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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • Indiana Court of Appeals reverses state regulator’s finance charge action

    Courts

    On August 19, the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed the Indiana Department of Financial Institutions (Department) finding that a car dealership charged an “impermissible additional charge” in violation of the state’s additional-charges statute when the dealership improperly disclosed a finance charge to its consumers. According to the opinion, the dealership charged, in addition to a third party titling fee, a $25.00 convenience fee to its credit customers for electronic titling through the third party. The service was required for credit customers but was optional for cash customers. After conducting a routine examination, the Department identified one violation from a transaction in July 2015, where the dealership did not disclose the convenience fee in the “finance charge” box of the disclosures, noting “the fee was only mandatory for credit customers and therefore was ‘a condition of the extension of credit.’” The dealership provided a contract from the same time period, showing it disclosed the fee in the “Itemization of Amount Financed” and “Amount Financed” boxes, not in the “Finance Charge” box. The Department charged the dealership with violating the state’s additional-charges statute, “for assessing ‘impermissible additional charges’ in the form of the $25.00 convenience fee,” as opposed to a charge for violating the state’s disclosure statute.

    On review, the Court of Appeals concluded the charge was a finance charge because it was mandatory for the dealership’s credit customers but not its cash customers, and noted a finance charge cannot also be an additional charge. The Department argued it made no practical difference which violation it alleged, because the remedies under both statutes are the same, while the dealership noted a disclosure violation would entitle it to raise certain defenses under TILA. The appellate court did not address this issue, but nonetheless concluded “a finance charge doesn’t become an ‘impermissible additional charge’ when it’s not disclosed in the ‘Finance Charge’ box,” and remanded the case back to the Department for proceedings under the disclosure statute. 

    Courts State Issues State Regulators TILA Disclosures Finance Charge

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  • NYDFS fines non-licensed student loan servicer for alleged TILA disclosure violations

    On August 15, NYDFS announced a settlement with a student loan servicer and its parent company to resolve allegations that the companies failed to comply with state financial services law requirements when servicing, purchasing, and originating student financing agreements. According to the consent order, the student loan servicer—which, among other things, services student financing agreements that constitute retail installment obligations within the meaning of N.Y. Banking Law § 491(6-a)—allegedly engaged in the business of a sales finance company without being licensed by NYDFS and failed to follow the E-Sign Act’s disclosure requirements. NYDFS also claimed the companies failed to disclose to consumers (i) their right to receive non-electronic TILA disclosures; (ii) how to withdraw consent for notice by electronic means; and (iii) the method for requesting paper copy TILA disclosures. Furthermore, the companies also allegedly failed to provide consumers with a statement of the “requirements for access to and retention of TILA disclosures provided to them electronically.” In addition, NYDFS stated that the parent company provided New York consumers with promissory notes containing clauses purportedly allowing for the capitalization/compounding of interest under certain circumstances, which violated state banking laws, even though the companies contended they did not actually capitalize interest.

    In addition to paying a $203,000 civil penalty and $33,309 in disgorgement, the student loan servicer will apply for a sales finance company license and a student loan servicer license, and the companies will correct issues concerning their capitalization of interest as well as remove incorrect information from their loan documents.

    According to NYDFS, New York’s student loan servicer licensing law, which requires companies servicing student loans held by state residents to meet new standards, takes effect October 9.

    Licensing State Issues Student Lending Student Loan Servicer NYDFS

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  • Illinois creates commission to increase accessibility to certified financial products

    State Issues

    On August 19, the Illinois governor signed SB 1332, which is designed to decrease low-income consumers’ reliance on alternative financial products and increase the accessibility to certified financial products (defined as a “financial product offered by a financial institution that meets minimum requirements as established by the Comptroller”). SB 1332 creates the Illinois Bank On Initiative Commission, chaired by the state Comptroller, which will provide an annual, publicly available report (starting October 2020) that will list: (i) authorized certified financial products and minimum requirements for qualification; (ii) financial institutions providing certified financial products; and (iii) outreach strategies for facilitating access to certified financial products. SB 1332 is effective immediately.

    State Issues State Legislation Consumer Finance

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  • Illinois requires companies to report data breaches to attorney general

    State Issues

    On August 9, the Illinois governor signed SB 1624, which requires that a single data breach involving the personal information of more than 500 Illinois residents must be reported to the state attorney general. The notice must include: (i) a description of the nature of the breach of security or unauthorized acquisition or use; (ii) the number of Illinois residents affected by such incident at the time of notification; and (iii) any steps the data collector has taken or plans to take relating to the incident. Notification is required to be made “in the most expedient time possible and without unreasonable delay,” but no later than when the data collector informs consumers of the breach under current law. The bill is effective January 1, 2020.

    State Issues State Legislation Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach State Attorney General

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  • California DBO releases draft regulations for commercial financing disclosures

    State Issues

    In July, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) issued a request for comment on the first draft of regulations implementing the state’s new law on commercial financing disclosures. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2018, the California governor signed SB 1235, which requires non-bank lenders and other finance companies to provide written consumer-style disclosures for certain commercial transactions, including small business loans and merchant cash advances. Most notably, the act requires financing entities subject to the law to disclose in each commercial financing transaction—defined as an “accounts receivable purchase transaction, including factoring, asset-based lending transaction, commercial loan, commercial open-end credit plan, or lease financing transaction intended by the recipient for use primarily for other than personal, family, or household purposes”—the “total cost of the financing expressed as an annualized rate” in a form to be prescribed by the DBO.

    The draft regulation provides general format and content requirements for each disclosure, as well as specific requirements for each type of covered transaction. In addition to the detailed information in the draft regulation, the DBO has released model disclosure forms for the six financing types, (i) closed-end transactions; (ii) open-ended credit plans; (iii) general factoring; (iv) sales-based financing; (v) lease financing; and (vi) asset-based lending. Additionally, the draft regulation uses an annual percentage rate (APR) as the annualized rate disclosure (as opposed to the annualized cost of capital, which was considered in the December 2018 request for comments, covered by InfoBytes here). Moreover, the draft regulation provides additional information for calculating the APR for factoring transactions as well as calculating the estimated APR for sales-based financing transactions.

    Comments on the draft regulations are due by September 9.

    State Issues Small Business Lending Fintech Disclosures APR Commercial Finance Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Nonbank

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  • Conn. Supreme Court reverses foreclosure based on bank misconduct

    Courts

    On August 13, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s judgment, concluding a borrower’s special defenses and counterclaims raised against a bank during a foreclosure action “bore a sufficient connection to the enforcement of the note or the mortgage.” According to the opinion, the bank sought to foreclose on real property owned by the borrower, and during that proceeding, the borrower and loan servicer began loan modification negotiations. The borrower contacted the Connecticut Department of Banking, which intervened on his behalf in the negotiations, but the bank subsequently increased the mortgage payment and the parties were unable to reach an agreement. The borrower asserted special defenses and counterclaims, which included, among other things, that the bank allegedly engaged in conduct that increased the borrowers overall indebtedness and caused the borrower to “incur costs that impeded his ability to cure the default, and reneged on loan modifications.” The trial court rendered a judgment of strict foreclosure, which the appellate court affirmed.

    On appeal, the Supreme Court held the appellate court incorrectly concluded the borrower’s allegations did not provide a legally sufficient basis for those defenses and counterclaims. The Court noted that the borrower’s allegations—that the bank “engaged in a pattern of misrepresentation and delay in postdefault loan modification negotiations before and after initiating a foreclosure action,” which added to the borrower’s debt and hampered his ability to avoid foreclosure—involved misconduct that “bore a sufficient connection to the enforcement of the note or the mortgage.” To the extent the intervention of the Department of Banking actually resulted in a binding loan modification, the potential breach of such agreement would also “provide a legally sufficient basis for special defenses in the foreclosure action.” Therefore, the Court reversed the appellate judgment upholding the strict foreclosure.

    Courts State Issues Mortgages Foreclosure Loan Modification

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  • New York increases homeowner safeguards, closes loopholes to prevent deed fraud and mortgage scams

    State Issues

    On August 14, the New York governor signed a package of bills intended to increase consumer homeowner protections. According to a press release issued by the governor, the three measures enact homeowner safeguards and close loopholes to prevent deed fraud and mortgage scams.

    • A 92 imposes obligations on banks or financial institutions that sell or transfer a mortgage after a borrower has applied for a loan modification. Specifically, the law requires the original holder of the loan to provide the borrower with a list of all modification application documents provided to the buyer or transferee of the mortgage. The measure also requires the new mortgage servicer to honor the terms and conditions of a loan modification that was approved by the original servicer. The act takes effect in 90 days.
    • A 1800 requires servicers of vacant or abandoned residential properties to continue to pay homeowners’ association fees or cooperative fees on properties in the state to ensure they do not become dilapidated before a foreclosure is finalized. The act takes effect immediately.
    • A 5615 amends state law related to distressed home loans to extend consumer protections for homes in default and foreclosure by, among other things, (i) providing homeowners additional time to cancel a covered contract with a purchaser; (ii) preventing distressed property consultants from inducing the consumer to transfer the deed to the consultant or anyone else; and (iii) allowing consumers to void contracts, deeds, or other agreements material to the consumer’s property where an individual was convicted of or pled guilty to making false statements in connection with that agreement. The act takes effect immediately.

    State Issues State Legislation Mortgages Foreclosure

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  • CFPB and Arkansas AG settle with pension-advance brokers

    Federal Issues

    On August 15, the CFPB and the Arkansas attorney general announced a proposed settlement with three loan brokerage companies, along with their owner and operator (collectively, “defendants”) for allegedly misrepresenting the contracts offered to veterans and other consumers. According to the complaint, from 2011 through 2016, the defendants offered high-interest credit to consumers, deceptively marketed as purchases of future pension or disability payments. The contracts allegedly required veterans to instruct that their pension direct deposits or monthly allotments be routed to the bank account controlled by the defendants or pay the contracted amounts from other sources, including purchasing life-insurance policies, to ensure the contract amount would be paid. The defendants allegedly did not disclose to consumers the interest rates associated with the products, marketing the contracts as sale of payments and not credit offers. The defendants also allegedly did not disclose that the contracts were void under federal and state law, which prohibit the assignment of certain benefits.

    Under the proposed settlement, the defendants are: (i) prohibited from brokering or participating in agreements that sell future pension rights; (ii) required to pay a civil money penalty of $1 to the Bureau; and (iii) required to pay $75,000 to the Arkansas AG’s Consumer Education and Enforcement Fund. Additionally, the settlement imposes a judgment of $2.7 million in redress, which is suspended upon the owner paying $200,000 in redress and making the payments to the Bureau and the Arkansas AG.

    Federal Issues CFPB Settlement State Issues State Attorney General Installment Loans

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  • NYDFS proposes student loan servicers regulation

    On July 31, NYDFS published a notice of proposed rulemaking in the New York State Register. The proposed rule would implement legislation related to the supervision, regulation, and licensing of private student loan servicers passed in March as part of the state’s FY 2020 budget. As previously covered by InfoBytes, unless exempt from certain provisions, student loan servicers must comply with the requirements set forth in the amendments to the banking law and be licensed by NYDFS in order to service student loans owned by residents of New York. Entities exempt from the licensing requirements include servicers of federal student loans, banking organizations, foreign banking organizations, national banks, federal savings associations, federal credit unions, or any bank or credit union organized under the laws of any other state.

    Among other things, the proposed regulation outlines servicing standards, examination guidelines, cybersecurity compliance requirements, and definitions for the terms “unfair” and “abusive.” A list of prohibited practices is also provided, which includes: (i) employing schemes to defraud or mislead borrowers; (ii) engaging in unfair, deceptive, abusive, or predatory acts or practices; (iii) “misapplying payments to the outstanding balance of any student loan or to any related interest or fees”; (iv) making false statements or omissions connected to information provided to a government agency; (v) failing to promptly respond to communications received from NYDFS; and (vi) failing to provide responses to consumer complaints.

    Generally, the requirements will take effect October 9, with the exception of a phased-in transition period for certain cybersecurity provisions related to 23 NYCRR Part 500 that gives student loan servicers until April 9, 2020 to comply. Comments on the proposed regulation are due September 30.

    Licensing State Issues State Legislation Student Loan Servicer NYDFS Student Lending

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  • 3rd Circuit: FCA claims not barred by state’s equitable “entire controversy” doctrine

    Courts

    On August 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit vacated the dismissal of a relator’s qui tam action, concluding that the federal action was not barred by New Jersey’s equitable entire controversy doctrine. In the case, an employer brought a defamation and disparagement suit against a former employee, and while the suit was pending, the employee brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act (FCA) against the employer on behalf of the United States and the state of New Jersey. The qui tam action remained under seal for over seven years while the government investigated the action. During this time, the employer’s state court action against the employee was dismissed after the parties entered into a settlement agreement. After the government chose not to intervene in the FCA action, and the district court unsealed the complaint, the employee chose to proceed. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, finding that New Jersey’s “entire controversy” doctrine requires claims arising from related facts or transactions to be adjudicated in one action.

    On appeal, the 3rd Circuit concluded that New Jersey’s entire controversy doctrine did not apply to the employee’s qui tam action because, in FCA cases, the U.S. is the real party in interest. The appellate court noted that concluding otherwise would essentially allow the employee to “unilaterally negotiate, settle, and dismiss the qui tam claims during the Government’s investigatory period.” Moreover, the appellate court found that application of the doctrine “would incentivize potential [FCA] defendants to ‘smoke out’ qui tam actions by suing potential relators and then quickly settling those private claims,” in order to bar a potential qui tam action.

    Courts False Claims Act / FIRREA Appellate Third Circuit State Issues

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