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  • CFPB, DOJ issue letter to auto companies on SCRA provisions

    Federal Issues

    On July 29, the CFPB and DOJ issued a joint letter reminding auto finance companies of legal protections for military families under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Among other things, the letter outlines several SCRA provisions that apply to vehicle financing, including: (i) prohibiting vehicle repossession without a court order during the borrower’s military service if a borrower financed or leased the vehicle prior to entering military service; (ii) permitting servicemembers and joint lessee dependents to terminate motor vehicle leases early, and without penalty, after entering military service or receiving qualifying military orders during active duty; and (iii) capping the amount of interest on loans incurred prior to military service to 6 percent per year.

    Federal Issues CFPB Servicemembers DOJ SCRA Auto Finance

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  • Louisiana appellate court affirms district court’s decision in SCRA case

    Courts

    On June 29, the Court of Appeal for the Second District of Louisiana affirmed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a national bank in an SCRA case. According to the opinion, an active duty servicemember and his wife filed for bankruptcy after purchasing a mortgage on a property from a national bank (defendant). The defendant appeared in the bankruptcy proceedings and moved to abandon the property for purposes of eventual foreclosure. The plaintiffs moved out of the state and were granted a discharge under Chapter 7 bankruptcy laws. The defendant has not foreclosed on the property, asserting that the mortgage account remains subject to the protections of the federal SCRA. The plaintiffs filed suit, claiming ownership of the property due to the defendant’s failure to foreclose against them within five years of the abandonment of the property in the bankruptcy, asserting that their obligations under the mortgage are prescribed.

    The appellate court agreed that the mortgage account is subject to the protections of the SCRA, which tolls any state prescriptive period for the duration of one’s active-duty military service. According to the opinion, despite “no evidence of repayment” to the bank of any of the underlying mortgage debt, the plaintiffs claimed ownership of the subject property because the bank failed to “foreclose against them within five years of the abandonment of the property in the bankruptcy.” Agreeing with the bank that the mortgage account still remained subject to the protections of the SCRA, the court determined that: (i) the servicemember and his wife “cannot point to any law or jurisprudence that would provide an exception to the mandatory tolling provision of the SCRA [50 U.S.C. § 3936] in these circumstances;” (ii) the couple “never executed a waiver of rights form”; (iii) the “five-year prescriptive period [under Louisiana law] has been tolled on the mortgage” for the entirety of the servicemember’s active-duty military service; and (iv) the bank’s time to foreclose on the subject property “has not prescribed, as the prescriptive period has not started to run.” The appellate court concluded that the couple’s “obligations on the mortgage have not been extinguished, and they are not the owners of the subject property.”

    Courts SCRA Mortgages Servicemembers Foreclosure Appellate Louisiana

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  • DOJ initiates SCRA action for auctioning servicemember vehicles without court orders

    Federal Issues

    On April 15, the DOJ filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against a Virginia-based towing company for allegedly auctioning vehicles owned by at least seven active duty servicemembers without first obtaining the required court orders. Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), a person holding a lien on property or effects of a servicemember may not enforce or foreclose on that lien during, or within 90 days after, a period of military service without a court order. According to the complaint, several factors should have alerted the towing company to the fact that the vehicles belonged to a servicemember, including that the vehicles were towed from a military base and one contained a duffel bag containing military uniforms and other evidence of the servicemember’s military service. Additionally, the DOJ contended, among other things, that the company’s policies and procedures “failed to include any mention at all of the SCRA or the protections it grants to servicemembers whose vehicles have been towed,” nor did these policies include the use of the Defense Manpower Data Center database “to determine a vehicle owner’s military status prior to selling, auctioning off, or otherwise disposing of a vehicle without a court order.” The DOJ seeks damages for the affected servicemembers and civil penalties, as well as a court order enjoining the company and all associated persons from engaging in the illegal conduct.

    Federal Issues Courts Enforcement DOJ SCRA Consumer Finance Military Lending Servicemembers

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  • DOJ resolves SCRA violations with credit union

    Federal Issues

    On March 11, the DOJ announced a settlement with a credit union resolving allegations that the credit union violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by charging excessive interest on servicemembers’ loans and repossessing servicemembers’ cars without first obtaining a court order. According to the DOJ’s complaint, which was filed concurrently with the proposed settlement, the credit union allegedly charged interest exceeding 6 percent to 21 servicemembers who qualified for SCRA interest rate benefits. Under the SCRA, creditors are required to reduce the interest rate on retail installment sales contracts to 6 percent in certain circumstances. However, the DOJ asserted that in at least one instance, a servicemember was told that “reducing the interest rate would increase her monthly payment.” The DOJ also alleged that the credit union repossessed three servicemembers’ vehicles without court orders, including one instance where the vehicle was repossessed from a military base.

    The consent order, which is pending court approval, requires the credit union to pay nearly $70,000 to the affected servicemembers, along with a $40,000 civil penalty. The credit union is also, among other things, prohibited from (i) charging interest rate exceeding 6 percent during a period of military service; (ii) reamortizing any retail installment sales contracts connected to a request for SCRA interest rate benefits; (iii) “failing or refusing to credit early alert periods of military service when applying such benefits”; and (iv) repossessing SCRA-protected servicemembers’ vehicles without first obtaining a court order or valid SCRA waiver. The settlement also requires the credit union to review and update its SCRA policies and procedures to prevent future violations and to provide SCRA compliance training to its employees.

    Federal Issues DOJ SCRA Servicemembers Enforcement Auto Finance Settlement Consumer Finance

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  • President Biden signs NDAA into law

    Federal Issues

    On December 27, President Biden signed S. 1605 the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022” (NDAA) into law. The NDAA provisions include Section 6107, which requires the Treasury Secretary to conduct a briefing within one year of the law’s enactment before the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on the delegation of examination authority under the Bank Secrecy Act. Additionally, Section 6207 expands the coverage of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protections related to the termination of residential or motor vehicle leases and telephone service contracts. Specifically, Section 6207 makes those protections applicable to members of the Foreign Service who are posted abroad at a Foreign Service post.

    Federal Issues Federal Legislation Bank Secrecy Act SCRA

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  • CFPB, DOJ remind on servicemember protections

    Federal Issues

    On December 20, the CFPB and the DOJ issued two joint letters reminding mortgage servicers and landlords to ensure that military homeowners and tenants are safeguarded during the Covid-19 pandemic and benefit equally as the U.S. economically recovers. One letter was sent to landlords and other housing providers on protections for military tenants, reminding property owners of the critical housing protections for military tenants, some of whom may have had to make alterations to their housing arrangements in response to the pandemic. The other letter was sent to mortgage servicers regarding military borrowers who have exited or will be exiting Covid-19 mortgage forbearance programs. The letter comes in response to complaints from military families and veterans on possible mortgage servicing violations, which include, among other things, inaccurate credit reporting and misleading communications to borrowers. According to the second letter, the CFPB and the DOJ warned, “[s]uch actions, if true, may be in violation of the legal protections under the CARES Act or contrary to administrative guidance issued by federal housing agencies,” and that the Bureau “is currently reviewing these complaints to determine if further investigation is warranted.” The announcement also reminded landlord and servicers that “[s]ervicemembers have several legal protections under the SCRA that are designed to enable them to devote their entire energy to the national defense,” which include, among other things, “a prohibition on foreclosing on certain servicemembers’ mortgages without court orders, the ability for military families to terminate residential leases early, and without penalty, upon receipt of military orders, and a prohibition on evicting military families from their homes without court orders. In addition, under the CARES Act and Regulation X, servicemembers and veterans have the same protections available to all mortgage borrowers.” The announcement also noted that approximately 7.6 million homeowners entered forbearance during the Covid-19 pandemic and 1.25 million borrowers, many of whom are military borrowers, are still currently in forbearance programs that will expire at the end of the year. 

    Federal Issues CFPB DOJ Consumer Finance Mortgages Mortgage Servicing SCRA Servicemembers CARES Act Covid-19

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  • DOJ proposes SCRA settlement with Texas auto lender

    Federal Issues

    On September 30, the DOJ announced a proposed settlement with a Texas-based auto lender, resolving allegations that the lender denied early motor vehicle lease terminations to qualifying servicemembers as required by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The SCRA allows servicemembers to terminate their motor vehicle leases early without penalty if they enter military service or receive qualifying military orders for a permanent change of station or to deploy to another location. According to the DOJ’s complaint, filed concurrently with the proposed settlement, an investigation revealed 10 instances in which the lender allegedly failed to provide early lease terminations to qualifying servicemembers. As a result, the DOJ claimed that the servicemembers, among other things, continued to make payments for vehicles they no longer wanted and were charged early termination penalties. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the lender is required to pay more than $94,000 in compensation to the affected servicemembers and a $40,000 civil penalty. The proposed settlement also requires the lender to update its SCRA policies and procedures to avoid future violations and to provide SCRA compliance training to any employees whose customer interaction includes discussion of early lease termination benefits.

    Federal Issues DOJ SCRA Enforcement Military Lending Auto Finance

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  • Auto-financer settles with DOJ on SCRA allegations

    Federal Issues

    On September 29, the DOJ announced a settlement with a California-based auto-financing company resolving allegations that the company failed to refund up-front lease payments to servicemembers who lawfully terminated their motor vehicle leases early, in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). According to the press release, the SCRA “permits servicemembers to terminate motor vehicle leases early without penalty after entering military service or receiving qualifying military orders for a permanent change of station or to deploy.” When servicemembers end their motor vehicle leases early under the SCRA, the lessor must refund all lease payments made in advance under the SCRA. The settlement, filed by the DOJ in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleged that the company provided cash refunds for capitalized cost reduction (CCR) by servicemembers, but failed “to refund, on a pro rata basis, lease amounts—in the form of [CCR] from vehicle trade-in value—paid in advance by servicemembers who lawfully terminated their motor vehicle leases upon receipt of qualifying military orders.”

    Among other things, the settlement requires the company to compensate 714 servicemembers, pay $64,715 to the U.S. Treasury, adopt new policies, and implement new training requirements consistent with the SCRA. The settlement also notes that the company fully cooperated with the investigation.

    Federal Issues DOJ Enforcement Settlement SCRA Auto Finance

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  • DOJ settles SCRA violations with New Jersey student lending authority

    Federal Issues

    On September 20, the DOJ announced a settlement with a New Jersey’s student lending authority, resolving allegations that the authority obtained unlawful court judgments in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) against two military servicemembers who co-signed student loans . According to the press release, the DOJ launched an investigation into the authority after receiving a report from the Coast Guard that the authority obtained a default judgment in 2019 against a Coast Guard petty officer who co-signed on behalf of the two student loans. The complaint, filed by the DOJ in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, states that the authority “obtained default judgments against two SCRA-protected servicemembers” by failing “to file true and accurate affidavits indicating the military status of [the two service servicemembers].” According to the DOJ, lenders can verify an individual’s military status by utilizing a defense data center’s free and public website, or by reviewing their files to confirm military status. The authority allegedly filed affidavits in state court that inaccurately stated that the servicemembers were not in military service, even though the authority had conducted searches in the defense data center’s website that confirmed that the individuals were active military servicemembers.

    The settlement notes that the authority must pay $15,000 each to the two servicemembers who had default judgments entered against them, and must pay a $20,000 civil penalty. Among other things, the settlement also requires the authority to provide compliance training to its employees and to develop new policies and procedures consistent with the SCRA. The settlement also notes that the authority, since the opening of the investigation, has been fully cooperative and has “taken steps to improve its compliance with the SCRA.” 

    Federal Issues DOJ SCRA Military Lending New Jersey Student Lending Courts Enforcement Servicemembers

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  • CFPB Office of Servicemember Affairs releases annual report on servicemembers’ financial needs

    Federal Issues

    On May 6, the CFPB’s Office of Servicemember Affairs (OSA) released its annual report, which provides an overview of OSA’s activities in fulfilling its statutory responsibilities for fiscal year 2020 and covers the period between January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020. The report also addresses concerns raised by military consumers based on approximately 40,000 complaints submitted by servicemembers, veterans, and their families (collectively “servicemembers”). Key takeaways from the report include the following:

    • Financial help due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In response to Covid-19, the Bureau released an online resource “to highlight tools and information that consumers can use to protect themselves and manage their finances, including information on topics such as mortgage and housing assistance, student loans, and avoiding scams.” For servicemembers, the page connects to an OSA blog detailing resources that military personnel can use for immediate financial assistance and to sustain long-term financial well-being.
    • Misadventures in Money Management (MiMM). MiMM serves as an online educational tool that provides young servicemembers with an important “baseline of financial education through the power of storytelling and gamification.”
    • Consumer Financial Protection Week and Military Consumer Protection Month. OSA took part in a joint webinar with the CFPB’s Office of Older Americans and the Office of Community Affairs, which highlighted initiatives for vulnerable populations and emphasized the “importance of research in understanding the financial well-being of military consumers.” The webinar also unveiled the Bureau’s “first research report that studied how the credit records of young servicemembers coevolve with military service.”
    • National Veterans and Military Families Month. During November 2020, OSA organized with other agencies and organizations to encourage the military community to leverage available resources to help improve their financial well-being. These initiatives included, among other things: (i) publishing OSA’s Debt and Delinquency after Military Service research report; (ii) participating in the Bureau’s Financial inTuition Repayment Podcast Series; and (iii) convening “a virtual military consumer webinar with partner agencies and organizations to discuss financial challenges facing servicemembers, veterans, and their families in the financial marketplace.”
    • Education and empowerment. The Bureau also “deployed and amplif[ied] [its] financial education tools through partners, engaging servicemembers and military families at townhall-style listening sessions at military installations.”

    Federal Issues CFPB Servicemembers Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Consumer Complaints Consumer Finance SCRA Military Lending Act

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