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  • CFPB UDAAP Action Targets Payday Lender's Collection Activities

    Consumer Finance

    This afternoon, the CFPB announced that a nonbank consumer lender will pay $10 million to resolve allegations that it engaged in certain unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices in the collection of payday loans. This action comes exactly one year after the CFPB issued guidance that it would hold supervised creditors accountable for engaging in acts or practices the CFPB considers to be unfair, deceptive, and/or abusive when collecting their own debts, in much the same way third-party debt collectors are held accountable for violations of the FDCPA.

    Based on its findings during an examination of the lender, which was coordinated with the Texas Office of Consumer Credit, the CFPB alleged that the lender and its third-party vendors used false claims and threats to coerce delinquent payday loan borrowers into taking out an additional payday loan to cover their debt. The CFPB claimed that the lender trained its staff to “create a sense of urgency” for consumers in default, and that in-house and third-party vendor staff did so by (i) making an excessive number of calls to borrowers; (ii) disclosing the existence of the debt to non-liable third parties; and (iii) continuing to call borrowers at their workplaces after being told such calls were prohibited, or calling borrowers directly after they had obtained counsel.

    The CFPB further alleged that some in-house staff also misrepresented the actions that third-party collectors would take after a loan was transferred for additional collection efforts, even though those actions were prohibited or limited by the lender’s own corporate policies and contracts with outside collectors.  The in-house staff also allegedly falsely advised borrowers that they could not prevent the transfer of the delinquent debt to a third-party collector. In-house and third-party staff also allegedly falsely threatened delinquent borrowers with litigation or criminal prosecution, when the lender did not, as a matter of policy, pursue litigation or criminal prosecution for non-payment or permit its third-party collectors to do so.

    The CFPB characterized certain of the acts as either unfair or deceptive, and stated that the lender’s efforts to create and leverage an artificial sense of urgency to induce delinquent borrowers with demonstrated inability to repay their existing loans to take out new loans with accompanying fees “took unreasonable advantage of the inability of consumers to protect their own interests in selecting or using a consumer financial product or service” and thereby qualify as abusive acts or practices.

    The lender, in its own press release, pointed out that the CFPB’s allegations related only to collection practices prior to March 2012, and that a third-party review revealed that more than 96 percent of the lender’s calls during the review period met relevant collections standards. The lender added that it has policies that prevent delinquent borrowers from taking out new loans, and that an analysis of those policies revealed that 99.5 percent of customers with a loan in collections for more than 90 days did not take out a new loan with the lender within two days of paying off their existing loan, and 99.1 percent of customers did not take out a new loan within 14 days of paying off their existing loan. This data suggests that the CFPB’s exception tolerance for in-house collection operations is exceedingly thin.

    The order requires the lender to pay $5 million in redress to eligible borrowers and a $5 million civil money penalty.  The lender stressed that it cooperated fully with the CFPB, implementing recommended compliance changes and enhancements and responding to requests for documents and information. It committed to completing those corrective actions and agreed to certain reporting and recordkeeping requirements.

    The action is at least the second public action taken by the CFPB against a payday lender. In November 2013 the CFPB entered a consent order to resolve so-called “robosigning” allegations against another lender. That action, which was resolved with a $5 million penalty and $14 million in restitution, also included allegations that the lender violated the Military Lending Act and engaged in certain unlawful examination conduct.

    CFPB Payday Lending FDCPA UDAAP Debt Collection Enforcement

  • Michigan Supreme Court Holds Forwarding Companies Are Collection Agencies Subject To Licensing Rules

    Consumer Finance

    On June 13, the Michigan Supreme Court held that forwarding companies are collection agencies under state law and are subject to state licensing requirements. Badeen v. Par, Inc., No. 147150, 2014 WL 2686068 (Mich. Jun. 13, 2014). In this case, a state-licensed debt collection agency and an individual state-licensed collection agency manager filed a putative class action against a group of forwarding companies—companies that contract with creditors to allocate a collection to a collection agent in the appropriate location but  do not contact the debtors themselves—alleging the companies are actually collection agencies and were operating in the state without first obtaining a collection agency license. The court explained that under state law, a collection agency is “a person directly or indirectly engaged in soliciting a claim for collection or collecting or attempting to collect a claim owed or due another or repossessing or attempting to repossess a thing of value owed or due another arising out of an expressed or implied agreement.” The court determined that under the plain meaning of the statute, the phrase “soliciting a claim for collection” means asking a creditor for any unpaid debts that the collection agency may pursue by allocating them to local collection agents, which the forwarding companies did by contracting with creditors. The court rejected the forwarding companies’ argument that they do not satisfy the definition because soliciting a claim for collection refers only to asking the debtor to pay his or her debt, which the forwarding companies did not do. The court determined it need not reach the issue of whether the forwarding companies indirectly collect or attempt to collect debts when they contract with a local collection agency. The court remanded for trial court consideration a separate issue of whether the forwarding companies satisfy a statutory exception to the licensing requirements applicable to collection agencies whose collection activities in the state are limited to interstate communications.

    Debt Collection Licensing

  • Florida Revises Requirements For Third-Party Debt Collectors

    Consumer Finance

    Effective October 1, 2014, third-party debt collectors seeking to collect debt in Florida will be subject to new requirements. Pursuant to HB 413, which Florida Governor Rick Scott signed on June 13, consumer collection agencies will be subject to disqualifying periods from registration based on the severity and recency of criminal convictions of certain “control persons” of those agencies. Control persons is defined as any individual, partnership, corporation, trust, or other organization that possesses the power, directly or indirectly, to direct the management or policies of a company, whether through ownership of securities, by contract, or otherwise. The bill also grants the Office of Financial Regulation authority to examine and investigate consumer collection agencies, and establishes new reporting requirements for registrants.

    Debt Collection

  • West Virginia Supreme Court Upholds $14 Million Award In Finance Company "True Lender" Case

    Consumer Finance

    On May 30, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals affirmed a series of trial court orders requiring a nonbank consumer finance company to pay $14 million in penalties and restitution for allegedly violating the state’s usury and debt collection laws. CashCall, Inc. v. Morrisey, No. 12-1274, 2014 WL 2404300 (W. Va. May 30, 2014). On appeal, the finance company contended, among other things, that the trial court erred in applying the “predominant economic interest” test to determine whether the finance company or the bank that funded the loans was the “true lender.” The trial court held that the finance company was the de facto lender and was therefore liable for violating the state’s usury and other laws because: (i) the agreement placed the entire monetary burden and risk of the loan program the finance company; (ii) the company paid the bank more for each loan than the amount actually financed by the bank; (iii) the finance company’s owner personally guaranteed the company’s obligations to the bank; (iv) the company had to indemnify the bank; (v) the finance company was contractually obligated to purchase the loans originated and funded by the bank only if the finance company’s underwriting guidelines were employed; and (vi) for financial reporting, the finance company treated such loans as if they were funded by the company. The court affirmed the trial court holding and rejected the finance company’s argument that the trial court should have applied the “federal law test” established by the Fourth Circuit in Discover Bank v. Vaden, 489 F3d 594 (4th Cir. 2007). In Discover Bank the Fourth Circuit held that the true lender is (i) the entity in charge of setting the terms and conditions of a loan and (ii) the entity who actually extended the credit. In support of the trial court ruling, the court explained that the “federal law test” addresses “only the superficial appearance” of the finance company’s business model. Further, the court stated that the Fourth Circuit test was established in a case where the non-bank entity was a corporate affiliate of the bank, which was not the case here, and added that if the court were to apply the federal law test, it would “always find that a rent-a-bank was the true lender of loans” like those at issue in this case.

    Debt Collection Consumer Lending Enforcement

  • Updated CFPB Rulemaking Agenda Adds Auto Finance Larger Participant Rule, Updates Timelines For Other Rules

    Consumer Finance

    The CFPB recently released its latest rulemaking agenda, which lists for the first time a larger participant rule that would define the size of nonbank auto finance companies subject to the CFPB's supervisory authority. The CFPB anticipates proposing a rule no sooner than August 2014. Stakeholders will have an opportunity to comment, and a final rule likely would not be issued until sometime in 2015. The CFPB anticipates finalizing its rule for larger participants in the international money transfer market in September 2014. In addition, the agenda pushes back the timeline for the anticipated prepaid card proposed rule from May 2014 to June 2014. The CFPB has been testing potential prepaid card disclosures.

    The agenda does not provide timelines for proposed rules related to payday lending, debt collection, or overdraft products, but the CFPB states that additional prerule activities for each of those topics will continue through September 2014, December 2014, and February 2015, respectively. The CFPB substantially extended the timeline for overdraft products; it previously anticipated continuing prerule activities through July 2014. While “prerule activities” is not a defined term, it could include conducting a small business review panel for some or all of those topics. Such panels focus on the impact of anticipated regulations on small entities, but the CFPB typically makes the small business panel materials public, which provides an advance look at the potential direction for a proposed rule.

    The agenda does not include a rulemaking implementing the small business fair lending data reporting requirements in the Dodd-Frank Act, though the CFPB previously has indicated it could consider those issues in connection with its HMDA rulemaking.  Prerule activities related to the HMDA rule are ongoing.

    CFPB Payday Lending Prepaid Cards Auto Finance Debt Collection Overdraft Deposit Advance Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

  • CFPB Report Highlights Nonbank Supervisory Findings

    Consumer Finance

    On May 22, the CFPB published its Spring 2014 Supervisory Highlights report, its fourth such report to date. In addition to reviewing recent guidance, rulemakings, and public enforcement actions, the report states that the CFPB’s nonpublic supervisory actions related to deposit products, consumer reporting, credit cards, and mortgage origination and servicing have yielded more than $70 million in remediation to over 775,000 consumers. The report also reiterates CFPB supervisory guidance with regard to oversight of third-party service providers and implementation of compliance management systems (CMS) to mitigate risk.

    The report specifically highlights fair lending aspects of CMS, based on CFPB examiners’ observations that “financial institutions lack adequate policies and procedures for managing the fair lending risk that may arise when a lender makes exceptions to its established credit standards.” The CFPB acknowledges that credit exceptions are appropriate when based on a legitimate justification. In addition to reviewing fair lending aspects of CMS, the CFPB states lenders should also maintain adequate documentation and oversight to avoid increasing fair lending risk.

    Nonbank Supervisory Findings

    The majority of the report summarizes supervisory findings at nonbanks, particularly with regard to consumer reporting, debt collection, and short-term, small-dollar lending:

    Consumer Reporting

    Following its adoption of its larger participant rule for consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) in July 2012, CFPB examiners reviewed CRAs’ dispute handling processes and CMS, and found among other things that (i) some CRAs lacked a formal or adequate CMS, and/or their boards and senior managers exercised insufficient oversight of the CMS; (ii) some CRAs failed to establish sufficient FCRA compliance policies, including with regard to dispute-handling procedures, and (iii) some failed to adequately supervise vendors, including call center and ancillary product vendors. CFPB examiners also found that (i) at least one CRA did not monitor or track consumer complaints; (ii) at least one CRA failed to forward all relevant consumer dispute materials to the furnisher, as required by FCRA; and (iii) at least one refused to accept disputes from certain consumer submitted online or by phone.

    Debt Collection

    The CFPB finalized its debt collector larger participant rule in October 2012 and since that time its examiners have observed debt collectors engaged in the following allegedly illegal or unfair and deceptive practices: (i) intentionally misleading consumers about litigation; (ii) making excessive calls to consumers; and (iii) failing to investigate consumer credit report disputes.

    Short-term, Small-dollar Lending

    The Dodd-Frank Act grants the CFPB supervisory authority over payday lenders without having first to adopt a larger participant rule. The CFPB launched its payday lender supervision program in January 2012 and reports that its examiners have found, among other things, that in seeking to collect payday loan debt some lenders engaged in the following allegedly unfair or deceptive practices: (i) threatening to take legal actions they did not actually intend to pursue; (ii) threatening to impose additional fees or to debit borrowers’ accounts, regardless of contract terms; (iii) falsely claiming they were running non-existent promotions to induce borrowers to call back about their debt; and (iv) calling borrowers multiple times per day or visiting borrowers’ workplaces.

    CFPB Payday Lending Nonbank Supervision Mortgage Origination Auto Finance Debt Collection Consumer Reporting Bank Supervision

  • New York AG Bars Collection Of Time Barred Debt By Debt Buyers

    Consumer Finance

    On May 8, New York Attorney General (AG) Eric Schneiderman announced that two debt buyers agreed to resolve allegations that they engaged in improper collection of untimely debt against New York consumers. The AG claims that the companies purchased unpaid consumer debt—largely credit card debt—from original creditors and then sought to collect on that debt by suing debtors and obtaining uncontested default judgments against those who failed to respond to lawsuits, even though the underlying claims were outside of the applicable statute of limitations. The applicable statute of limitations is determined based on the state of the original creditor’s residence and may be shorter than New York’s six-year statute of limitations.  According to the AG, obtaining or collecting on a judgment based on such untimely claims is unlawful under New York law. Together, the companies allegedly obtained nearly three thousand improper judgments, totaling approximately $16 million. The companies will pay civil penalties and costs of $300,000 and $175,000 and agreed to vacate the allegedly improper judgments and cease any further collection activities on the judgments. The companies also agreed to adjust their debt collection practices by (i) disclosing in any written or oral communication with a consumer about a time-barred debt that the company will not sue to collect on the debt; (ii) disclosing in any written or oral communication with a consumer about a debt that is outside the date for reporting the debt provided for by FCRA that, because of the age of the debt, the company will not report the debt to any credit reporting agency; (iii) alleging certain information relevant to the statute of limitations in any debt collection complaint, “including the name of the original creditor of the debt, the complete chain of title of the debt, and the date of the consumer’s last payment on the debt”; and (iv) submitting an affidavit with any application for a default judgment that "attests that after reasonable inquiry, the company or its counsel has reason to believe that the applicable statute of limitations has not expired.”

    State Attorney General Debt Collection Enforcement Debt Buying

  • New York Targets Online Lenders Through Debit Card Networks

    Fintech

    On April 30, the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) again expanded the scope of its activities targeting online payday lenders by announcing that two major debit card network operators agreed to halt the processing of payday loan deductions from bank accounts owned by New York consumers who allegedly obtained illegal online payday loans. The DFS asserts that in response to increased regulatory pressure on online lenders’ use of the ACH network—known as Operation Choke Point—those lenders are using debit card transactions to collect on payday loans originated online to New York residents. The DFS believes such loans violate the state’s usury laws. The DFS also sent cease-and-desist letters to 20 companies it believes are “illegally promoting, making, or collecting on payday loans to New York consumers.” The DFS’s assault on online lenders publicly began in February 2013 when it warned third-party debt collectors about collecting on allegedly illegal payday loans, and was first expanded in August 2013 when the 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. At the same time, the DFS asked banks and NACHA to limit such lenders’ access to the payment system. DFS subsequently expanded its effort in December 2013 when it began targeting payday loan lead generation companies.

    Payday Lending Debt Collection Debit Cards Online Lending NYDFS

  • New York Court System Proposes Consumer Debt Collection Reforms

    Consumer Finance

    On April 30, the New York Unified Court System proposed new rules for consumer credit collection cases. If adopted, the rules would (i) require creditors to submit affidavits based on personal knowledge that meet the substantive and evidentiary standards for entry of default judgments under state law; (ii) expand to all state courts an existing requirement applicable to cases in New York City courts that an additional notice of a consumer credit action be mailed to debtors; and (iii) provide unrepresented debtors with additional resources and assistance. The proposal attaches copies of the potential affidavits, which the court system states are necessary to address so-called “robosigning.” Last October, New York State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky urged these and other changes as part of the court’s initial public comment period. Comments on the proposal are due May 30, 2014.

    Debt Collection

  • California Appeals Court Holds Judgment Creditor's Forbearance Fees Not Subject To State Usury Law

    Consumer Finance

    On April 25, the California Court of Appeal, First District, held that California’s usury law does not prohibit a judgment creditor from accepting a forbearance fee to delay collecting on a judgment. Bisno v. Kahn, No. A133537, 2014 WL 1647660 (Cal. Ct. App. Apr. 25, 2014). In consolidated cases, the judgment creditors agreed to delay executing on their judgments in exchange for the payment of forbearance fees in addition to statutory post-judgment interest on the unpaid balance of the judgments. The judgment debtors subsequently claimed the forbearance fees are usurious and sought treble damages against the creditors. The court held that because the state’s usury law does not expressly prohibit a party from entering into an agreement to forbear collecting on a judgment, usury liability does not extend to judgment creditors who receive remuneration beyond the statutory interest rate in exchange for a delay in enforcing a judgment. The court added that a forbearance agreement is a contract between the judgment creditor and the judgment debtor that is separate from the judgment to which it applies, and therefore must be enforced in a separate contract action and is subject to standard contractual defenses such as duress and unconscionability.

    Foreclosure Debt Collection

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