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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB proposes T&C registry for nonbanks

Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues CFPB Nonbank Consumer Finance Consumer Protection Supervision House Financial Services Committee

Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

On January 11, the CFPB announced a proposed rule to create a public registry of terms and conditions used in non-negotiable, “take it or leave it” nonbank form contracts that “claim to waive or limit consumer rights and protections.” Under the proposal, supervised nonbank companies would be required to report annually to the Bureau on their use of standard-form contract terms that “seek to waive consumer rights or other legal protections or limit the ability of consumers to enforce or exercise their rights.” The terms and conditions—which would be made publicly available—would include those that address waivers of consumer claims, liability limits, legal action limits, class action bans, arbitration agreements, liquidated damages clauses, as well as other waivers of consumer rights.

The Bureau explained that its proposal is intended to “facilitate public awareness and oversight” about what nonbanks are putting in form contracts. “Some companies slip terms and conditions into their form contracts that try to take away consumer protections, try to limit how consumers exercise their rights, or try to quiet consumer complaints or criticism,” the Bureau stated in its announcement. “[M]ore broadly, the terms and conditions potentially undermine consumer financial protection law.”

The Bureau provided several examples of such terms and conditions, including: (i) unlawful mandatory arbitration agreements that are included in servicemember loan contracts; (ii) credit monitoring service agreements that “undermine credit reporting rights” by prohibiting consumers from pursuing legal action, including class action lawsuits, for FCRA violations; (iii) occurrences where lenders use clauses that waive liability for bank fees that borrowers incur due to repeated payment collection attempts; (iii) mortgage contracts that make “deceptive” use of waivers and limitations that are inconsistent with TILA restrictions; and (v) terms and conditions that try to quiet consumer complaints or criticism.

All supervised nonbanks, including those operating in payday lending, private student loan origination, mortgage lending and servicing, student loan servicing, automobile financing, consumer reporting, consumer debt collection, and international remittances would be subject to the rule. However, the Bureau is proposing certain exemptions for nonbanks with lower levels of receipts. Comments on the proposal are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

“[T]the registry would help regulators and law enforcement more easily detect when companies are offering products and services using prohibited, void, and restricted contract terms described above. This would be especially useful to state and tribal regulators with limited resources to alert or take action against companies violating the law,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said in an accompanying statement, adding that the Bureau plans to “use data from the registry to identify supervised nonbanks and the risks their terms and conditions pose, prioritize which firms to examine, and plan the scope of those exams.”

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-NC) slammed the proposal, saying the “proposed registry of terms and conditions will facilitate the naming and shaming of firms to empower progressive activists. Requiring nonbank financial firms to register publicly with the Bureau is unprecedented—no other industry is required to make public such detailed contract information. The days of Congress giving Director Chopra a free pass for his reckless actions have come to an end.”

The proposed registry follows a proposal announced in December by the Bureau that would create a database of enforcement actions taken against certain nonbank covered entities, which would include all final public written orders and judgments (including any consent and stipulated orders and judgments) obtained or issued by any federal, state, or local government agency for violation of certain consumer protection laws related to unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)