Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On October 17, the Massachusetts Division of Banks released final regulations intended to parallel and supplement new mortgage servicing requirements promulgated by the CFPB and included in National Mortgage Servicing Settlement. The new regulations generally (i) prohibit third-party mortgage servicers from initiating a foreclosure when an application for a loan modification is in process, (ii) require that third-party mortgage servicers ensure that a creditor has the right to foreclose and that any foreclosure-related documents are properly prepared and executed based on personal knowledge, and (iii) mandate that third-party servicers provide a single point of contact for a borrower, follow detailed loan modification procedures, communicate with borrowers in a timely manner, and establish policies and procedures that ensure effective monitoring and oversight of certain third party providers (e.g., law firms, foreclosure firms, etc.). The new regulations also, among other things, (i) amend the definition of “debt collector” to include active debt buyers, (ii) clarify the definition of net worth for debt collectors, (iii) expand the limitations on contact with a consumer by a debt collector to include cellular telephone and text messaging, and (iv) add significant events of a debt collector and third party loan servicer that must be reported. The new requirements are effective immediately.
On September 30, the NY AG announced settlements with five companies that collected debts on allegedly illegal payday loans. The AG alleged that the companies collected on behalf of payday lenders who allegedly made illegal loans; under state law, the maximum allowable interest rate is 16% for most lenders not licensed by the state. In August, the NY AG sued payday lending firms and their owners for allegedly violating the state’s usury and licensed lender laws in connection with their issuing of personal loans over the Internet. In March, the New York Department of Financial Services warned third-party debt collectors that it is illegal to attempt to collect a debt on an illegal payday loan made in New York, even if such loans were made on the Internet, and followed up with a similar warning to lenders in August. The NY AG’s settlement requires the five companies collectively to pay approximately $280,000 in restitution and $30,000 in penalties. One of the companies is required to reverse negative reporting to the credit reporting bureaus related to approximately 8,550 consumer accounts. In addition, all of the companies will be prohibited from collecting on payday loans from New Yorkers in the future.
On September 25, the FTC announced the settlement of its first case against a debt collector for using text messaging to attempt to collect debts in an allegedly unlawful manner. The complaint, filed on August 23, alleged that an individual and the two debt collection companies he controlled violated the FDCPA and FTC Act when the companies failed to disclose in English- and Spanish-language text messages and phone calls that the companies were debt collectors and that they falsely portrayed themselves as law firms. The FTC also alleged that the defendants illegally revealed debts to the consumers’ family members, friends, and co-workers. To resolve the FTC’s claims, the companies agreed to pay a $1 million civil penalty, agreed not to send text messages omitting the disclosures required by law and agreed to obtain a consumer’s express consent before contacting them by text message. The defendants are also barred from falsely claiming to be law firms and from falsely threatening to sue or take any action – such as seizure of property or garnishment – that they do not actually intend to take.
On September 19, the CFPB and the OCC announced parallel enforcement actions against a national bank to resolve allegations that the bank engaged in the unfair and deceptive marketing, sale, and billing of “add-on products” across multiple consumer products, and the OCC announced a separate order that resolves claims related to the bank’s non-home loan debt collection litigation practices and compliance with the SCRA.
Under the CFPB’s consent order, the bank will pay a $20 million penalty to resolve allegations that over a seven year period ending in March 2012, the bank, through its vendor, enrolled customers in credit monitoring and identify theft products, and charged some customers for these products without or before having received written authorization to perform the monitoring services. The CFPB order also requires restitution to affected customers, and numerous requirements to enhance compliance, including with regard to vendor oversight. Under the OCC’s parallel action, the bank entered a consent order similar to the one entered with the CFPB, and consented to pay a $60 million penalty.
The CFPB order acknowledges the bank’s representations that it no longer offers the scrutinized products and that it already has credited or refunded affected customers. The bank’s press release also reaffirms its commitment to holding its vendors to high standards.
In a separate action announced by the OCC on the same day, the bank also entered a consent order to resolve allegations of unsafe or unsound practices with regard to its non-mortgage debt collection litigation practices and its non-mortgage SCRA compliance. As the bank pointed out in a press release, the consent order relates to only a slight percentage of credit card, student loan, auto loan, business banking and commercial banking customers who defaulted on their loan or contract and the resulting collections litigation that followed several years ago. The press release explains that the bank uncovered the issue in internal reviews that began in 2010 and took several steps in response, including: (i) halting new credit card collections litigation in 2011, (ii) dismissing the impacted lawsuits, and (iii) improving SCRA controls.
Over the past year, the CFPB has started to publicly outline its supervisory approach to student lending and servicing. In doing so, it repeatedly has identified similarities between the lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis and the escalating default rate in the burgeoning level of student loan debt. Rather than wait for a student loan crisis, the CFPB is attempting to put in place a program it hopes can help prevent one.
As part of that program, at the end of 2012, the CFPB released its student loan examination procedures. Also in 2012 the CFPB released two reports (July 2012 and October 2012) aimed at curbing purported violations of law, and it has continued to highlight student loan issues this year, including in a recent update on student loan complaints. In addition, in March of 2013, partly to address the complaints of student loan debtors, the CFPB announced its intention to supervise and examine the larger non-bank education loan servicers. That rule should be finalized next month.
Student lenders and servicers also should take note of the CFPB’s recently issued debt collection guidance, which, among other things, holds CFPB-supervised creditors accountable for engaging in acts or practices the CFPB considers to be unfair, deceptive, and/or abusive (UDAAP) when collecting their own debts. Many of the guideposts set forth in the guidance reflect the standards to which third-party debt collectors are held accountable under the FDCPA.
For more information about the CFPB’s debt collection guidance, please see a recent article by BuckleySandler Partner Valerie Hletko. Over the coming months, look for additional articles from BuckleySandler attorneys about the CFPB’s activities in the area of student loans and other non-mortgage consumer financial products and services.
On August 6, the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) sent letters to 35 online lenders, including lenders affiliated with Native American Tribes, demanding that they cease and desist offering allegedly illegal payday loans to New York borrowers. The letters demand that within 14 days the companies confirm that they are no longer soliciting or making payday loans in excess of the state usury caps. Under New York law, it is civil usury for a company to make a loan or forbearance under $250,000 with an interest rate exceeding 16% per year, and a criminal violation to make a loan with an interest rate exceeding 25% per year. The letters also remind recipients that it is illegal to collect on loans that exceed the usury cap; a separate letter to third-party debt collectors included the same notice. The DFS previously warned third-party debt collectors about collecting on illegal payday loans in March. In addition, the Department of Financial Services sent letters to 117 banks and NACHA requesting that they work with the DFS to create a set of model safeguard procedures to deny ACH access to the targeted lenders and provide the DFS with information about steps the institutions are taking to halt the allegedly illegal activity.
The role of banks in processing payday loan payments was identified as an enforcement priority earlier this year by the DOJ’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The DOJ, the CFPB, and other federal agencies reportedly have issued subpoenas to banks and other entities as part of a broad investigation of online payday lending.
On July 25, the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) proposed new regulations related to third-party debt collection in that state. The proposal is the DFS’ first use of the statutory “gap authority” that allows it to regulate and enforce rules against previously unregulated providers of financial products and services. The proposed regulations (i) establish initial disclosures that incorporate federal requirements and require collectors to provide details about the nature of the debt; (ii) set new disclosure requirements for time-barred debt; (iii) require collectors to provide specified verification of disputed debts; (iv) require collectors to provide written confirmation of a debt settlement; and (v) allow consumers to communicate with collectors via email. The DFS will accept comments on the proposal for 45 day following publication in the state register.
Magistrate Judge Finds Tribal Payday Lender Subject to FTC Act; Lender Agrees to Settle Some FTC Charges
On July 22, the FTC announced that it obtained a partial settlement of claims it filed last year against a Native American Tribe-affiliated payday lending operation that allegedly charged undisclosed and inflated fees, and collected on loans illegally by threatening borrowers with arrest and lawsuits. FTC v. AMG Servs, Inc. No. 12-536 (D. Nev.). The agreement does not include any monetary resolution of the claims, but (i) prohibits the defendants from certain collection practices, (ii) prohibits the defendants from conditioning the extension of credit on preauthorized electronic fund transfers, and (iii) requires the defendants to implement enhanced compliance policies that are subject to new reporting requirements. The settlement follows a report and recommendation issued last week by the magistrate judge assigned to the case in which he concluded that the FTC has authority under the FTC Act to regulate “Indian Tribes, Arms of Indian Tribes, employees of Arms of Indian Tribes and contractors of Arms of Indian Tribes” with regard to the payday lending activities at issue in the case. Relying on Ninth Circuit precedent, the magistrate judge held that while the FTC Act does not expressly apply to Indian Tribes, it is a statute of general applicability with reach sufficient to cover the Tribal entities. Further, the magistrate judge concluded that “both TILA and EFTA provide the FTC the power to enforce the statutes without regard for any jurisdictional limitations contained in the FTC Act.” The FTC will continue litigating other charges against the defendants, including allegations that they deceived consumers about the cost of their loans by charging undisclosed charges and inflated fees.
On July 11, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 233, the Fair Debt Buyers Practices Act, which establishes numerous new rules related to the purchase and collection of consumer debts, including five key protections for debtors. First, the Act prohibits a debt buyer from making any written statement in an attempt to collect a consumer debt unless the debt buyer can verify certain information, such as the amount of the debt balance at charge off, the date of default or last payment, and the name and address of the charge-off creditor at the time of charge off. Second, the Act prohibits a debt buyer from making any written statement to a debtor in an attempt to collect a consumer debt unless the debt buyer has access to a copy of a contract or other document evidencing the debtor's agreement to the debt. In instances where no signed debt contract exists, the debtor must obtain sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the debt was incurred by the debtor. Third, the Act requires a debt buyer to provide a written notice with its initial written communication to the debtor that, among other things, informs the debtor of his or her right to request certain records from the debt buyer. Fourth, the Act prohibits a debt buyer from bringing suit, initiating another proceeding, or taking any other action to collect a consumer debt if the applicable statute of limitations on the cause of action to enforce the debt has expired. Finally, the Act establishes new requirements for default judgments, such as a requirement that a debt buyer submit business records to confirm a debt prior to seeking a default judgment against a debtor. Additionally, the debt buyer must authenticate the records it submits via a sworn declaration to the court. The new rules will apply to debt buyers with respect to all consumer debt sold or resold on or after January 1, 2014.
On July 12, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that members of a putative class must arbitrate their claims against creditors for allegedly unlawful debt collection practices individually. Shetiwy v. Midland Credit Management, No. 12-7068, 2013 WL 3530524 (S.D.N.Y. Jul. 12, 2013). A group of creditors facing allegations that they violated the RICO Act and the FDCPA by conspiring with third party debt collectors to collect debts through fraudulently obtained default judgments, including judgments obtained through practices associated with robosigning, moved to compel arbitration based on the terms of their cardmember agreements, which require mandatory arbitration on an individual basis of any claims arising from a cardmember’s account. The court held that even if the plaintiffs could show that costs associated with individual arbitration would preclude vindicating their statutory rights under RICO and the FDCPA, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent holding in American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, “made clear that a generalized congressional intent to vindicate statutory rights cannot override the FAA’s mandate that courts enforce arbitration clauses” like the one at issue here. The court explained that “[n]othing in the text of RICO or the FDCPA indicate [sic] a more explicit ‘contrary congressional command’ than that contained in the federal antitrust laws at issue in Italian Colors” and that “[i]n fact, the FDCPA explicitly limits recovery obtained by unnamed class members in a class action, without regard to how that will affect total recover for each individual.” The court enforced the arbitration agreements and stayed the case as to the creditors pending arbitration.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Getting your company ready: Managing fair lending for IMBs” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Independent Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Be Your Compliance Best in 2022” at the California Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Lauren R. Randell to discuss “Significant legal developments in the Northeast” at the 37th Annual National Institute on White Collar Crime
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where it is heading?” at the Consumer Bankers Association Live program
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek
- Jonice Gray Tucker and Kari Hall to discuss “Equity, equality, regulation and enforcement – The evolving regulatory landscape of fair lending, redlining, and UDAAP” at the ABA Business Law Committee Hybrid Spring Meeting