Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
Minnesota enacts small-dollar consumer lending and money transmitter amendments; Georgia and Nevada also enact money transmission provisions
On May 24, the Minnesota governor signed SF 2744 to amend several state statutes relating to financial institutions, including provisions concerning small-dollar, short-term consumer lending, payday lending, and money transmitter requirements. Changes to the statutes governing consumer small loans and consumer short-term loans amend the definition of “annual percentage rate” (APR) to include “all interest, finance charges, and fees,” as well as the definition of a “consumer short-term loan” to mean a loan with a principal amount or an advance on a credit limit of $1,300 (previously $1,000). The amendments outline certain prohibited actions and also cap the permissible APR on a loan at no more than 50 percent and stipulate that lenders are not permitted to add other charges or payments in connection with these loans. The changes apply to loans originated on or after January 1, 2024. The amendments also make several modifications to provisions relating to payday loans with APRs exceeding 36 percent, including requirements for conducting an ability to repay analysis. These provisions are effective January 1, 2024.
Several new provisions relating to the regulation and licensing of money transmitters are also outlined within the amendments. New definitions and exemptions are provided, as well implementation instructions that provide the state commissioner authority to “enter into agreements or relationships with other government officials or federal and state regulatory agencies and regulatory associations in order to (i) improve efficiencies and reduce regulatory burden by standardizing methods or procedures, and (ii) share resources, records, or related information obtained under this chapter.” The commissioner may also accept licensing, examination, or investigation reports, as well as audit reports, made by other state or federal government agencies. To efficiently minimize regulatory burden, the commissioner is authorized to participate in multistate supervisory processes coordinated through the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS), the Money Transmitter Regulators Association, and others, for all licensees that hold licenses in the state of Minnesota and other states. Additionally, the commissioner has enforcement, examination, and supervision authority, may adopt implementing regulations, and may recover costs and fees associated with applications, examinations, investigations, and other related actions. The commissioner may also participate in joint examinations or investigations with other states.
With respect to the licensing provisions, the amendments state that a “person is prohibited from engaging in the business of money transmission, or advertising, soliciting, or representing that the person provides money transmission, unless the person is licensed under this chapter” or is a licensee’s authorized delegate or exempt. Licenses are not transferable or assignable. The commissioner may establish relationships or contracts with the Nationwide Multi-State Licensing System and Registry and participate in nationwide protocols for licensing cooperation and coordination among state regulators if the protocols are consistent with the outlined provisions. The amendments also outline numerous licensing application and renewal procedures including net worth and surety bond, as well as permissible investment requirements.
The same day, the Nevada governor signed AB 21 to revise certain provisions relating to the licensing and regulation of money transmitters in the state. The amendments generally revise and repeal various statutory provisions to establish a process for governing persons engaged in the business of money transmission that is modeled after the Model Money Transmission Modernization Act approved by the CSBS. Like Minnesota, the commissioner may participate in multistate supervisory processes and information sharing with other state and federal regulators. The commissioner also has expanded examination and enforcement authority over licensees. The Act is effective July 1.
Additionally, the Georgia governor signed HB 55 earlier in May to amend provisions relating to the licensing of money transmitters (and to merge provisions related to licensing of sellers of payment instruments). The Act addresses licensee requirements and prohibited activities, outlines exemptions, and provides that applications pending as of July 1, “for a seller of payment instruments license shall be deemed to be an application for a money transmitter license as of that date.” Notably, should a license be suspended, revoked, surrendered, or expired, the licensee must, “within five business days, provide documentation to the department demonstrating that the licensee has notified all applicable authorized agents whose names are on record with the department of the suspension, revocation, surrender, or expiration of the license.” The Act is also effective July 1.
Agencies propose new standards for AVMs
On June 1, the CFPB joined the Federal Reserve Board, OCC, FDIC, NCUA, and FHFA in issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to implement quality control standards mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act concerning automated valuation models (AVMs) used by mortgage originators and secondary market issuers. Specifically, institutions that engage in certain credit decisions or make securitization determinations would be required to adopt quality control standards to ensure a high level of confidence that estimates produced by an AVM are fair and nondiscriminatory. Other requirements would necessitate institutions to protect against data manipulation and avoid conflicts of interest. Institutions would also be required to conduct random sample testing and reviews and comply with applicable nondiscrimination laws. The agencies acknowledged that while advances in AVM technology and data availability may contribute to lower costs and reduce loan cycle times, institutions’ reliance on AMV technology must not be used as an excuse to evade the law.
CFPB Director Rohit Chopra explained that, while AVMs rely on mathematical formulas and number crunching to produce estimates (and are often used to “check” human appraisers or used in place of an appraisal), they can still embed the human biases they are meant to correct. This is due in part to the data fed into the AVMs, the algorithms used within the machines, and biases and blind spots attributed to the individuals who develop the models, Chopra warned, commenting that AVMs can actually “make bias harder to eradicate in home valuations because the algorithms used cloak the biased inputs and design in a false mantle of objectivity.”
Chopra went on to explain that inaccurate or biased algorithms can lead to serious harms to consumers, neighborhoods, and the housing market, and may also impact the tax base. A focus common to all the agencies, Chopra said, is ensuring that automated systems and artificial intelligence modeling technologies are developed and used in accordance with federal laws to avert discriminatory outcomes and prevent negative impacts on consumer financial stability.
Comments on the NPRM are due within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register.
Hsu discusses progress on reducing unbanked
On May 23, acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu discussed the agency’s commitment to promote a fair and inclusive financial system. During remarks presented at the Bank On National Conference, Hsu observed that while progress has been made to reduce the number of unbanked households in recent years and broadly improve account access, 5.9 million U.S. households remain outside the banking system. Higher unbanked rates are found among consumers with lower incomes and less education, as well as consumers who are young, Black or Hispanic, have disabilities, or are single mothers, Hsu added. He commented that to continue expanding financial access, innovations and adjustments should be made to banks’ screening processes, such as allowing for more forms of identification, streamlining remote account opening, partnering with benefits providers and employers, and training frontline staff to consistently offer Bank On accounts to new customers. “One of the ‘strongly recommended’ features of Bank On certified accounts is the acceptance of alternative forms of identification such as consular identification cards and municipal IDs,” Hsu said. “Bank On also ‘strongly recommends’ that accounts only be denied for customers with past incidences of actual fraud.” Hsu further recommended that banks pay particular attention to how they measure and manage financial crime risks specifically associated with Bank On accounts as account opening processes evolve “so that those who lack traditional forms of identification or fixed addresses and those who cannot physically visit a branch can still open an account.” Hsu warned banks to continue considering risks associated with overdraft protection programs and encouraged banks to explore other measures such as low-cost accounts and lower-cost alternatives for covering overdrafts.
FHA reinstates HAMP loss mitigation for exempted transfers
HUD recently released Mortgage Letter (ML) 2023-11 to update previously issued guidance on loss mitigation options for non-borrowers who acquire a title through an exempted transfer. The provisions apply to all FHA Title II Single Family forward mortgage programs and may be implemented immediately but no later than July 21. Previously, ML 2023-03 (which expanded Covid-19 recovery loss mitigation options) temporarily suspended the use of FHA Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) loss mitigation for all borrowers. As a result, mortgagees were no longer able to review non-borrowers who acquired a title through an exempted transfer for FHA-HAMP loss mitigation. With the issuance of ML 2023-11, FHA has reinstated FHA-HAMP loss mitigation to allow mortgagees to review non-borrowers who acquired a title through an exempted transfer and are in default or imminent default.
CFPB says overdraft/NSF revenue has been cut in half
On May 23, the CFPB published another data spotlight reporting on overdraft/non-sufficient fund (NSF) fee trends. Earlier in the month, the Bureau examined low- and moderate-income consumers’ experiences with overdraft programs, finding, among other things, that many consumers were not aware of their financial institution’s overdraft policies and thought protection automatically came with their account, while others were unaware that they could end overdraft protection. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The newest data spotlight reported that overdraft/NSF revenue for Q4 2022 was down nearly 50 percent as compared to pre-pandemic levels, “suggesting an annual reduction of over $5.5 billion going forward.” According to the Bureau, this translates to average annual savings of more than $150 for households that incur overdraft/NSF fees (with many households being able to save a lot more). Still, even with the noticeable reduction, consumers paid more than $7.7 billion in overdraft/NSF fees in 2022. However, the Bureau noted that combined account maintenance and ATM fees remained flat from 2019 to 2022, suggesting that reporting financial institutions are not increasing other fees to compensate for the reduced revenue.
CFPB looks at mortgage-pricing differences
On May 24, the CFPB reported price dispersion trends in the mortgage industry, finding that borrowers could save at least $100 per month by choosing cheaper lenders. Price dispersion—the difference in interest rates charged by different lenders for the same loan product—is significant in the mortgage market, the Bureau said, following a review of 2021 HMDA data focusing on numbers for the 20 largest-volume lenders for each of the market segments. Examining price dispersion by loan type, including FHA and Department of Veterans Affairs loans, loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and jumbo loans, the Bureau considered several potential factors contributing to price dispersion such as lender differences, competition, and increased demand. Additionally, the Bureau found that various options provided by lenders may account for different costs and choices made by consumers who may not select the cheapest option due to other factors that outweigh price differences. Data also suggested that competition in the mortgage market does not always translate into lower prices, the Bureau reported, noting that a recent study administered by the Bureau and the FHFA revealed that “most borrowers who recently took out a mortgage responded that they believe they would pay the same price regardless of which lender they choose” and that few borrowers consider more than two options. The data also found that lenders who choose to take on riskier loans may compensate for the risk by charging higher prices.
Pennsylvania reaches $11 million settlement with rent-to-own company
On May 15, the Pennsylvania attorney general announced a $11.4 million settlement with a rent-to-own lender and its subsidiaries accused of engaging in predatory practices targeting low-income borrowers and employing deceptive collection practices. According to the AG, the lender disguised one-year rent-to-own agreements as “100-Day Cash Payoffs” and then concealed the balances owed. The AG maintained that consumers were locked into binding 12-month agreements that included high leasing fees (equal to 152 percent APR interest). The AG explained that consumers entitled to restitution and relief “had already satisfied the cash price, the sales tax on the cash price, and the processing fees associated with their purchase – yet still owed [the lender] a balance.” Additionally, the AG accused the lender of using a web-based portal for creating and signing contracts, which made it easy for persons other than the consumer to sign the agreements.
The order requires the lender to pay $7.3 million in restitution that will be distributed to affected consumers, $200,000 in civil penalties, and $750,000 in costs to be paid to the AG to be used for public protection and education purposes. Additionally, the lender is required to reduce the balances of delinquent lease-to-own accounts for certain rental purchase agreements, resulting in a $3.15 million aggregate reduction in balances. The lender has also agreed to, among other things, not represent or imply that failure to pay a debt owed or alleged to be owed “will result in the seizure, attachment or sale of any property that is the subject of the debt unless such action is lawful” or that the lender’s subsidiary intends to take such actions. The lender is also prohibited from collecting any amount, including interest, fees, charges, or expenses incidental to the principal obligation, unless the amount is expressly authorized by the agreement creating the obligation or permitted by law. Furthermore, the lender’s subsidiaries must clearly and conspicuously disclose customer balances during servicing calls and through a customer portal.
CFPB announces $9 million settlement with bank on credit card servicing
On May 23, the CFPB announced a settlement to resolve allegations that a national bank violated TILA and its implementing Regulation Z, along with the Consumer Financial Protection Act. The Bureau sued the bank in 2020 (covered by InfoBytes here) claiming that, among other things, when servicing credit card accounts, the bank did not properly manage consumer billing disputes for unauthorized card use and billing errors, and did not properly credit refunds to consumer accounts resulting from such disputes. At the time, the bank issued a response stating that it self-identified the issues to the Bureau five years ago while simultaneously correcting any flawed processes.
The bank neither admitted nor denied the allegations but agreed under the terms of the stipulated final judgment and order filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island to pay a $9 million civil penalty. In addition to amending its credit card practices, the bank is prohibited from automatically denying billing error notices and claims of unauthorized use of cards should the customer fail to provide a fraud affidavit signed under penalty of perjury. The bank must also (i) credit reimbursable fees and finance charges to a customer’s account when unauthorized use and billing errors occur; (ii) provide required acknowledgement and denial notices to customers upon receipt or resolution of billion error notices; and (iii) provide customers who call its credit counseling hotline with at least three credit counseling referrals within the caller’s state. The bank must also maintain procedures to ensure customers are properly refunded any fees or finance charges identified by valid error notices and unauthorized use claims. The bank issued a statement following the announcement saying that while it “continues to disagree with the CFPB’s stance with respect to these long-resolved issues, which were self-identified and voluntarily addressed years ago,” it is pleased to resolve the matter.
Crypto company settles NY AG’s hidden-fee claims
On May 18, the New York attorney general announced a settlement with a Brooklyn-based cryptocurrency company to resolve claims that it charged investors “exorbitant and undisclosed fees” to store cryptocurrency in an account that was advertised as being free on its website. The fees charged to investors to use its wallet storage were allegedly so high that they completely cleaned out investors’ accounts, the AG said. The company agreed to the AG’s findings that it regularly charged and increased fees without properly notifying investors. According to the AG’s investigation, the company changed the wallet storage fee structure four times without clearly disclosing the fee increase, which led to some investors being charged fees equal to 96 percent of the value of their account holdings. In total, the company took approximately $4.25 million from investors. The AG maintained that the company also failed to register as a commodity broker dealer in the state for a period of time, and that while it was eventually granted a virtual currency license pursuant to 23 NYCRR Part 200, it failed to file a registration statement. Under the terms of the assurance of discontinuance, the company is required to pay $508,910 in restitution to the state and provide full restitution to all investors who were misled. The company is also required to provide monthly refund status updates to the AG, limit the amount of fees charged for using its wallet service to 0.002 percent per cryptocurrency per month for at least five years, and ensure that it adequately discloses all fees to investors.
Freddie allows digital paystubs in underwriting
On May 22, Freddie Mac announced new capabilities allowing lenders to use a borrower’s digital paystub data when assessing income paid through direct deposit. Lenders will be able to access the enhancements to Freddie’s automated income assessment tool through the Loan Product Advisor (LPA) asset and income modeler (AIM). Freddie noted that in addition to providing access to direct deposit data, AIM is also able to “assess income from tax return data for self-employed borrowers as well as bank account data to identify a history of positive monthly cash flow activity” to help first-time homebuyers and borrowers in underserved communities who may not qualify through traditional methods of underwriting. AIM is also designed to notify lenders when submitting this type of account data may benefit a borrower. The new AIM capability will be available beginning June 7 to Freddie-approved sellers that use LPA.