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On December 7, the CFPB issued a preliminary determination that New York’s commercial financing disclosure law is not preempted by TILA because the state’s statute regulates commercial financing transactions and not consumer-purpose transactions. The CFPB issued a Notice of Intent to Make Preemption Determination under the Truth in Lending Act seeking comments pursuant to Appendix A of Regulation Z on whether it should finalize its preliminary determination that New York’s law, as well as potentially similar laws in California, Utah, and Virginia, are not preempted by TILA. Comments are due January 20, 2023. Once the comment period closes, the Bureau will publish a notice of final determination in the Federal Register.
Explaining that recently a number of states have enacted laws to require improved disclosures of information contained in commercial financing transactions, including loans to small businesses, in order to mitigate predatory small business lending and improve transparency, the Bureau said it received a written request to make a preemption determination involving certain disclosure provisions in TILA. While Congress expressly granted the Bureau authority to evaluate whether any inconsistencies exist between certain TILA provisions and state laws and to make a preemption determination, the statute’s implementing regulations require the agency to request public comments before making a final determination.
While New York’s Commercial Financing Law “requires financial disclosures before consummation of covered transactions,” the Bureau pointed out that this applies to “commercial financing” rather than consumer credit. The request contended that TILA preempts New York’s law in relation to its use of the terms “finance charge” and “annual percentage rate”—“notwithstanding that the statutes govern different categories of transactions.” The request outlined material differences in how the two statutes use these terms and asserted “that these differences make the New York law inconsistent with Federal law for purposes of preemption.” As an example, the request noted that the state’s definition of “finance charge” is broader than the federal definition, and that the “estimated APR” disclosure required under state law “for certain transactions is less precise than the APR calculation under TILA and Regulation Z.” Moreover, “New York law requires certain assumptions about payment amounts and payment frequencies in order to calculate APR and estimated APR, whereas TILA does not require similar assumptions,” the request asserted, adding that inconsistencies between the two laws could lead to borrower confusion or misunderstanding.
In making its preliminary determination, the Bureau concluded that the state and federal laws do not appear “contradictory” for preemption purposes based on the request’s assertions. The Bureau explained that the statutes govern different transactions and disagreed with the argument that New York’s law impedes the operation of TILA or interferes with its primary purpose. Specifically, the Bureau stated that the “differences between the New York and Federal disclosure requirements do not frustrate these purposes because lenders are not required to provide the New York disclosures to consumers seeking consumer credit.”
On December 6, the CFPB issued its semi-annual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work for the period beginning October 1, 2021 and ending March 31, 2022. The report, which is required by Dodd-Frank, addresses several issues, including complaints received from consumers about consumer financial products or services throughout the reporting period. The report highlighted that the Bureau, among other things, has: (i) conducted an assessment of significant actions taken by state attorneys general and state regulators related to federal consumer financial law; (ii) initiated 21 fair lending supervisory activities to determine compliance with federal laws, including ECOA, HMDA, and UDAAP prohibitions, and engaged in interagency fair lending coordination with other federal agencies and states; (iii) “encouraged lenders to enhance oversight and identification of fair lending risk and to implement policies, procedures, and controls designed to effectively manage HMDA activities, including regarding integrity of data collection”; and (iv) launched a new Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Strategic Plan to increase workforce and contracting diversity.
In regard to supervision and enforcement, the report highlighted the Bureau’s public supervisory and enforcement actions and other significant initiatives during the reporting period. Additionally, the report noted rule-related work, including advisory opinions, advance notice of proposed rulemakings, requests for information, and proposed and final rules. These include rules and orders related to the LIBOR transition, fair credit reporting, Covid-19 mortgage and debt collection protections for consumers, small business lending data collection, and automated valuation model rulemaking.
On December 7, the CFPB released a report examining the use of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act's (SCRA) interest rate reduction benefit. Among other things, the CFPB raised concerns that servicemembers pay extra interest each year as a result of not taking advantage of interest rate reductions to which they are entitled under the SCRA. The SCRA provides certain legal and financial protections to active duty servicemembers, such as the ability to reduce the interest rate on certain pre-service obligations or liabilities to a maximum of 6 percent. According to the Bureau, members of the National Guard and Reserves are likely to have financial obligations that predate a subsequent period of service. As a result, the interest rate reduction benefit could provide considerable financial value. However, the Bureau found that only a small fraction of activated Guard and Reserve servicemembers receive interest rate reductions. Specifically, the Bureau noted that: (i) between 2007 and 2018, less than 10 percent of eligible auto loans and six percent of personal loans received a reduced interest rate; (ii) in addition to the $100 million of foregone benefits on auto and personal loans, members of the reserve component infrequently benefit from interest rate reductions for credit cards and mortgage loans; and (iii) for longer periods of activation, the utilization rate is low. The Bureau recommended that creditors apply SCRA interest rate reductions for all accounts held at an institution if a servicemember invokes their rights for a single account, and stressed that creditors should automatically apply SCRA rights. The Bureau also noted that more frequent information on SCRA rate reduction utilization would help inform and evaluate future efforts to expand servicemembers’ financial rights and protections.
On December 6, the CFPB issued a blog post emphasizing that financial institutions may need time to implement or adjust policies, procedures, systems and operations to come into compliance with the new HMDA volume reporting threshold and that the agency does not view action regarding institutions’ HMDA data as a current priority. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted partial summary judgment to a group of consumer fair housing associations that challenged changes made in 2020 that permanently raised coverage thresholds for collecting and reporting data about closed-end mortgage loans and open-end lines of credit under HMDA. The 2020 Rule, which amended Regulation C, permanently increased the reporting threshold from the origination of at least 25 closed-end mortgage loans in each of the two preceding calendar years to 100, and permanently increased the threshold for collecting and reporting data about open-end lines of credit from the origination of 100 lines of credit in each of the two preceding calendar years to 200 (covered by InfoBytes here). The plaintiffs sued the CFPB in 2020, arguing, among other things, that the final rule “exempts about 40 percent of depository institutions that were previously required to report” and undermines HMDA’s purpose by allowing potential violations of fair lending laws to go undetected. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
According to the blog post, the Bureau “does not intend to initiate enforcement actions or cite HMDA violations for failures to report closed-end mortgage loan data collected in 2022, 2021 or 2020 for institutions subject to the CFPB’s enforcement or supervisory jurisdiction that meet Regulation C’s other coverage requirements and originated at least 25 closed-end mortgage loans in each of the two preceding calendar years but fewer than 100 closed-end mortgage loans in either or both of the two preceding calendar years.”
On November 30, the CFPB’s Office of Research published a blog post regarding the recent increase of mortgage interest rates. The Bureau combined the quarterly data of 55 financial institutions reporting mortgage activities for the first and second quarters of 2022 with annual data from past years. The Bureau limited the analyses to closed-end home-purchase loans secured by site-built, single-family, and first-lien principal residences, and excluded reverse mortgage loans from its analysis. Among other things, the Bureau found that after two years of decline, the mortgage interest rate began rising in 2021, with a sharp increase in 2022. The Bureau explained that a “direct consequence of higher interest rates is the higher monthly payments borne by borrowers,” and that “though monthly payment information is not reported in HMDA data, using the reported loan amount, loan term and interest rate, [the Bureau] can impute the monthly principal and interest payment of loans at origination.” The Bureau also reported that Hispanic white and Black borrowers reached new debt burden levels, specifically the average debt-to-income (DTI) ratio for Hispanic white borrowers reached over 40 percent, while the average DTI for Black borrowers rose to 39.4 percent. The Bureau noted that increasing interest rates could also affect whether consumers qualify for mortgage loans. For many mortgage applicants who are on the margin of qualifying, the higher projected DTI could potentially lead to their applications being rejected. Compared to 2021, DTI has become more likely to be reported as a denial reason for denied Black, Hispanic white and non-Hispanic white applications in 2022. Indeed, by the end of the second quarter of 2022, the Bureau reported that over 45 percent of all Black and Hispanic white applicants who were denied had DTI reported as a denial reason.
On November 22, the CFPB denied a petition by a cryptocurrency lender to set aside a civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau last December. According to the Bureau, the lender (which states on its website that it is licensed by various state regulators to engage in consumer lending and money transmitting) and its affiliates market a range of products, including interest-accruing accounts and lines of credit. The CID informed the lender that a company representative was required to provide oral testimony at an investigational hearing into whether the lender's conduct is subject to federal consumer financial law, whether the lender had violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act and Regulation E, and whether an enforcement action would be in the public interest.
The lender petitioned the Bureau in March to modify or set aside the CID, arguing, among other things, that the Bureau lacks authority to investigate its Earn Interest Product because the SEC had previously made clear in a different matter (covered by InfoBytes here) that interest-bearing crypto lending products like the lender’s Earn Interest Product are securities. Accordingly, the lender contended that the Earn Interest Product fell outside of the Bureau’s jurisdiction. Furthermore, the lender asserted that in light of the SEC’s action, it stopped offering its Earn Interest Product to new U.S. customers and “began working to implement other changes by which current users would no longer earn interest on new funds in their Earn Interest Product accounts.”
In rejecting the lender’s arguments, the Bureau said that lender “is trying to avoid answering any of the Bureau’s questions about the Earn Interest Product (on the theory that the product is a security subject to SEC oversight) while at the same time preserving the argument that the product is not a security subject to SEC oversight. This attempt to have it both ways dooms [the lender’s] petition from the start.” The Bureau also emphasized that unresolved facts related to the lender’s Earn Interest Product make it impossible to determine whether any of the challenged conduct is subject to an exclusion from the Bureau’s authority under the CFPA or an exemption to Regulation E. The Bureau further noted that courts have established that the recipient of a CID cannot challenge an agency investigation by contesting facts that the agency might find, at least in situations “where the investigation is not patently outside the agency’s authority.”
On December 1, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered a stipulated final judgment and order against a Delaware financial-services company operating in Florida and New York along with its owner (collectively, “defendants”) for engaging in deceptive acts under the Consumer Financial Protection Act related to its misleading marketing representations when advertising high-yield healthcare savings CD accounts. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau’s 2020 complaint alleged that defendants engaged in deceptive acts or practices by: (i) falsely representing that consumers’ deposits into the high yield CD accounts would be used to originate loans for healthcare professionals, when in fact, the company never used the deposits to originate loans for healthcare professionals, never sold a loan to a bank or secondary-market investor, and never entered into a contract with a buyer or investor to purchase a loan; (ii) concealing the company’s true business model by falsely representing that the consumers’ deposits, when not being used to originate healthcare loans, would be held in an FDIC- or Lloyd’s of London-insured account or a “cash alternative” or “cash equivalent” account, when in reality, consumers’ deposits were, among other things, invested in securities; (iii) misleading consumers into believing that the accounts their funds were being deposited into functioned like traditional savings accounts when in fact, consumers’ deposits were actively traded in the stock market or used in securities-backed investments; and (iv) falsely representing that past high yield CD accounts allegedly paid interest at rates between 5 percent and 6.25 percent prior to 2019 when in fact, the company did not offer CDs until August 2019, and “consumers’ principals was neither guaranteed nor insured.” The complaint noted that since August 2019, the company took more than $15 million from at least 400 consumers.
The proposed settlement, if approved, provides for a comprehensive consumer redress plan that would require defendants to refund approximately $19 million to approximately 400 depositors. Further, pursuant to the order, the defendants would be required to return the money that each affected consumer deposited into a certain account in a manner consistent with the advertised terms of the product, namely, the principal along with an average per year interest rate of about 6 percent. The proposed order also permanently bans the defendants from engaging or assisting others in any deposit taking activities and requires defendants to pay a civil money penalty to the Bureau in the amount of $391,530.
States say student loan trusts are subject to the CFPA’s prohibition on unfair debt collection practices
On November 15, a bipartisan coalition of 23 state attorneys general led by the Illinois AG announced the filing of an amicus brief supporting the CFPB’s efforts to combat allegedly illegal debt collection practices in the student loan industry. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in February, the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware stayed the Bureau’s 2017 enforcement action against a collection of Delaware statutory trusts and their debt collector after determining there may be room for reasonable disagreement related to questions of “covered persons” and “timeliness.” The district court certified two questions for appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit related to (i) whether the defendants qualify as “covered persons” subject to the Bureau’s enforcement authority; and (ii) whether the case can be continued after the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Seila Law v. CFPB (which determined that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but was severable from the statute establishing the Bureau—covered by a Buckley Special Alert). Previously, the district court concluded that the suit was still valid and did not need ratification because—pointing to the majority opinion in the Supreme Court’s decision in Collins v. Yellen (covered by InfoBytes here)—“‘an unconstitutional removal restriction does not invalidate agency action so long as the agency head was properly appointed[,]’” and therefore the Bureau’s actions are not void and do not need to be ratified, unless a plaintiff can show that “the agency action would not have been taken but for the President’s inability to remove the agency head.” The district court later acknowledged, however, that Collins “is a very recent Supreme Court decision” whose scope is still being “hashed out” in lower courts, which therefore “suggests that there is room for reasonable disagreement and thus supports an interlocutory appeal here.”
The states argued that they have a “substantial interest” in protecting state residents from unlawful debt collection practices, and that this interest is implicated by this action, which addresses whether the defendant student loan trusts are “covered persons” subject to the prohibition on unfair debt collection practices under the CFPA. Urging the 3rd Circuit to affirm the district court’s decision to deny the trusts’ motion to dismiss, the states contended among other things, that hiring third-party agencies to collect on purchased debts poses a large risk to consumers. These types of trusts, the states said, “profit only when the third parties that they have hired are able to collect on the flawed debt portfolios that they have purchased.” Moreover, “[d]ebt purchasing entities, including entities like the [t]rusts, are thus often even more likely than the original creditors to resort to unlawful tactics in undertaking collection activities,” the states stressed, explaining that in order to combat this growing problem, many states apply their prohibitions on unlawful debt collection practices “to all debt purchasers that seek to reap profits from these illegal activities, including those purchasers that outsource collection to third parties.” The Bureau’s decision to do the same is therefore appropriate under the CFPA, the states wrote, adding that “as a practical matter, these debt purchasers are as problematic as debt purchasers that collect on their own debt. The [t]rusts’ request to be treated differently because of their decision to hire third party agents to collect on the debts that they have purchased (and reap the profits on) should be rejected.”
On November 23, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered a stipulated final judgment and order against a finance company, two related entities, and the companies’ founder and owner (collectively, “defendants”) for engaging in deceptive and abusive acts or practices under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) related to the offering of cash advances to people on their settlement payouts from victim-compensation funds established for certain first responders to the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2017, the CFPB and the New York attorney general filed a complaint alleging that the defendants engaged in deceptive and abusive acts by misleading consumers into selling expensive advances on benefits to which they were entitled by mischaracterizing extensions of credit as assignments of future payment rights, thereby causing the consumers to repay far more than they received. In March 2022, the district court ruled that the CFPB could proceed with its 2017 enforcement action against the defendants (covered by InfoBytes here) two years after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a 2018 district court order dismissing the case on the grounds that the Bureau’s single-director structure was unconstitutional, and that, as such, the agency lacked authority to bring claims alleging deceptive and abusive conduct by the company (covered by InfoBytes here).
The 2nd Circuit remanded the case to the district court, determining that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Seila Law LLC v. CPFB (holding that the director’s for-cause removal provision was unconstitutional but severable from the statute establishing the Bureau, as covered by a Buckley Special Alert) superseded the 2018 ruling. The appellate court further noted that following Seila, former Director Kathy Kraninger ratified several prior regulatory actions (covered by InfoBytes here), including the enforcement action brought against the defendants, and as such, remanded the case to the district court to consider the validity of the ratification of the enforcement action. The defendants later filed a petition for writ of certiorari, arguing that the Bureau could not use ratification to avoid dismissal of the lawsuit, but the Supreme Court declined the petition. (Covered by InfoBytes here). In 2021, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Bureau’s enforcement action on the grounds that “it was brought by an unconstitutionally constituted agency” and that the Bureau’s “untimely attempt to subsequently ratify this action cannot cure the agency’s constitutional infirmity.” (Covered by InfoBytes here). The district court turned to the Supreme Court’s June 2021 majority decision in Collins v. Yellen, which held that “‘an unconstitutional removal restriction does not invalidate agency action so long as the agency head was properly appointed[.]’” Accordingly, the agency’s actions are not void and do not need to be ratified, unless a plaintiff can show that “the agency action would not have been taken but for the President’s inability to remove the agency head.” (Covered by InfoBytes here).
In the amended complaint, filed in July 2022, the Bureau and the New York AG alleged that, among other things, the defendants engaged in deceptive acts by misrepresenting to consumers that the company’s contracts created valid and enforceable assignments of their payment proceeds when, in fact, the assignments were not valid and enforceable. The amended complaint also alleged that the company misrepresented to consumers when they would receive funds from the company, often promising consumers an earlier date of disbursement than the actual disbursement. Additionally, the joint complaint alleged that the defendants violated state law by collecting on purported assignments that are void, unenforceable, and uncollectable, or alternatively, by collecting on contracts that functioned as loans with interest rates that exceed usury limits under state law, which are also void and on which no payment is due.
Under the terms of the final judgment, defendants must pay a $1 civil money penalty to the Bureau and must not take any action to collect any unpaid or future amounts owed by the harmed responders, which totals at least $600,000. Under the order, defendants must also refrain from participating in offering, brokering, or providing credit or advances of funds to individuals entitled to payments from governmentally created funds established to compensate victims of 9/11.
On November 18, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled that the CFPB can proceed in its lawsuit against a credit reporting agency, two of its subsidiaries (collectively, “corporate defendants”), and a former senior executive accused of allegedly violating a 2017 enforcement order in connection with alleged deceptive practices related to their marketing and sale of credit scores, credit reports, and credit-monitoring products to consumers. According to the court, a recent decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which found that the Bureau’s funding structure violates the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution (covered by a Buckley Special Alert), is a persuasive basis to have the lawsuit dismissed.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau sued the defendants in April claiming the corporate defendants, under the individual defendant’s direction, allegedly violated the 2017 consent order from the day it went into effect instead of implementing agreed-upon policy changes intended to stop consumers from unknowingly signing up for credit monitoring services that charge monthly payments. The Bureau further claimed that the corporate defendants’ practices continued even after examiners raised concerns several times, and that the individual defendant had both the “authority and obligation” to ensure compliance with the 2017 consent order but did not do so.
The defendants sought to have the lawsuit dismissed for several reasons, including on constitutional grounds. The court disagreed with defendants’ constitutional argument, stating that, other than the 5th Circuit, courts around the country have “uniformly” found that Congress’ choice to provide independent funding for the Bureau conformed with the Constitution. “Courts are ill-equipped to second guess exactly how Congress chooses to structure the funding of financial regulators like the Bureau, so long as the funding remains tethered to a law passed by Congress,” the court wrote. The court also overruled defendants’ other objections to the lawsuit. “[T]his case is only at the pleading stage, and all the Bureau must do is plausibly allege that [the individual defendant] was recklessly indifferent to the wrongfulness of [the corporate defendants’] actions over which he had authority,” the court said, adding that the Bureau “has done so because it alleges that because of financial implications, [the individual defendant] actively ‘created a plan to delay or avoid’ implementing the consent order.”
The Bureau is currently seeking Supreme Court review of the 5th Circuit’s decision during its current term. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)