFPA

Federal Issues

On October 26, President Biden discussed guidance issued by the CFPB to help banks avoid charging illegal “junk fees” on deposit accounts. The Bureau’s Circular 2022-06 noted that overdraft fees can be considered an “unfair” practice and violate the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) even if such fees are in compliance with other laws and regulations. Specifically, the Circular noted that “overdraft fees assessed by financial institutions on transactions that a consumer would not reasonably anticipate are likely unfair.” The guidance further stated that unanticipated overdraft fees are likely to impose substantial injury on consumers that they cannot reasonably avoid and that are not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or competition. The Bureau’s compliance bulletin on surprise depositor fees explained that a returned deposited item is a check that a consumer deposits into their checking account that is returned to the consumer because the check could not be processed against the check originator’s account. The bulletin stated that “blanket policies of charging returned deposited item fees to consumers for all returned transactions irrespective of the circumstances or patterns of behavior on the account are likely unfair under the [CFPA].” The Bureau further explained that indiscriminately charging depositor fees, regardless of circumstances, are likely illegal and noted that the bulletin is intended to put regulated entities on notice regarding how the agency plans to exercise its enforcement and supervisory authorities in the context of deposit fees. The bulletin urged financial institutions to charge depositor fees only in situations where a depositor could have avoided the fee, such as when a depositor repeatedly deposits bad checks from the same originator. The Bureau emphasized the guidance as part of its Junk Fee Initiative, noting that since it launched the initiative in January 2022, the CFPB has taken action to constrain “pay-to-pay” fees (covered by InfoBytes here), and has announced an advance notice of proposed rulemaking soliciting information from credit card issuers, consumer groups, and the public regarding late payments, credit card late fees, and card issuers’ revenue and expenses (covered by InfoBytes here).