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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Arizona AG: Earned wage access products are not loans

State Issues State Attorney General Earned Wage Access Consumer Lending Consumer Finance Arizona CFPB

State Issues

Recently, the Arizona attorney general issued an opinion confirming that earned wage access (EWA) products are not considered consumer loans under Arizona law, and that persons who make, procure, or advertise an EWA product are not subject to licensure as a consumer lender by the Arizona Department of Insurance and Financial Institutions. The opinion concluded that an EWA product offered as a no-interest, no-fee, non-recourse product does not fall within the definition of “consumer loan” under Arizona Revised Statutes § 6-601(7).

First, a fully non-recourse EWA product “represents a payment of wages already earned by the employee” and “does not allow recourse against the employee in the event the provider is unable to recoup all or some portion of the advance,” the opinion explained. The opinion added that a fully non-recourse EWA product is one in which “the provider obtains no legal or contractual right to repayment against the employee, does not engage in any debt collection activities with regard to any unpaid balance, does not sell or assign any unpaid balance to a third party, and does not report non-payment to any consumer credit reporting agency.”

Second, and independently, the AG opined that an EWA product is not a consumer loan so long as the provider does not impose a “finance charge,” as that term is defined by A.R.S. § 6-601(11). Specifically, “a non-recourse EWA product that requires repayment only of the principal balance is not a 'loan.'” While the Consumer Lenders Act (CLA) “does not expressly state that the obligation to repay principal is not a “finance charge,” requiring repayment of principal is self-evidently not an amount payable incident to or as a condition of a consumer lender loan.”

The opinion noted, however, that a provider “may also receive revenue through services ancillary to providing an EWA product without converting the EWA product into a “loan” under the CLA, such as by requesting a voluntary gratuity, charging a fee for expedited transfer of an EWA payment, or earning interchange revenue for processing a card payment. As long as the provider does not condition the provision of an EWA product on the “receipt of any such ancillary revenue” or impose fees or charges that fall within the CLA’s definition of “finance charge,” the EWA product will not meet the CLA’s definition of a “consumer loan.”

The opinion referred to guidance issued by other regulators who have drawn similar conclusions that an EWA product is not a loan so long as the program meets specific criteria. Such references include the 2020 CFPB advisory opinion on EWA products. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau’s advisory opinion addressed uncertainty as to whether EWA providers that meet short-term liquidity needs that arise between paychecks “are offering or extending ‘credit’” under Regulation Z, which implements TILA. The advisory opinion stated that “‘a Covered EWA Program does not involve the offering or extension of ‘credit,’” and noted that the “totality of circumstances of a Covered EWA Program supports that these programs differ in kind from products the Bureau would generally consider to be credit.” The Arizona AG opinion highlighted the Bureau’s conclusion that EWA products do not involve debt because “a Covered EWA Program facilitates employees’ access to wages they have already earned, and to which they are already entitled, and thus functionally operate[] like an employer that pays its employees earlier than the scheduled payday.”

Last January, CFPB General Counsel Seth Frotman issued a letter in response to concerns raised by consumer advocates (covered by InfoBytes here), stressing that the CFPB’s 2020 advisory opinion “is limited to a narrow set of facts—as relevant here, earned wage products where no fee, voluntary or otherwise, is charged or collected.” Frotman noted, however, that due to “repeated reports of confusion caused by the advisory opinion due to its focus on a limited set of facts,” he planned to recommend that the CFPB director consider ways to provide greater clarity on these issues. He emphasized that the advisory opinion did not purport to interpret whether covered EWA products would be “credit” under other statutes other than TILA, such as the CFPA or ECOA, or whether they would be considered credit under state law.