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Recently, the Department of Defense (DoD), in consultation with the Treasury Department, released a report to the House Committee on Armed Services in response to Title V of House Report 116-442 on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 202. The House Report requested a report regarding the Military Annual Percentage Rate (MAPR), which cannot exceed 36 percent as established under the Military Lending Act (MLA) and what impact lowering the MAPR to 30 percent would have on military readiness and servicemember retention. Some highlights of the report include, among other things: (i) “the MLA, in combination with the Department’s ongoing financial literacy education and financial counseling efforts, appears to be effective in deterring unfair credit practices”; (ii) the DoD does not take a position regarding the merit of any change to decrease the maximum MAPR rate below 30 percent; (iii) credit cards, auto loans, and personal loans are generally available at risk-based rates below the MAPR; (iv) almost a quarter of all active duty servicemembers in the U.S. are stationed in states that limit a 24 month, $2,000 loan to less than 30 percent; and (v) “a MAPR limit as low as 28 percent would likely have no impact on [servicemembers]’ access to credit cards, assuming credit card issuers meet exemptions for eligible bona fide fees when calculating the MAPR.” The report notes that the DoD “is committed to continue working with Congress to support the financial readiness of [servicemembers] and their families and is willing to provide comment on any such proposal when appropriate.”
On June 30, President Biden signed S.J. Res. 15, repealing the OCC’s “true lender” rule pursuant to the Congressional Review Act. Issued last year, the final rule amended 12 CFR Part 7 to state that a bank makes a loan when, as of the date of origination, it either (i) is named as the lender in the loan agreement, or (ii) funds the loan. The final rule also provided that if “one bank is named as the lender in the loan agreement and another bank funds the loan, the bank that is named as the lender in the loan agreement makes the loan.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
On June 24, the U.S. House passed S.J. Res. 15 by a vote of 218 - 208 to repeal the OCC’s “true lender” rule. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. Senate passed S.J. Res. 15 last month by vote of 52-47 to invoke the Congressional Review Act and provide for congressional disapproval and invalidation of the final rule. The measure now heads to President Biden who is expected to sign it. Issued last year, the final rule amended 12 CFR Part 7 to state that a bank makes a loan when, as of the date of origination, it either (i) is named as the lender in the loan agreement, or (ii) funds the loan. The final rule also clarified that if “one bank is named as the lender in the loan agreement and another bank funds the loan, the bank that is named as the lender in the loan agreement makes the loan.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael Hsu issued a statement after the vote saying the OCC respects Congress’ role in reviewing regulations under the Congressional Review Act. He reaffirmed the OCC’s position that predatory lending has no place in the federal banking system and noted that moving forward the OCC “will consider policy options, consistent with the Congressional Review Act, that protect consumers while expanding financial inclusion.”
On May 27, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis sent letters to two banks and two fintech companies seeking information on the companies’ handling of loan applications under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). According to a press release announcing the launch of the subcommittee’s investigation, the letters (available here, here, here, and here) were sent to four companies that facilitated PPP loans but may have allegedly failed to adequately screen PPP loan applications for fraud. The subcommittee notes that recent reports lend “credence to reports that criminal actors sought out [fintechs] for fraudulent PPP loans because of the speed with which the [fintech] companies processed the loans—which in some cases could be approved in ‘as little as an hour’—and the fact that the [fintech] loan application process appeared to include very little scrutiny of its applicants.” The letters request documents and information to assist the Subcommittee in understanding the fraud controls and compliance systems that the companies applied to their PPP loan programs.
On May 19, acting FTC Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter published a letter reaffirming the need to restore the Commission’s ability to return money to harmed consumers following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in FTC v. AMG Capital Management. As previously covered by InfoBytes, on April 22, the Court unanimously held that Section 13(b) of the FTC Act “does not authorize the Commission to seek, or a court to award, equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement.” Last month, Slaughter testified before both House and Senate subcommittees on the need for Congressional action to clarify Section 13(b) and affirmatively confirm the FTC’s authority to seek permanent injunctions and other equitable relief for violations of any law under its enforcement authority (covered by InfoBytes here).
Slaughter’s letter, directed to Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Roger Wicker (R-MS)—the chair and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, respectively—addressed several issues raised by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce concerning recently introduce legislation (see H.R. 2668), which is intended to restore the FTC’s ability under Section 13(b) to seek consumer compensation in antitrust and consumer protection cases. Among other things, Slaughter disagreed with the Chamber’s position that Congress always intended for Section 13(b) to be used only in so-called “fraud cases.” She pointed to a 1994 action, in which Congress “directly ratified the FTC’s reliance on Section 13(b) in all manner of cases by expanding its venue and service of process provisions without placing any limitations on the types of cases to which Section 13(b) applies,” and noted that to date, the FTC has obtained billions of dollars of monetary relief for consumers, many of which were in non-fraud consumer protection cases. According to Slaughter, limiting the FTC’s ability to seek monetary relief to only “cases involving ‘egregious’ frauds” would allow companies and individuals “adjudicated to have engaged in unfair, deceptive, or anticompetitive practices” to keep money earned from unlawful conduct at the expense of harmed consumers.
Slaughter also emphasized that limiting Section 13(b) to only ongoing or imminent conduct does not make sense. Waiting for violations to recur in order to obtain a federal court injunction, Slaughter argued, “creates weak incentives for compliance, and is an inefficient enforcement mechanism that will result only in more consumer harm.” In addressing the Chamber’s concern that statutory fix proposals lack a statute of limitations for monetary relief under Section 13(b), Slaughter emphasized that H.R. 2668 would provide a 10-year limit on monetary relief.
On May 13, the U.S. House passed, by a vote of 215-207, H.R. 2547, which would provide additional financial protections for consumers and place several restrictions on debt collection activities. Known as the “Comprehensive Debt Collection Improvement Act,” H.R. 2547 consolidates 10 separate proposed consumer protection bills into one comprehensive package.
Provisions under the package would cover:
- Confessions of Judgment (COJs). The bill would amend TILA and expand the ban on COJs to cover small business owners and merchant cash advance companies.
- Servicemembers. The bill would amend the FDCPA to prohibit debt collectors from threatening servicemembers, including by representing to servicemembers that failure to cooperate will result in a reduction of rank, revocation of their security clearance, or prosecution. Covered debtors would include active-duty service members, those released from duty in the past year, and certain dependents.
- Student Loans. The bill would amend TILA to require the discharge of private student loans in the case of a borrower’s death or total and permanent disability.
- Medical Debt. The bill would amend the FDCPA by making it an unfair practice to “engag[e] in activities to collect or attempt to collect a medical debt before the end of the 2-year period beginning on the date that the first payment with respect to such medical debt is due.” The bill would also amend the FCRA to, among other things, bar entities from collecting medical debt or reporting it to a consumer reporting agency without providing a consumer notice about their rights.
- Electronic Communication. The bill would amend the FDCPA to limit a debt collector from contacting a consumer by email, text message, or direct message on social media without receiving the debtor’s permission to be contacted electronically. It would also prevent debt collectors from sending unlimited electronic communications to consumers.
- Other Debt Provisions. The bill would (i) expand the definition of debt covered under the FDCPA to include money owed to a federal agency, states, or local government; certain personal, family, or household transactions; and court debts; (ii) restrict federal agencies from transferring debt to a collector until at least 90 days after the obligation becomes delinquent or defaults; (iii) require agencies to notify consumers at least three times—with notifications spaced at least 30 days apart—before transferring their debt; and (iv) limit the fees debt collectors can charge.
- Penalties. The bill would require the CFPB to update monetary penalties under the FDCPA for inflation. It would also (i) clarify that courts can award injunctive relief; (ii) cap damages in class actions; and (iii) add protections for consumers affected by national disasters.
- Non-Judicial Foreclosures. The bill would amend the FDCPA to clarify that companies engaged in non-judicial foreclosure proceedings are covered by the statute.
- Legal Actions. The bill would amend the FDCPA to outline requirements for debt collectors taking legal action to collect or attempt to collect a debt, including providing a consumer with written notice, as well as documents showing the consumer agreed to the contract creating the debt, and a sworn affidavit stating the applicable statute of limitations has not expired.
On April 27, acting FTC Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter asked the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce to pass legislation to clarify Section 13(b) of the FTC Act and restore the Commission’s ability to return money to harmed consumers following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in FTC v. AMG Capital Management. As previously covered by InfoBytes, on April 22, the Court unanimously reduced the FTC’s powers by holding that Section 13(b) of the FTC Act “does not authorize the Commission to seek, or a court to award, equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement.”
Section 13(b), Slaughter testified, has been “the agency’s primary and most effective way of returning money to consumers,” as it authorizes the Commission to sue directly in federal court for violations of the FTC Act. Until recently, “seven of the twelve courts of appeals, relying on longstanding Supreme Court precedent, interpreted the language in Section 13(b) to authorize district courts to award the full panoply of equitable remedies necessary to provide complete relief for consumers, including disgorgement and restitution of money,” Slaughter emphasized, noting, however, that a shift in recent court interpretations of Section 13(b) has “significantly limited the Commission’s primary and most effective tool for providing refunds to harmed consumers.” Slaughter also stressed that “if Congress does not act promptly, the FTC will be far less effective in its ability to protect consumers and execute its law enforcement mission.”
H.R. 2668, introduced by House Democrats, seeks to affirmatively confirm the FTC’s authority to seek permanent injunctions and other equitable relief for violations of any law under its enforcement authority. In her prepared statement, Slaughter told the Subcommittee that legislation such as H.R. 2668 is “urgently needed to address legal challenges to critical authority that enables the FTC to do its job of protecting consumers and competition.” She further noted that legislation is needed to ensure that the FTC is able to prevent harmful conduct from reoccurring. Slaughter pointed to two recent decisions issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that reinterpreted Section 13(b) and “jeopardize[d] the FTC’s ability to enjoin illegal conduct in federal court.” The decisions “hamper the Commission’s longstanding ability to protect consumers by enjoining defendants from resuming their unlawful activities when the conduct has stopped but there is a reasonable likelihood that the defendants will resume their unlawful activities in the future,” she stated.
On April 21, a coalition of 26 state attorneys general sent a letter urging Congress to exercise its authority under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) and rescind the OCC’s “True Lender Rule” in order to “safeguard states’ fundamental sovereign rights to protect their citizens from financial abuse.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the OCC’s final rule amended 12 CFR Part 7 to state that a bank makes a loan when, as of the date of origination, it either (i) is named as the lender in the loan agreement or (ii) funds the loan. The final rule also clarified that if “one bank is named as the lender in the loan agreement and another bank funds the loan, the bank that is named as the lender in the loan agreement makes the loan.” In their letter, the AGs expressed concern that the final rule “establishes a simplistic standard to redefine the meaning of ‘true lender,’” enabling predatory lenders to “circumvent” state interest-rate caps through “rent-a-bank” schemes, which would in turn allow banks to act as lenders in name only while passing state law exemptions for banks to non-bank entities. The letter references a complaint filed by eight state AGs against the OCC in January challenging the final rule (covered by InfoBytes here) and argues that in finalizing the rule the OCC “acted in a manner contrary to centuries of case law [and] the OCC’s own prior interpretation of the law,” and seeks to preempt state usury law and “infringe on the States’ historical police powers and facilitate predatory lending.”
In March, both House and Senate Democrats introduced CRA resolutions (see H.J. Res. 35 and S.J. Res. 15) intended to provide for congressional disapproval and invalidation of the OCC’s final rule. The OCC responded on April 14, arguing that “disapproval of the rule would return bank lending relationships to the previous state of legal and regulatory uncertainty, which. . . adversely affects the function of secondary markets and restricts the availability of credit.” The OCC further stated that the final rule is intended to enhance the agency’s ability to supervise bank lending and “does not change bank’s authority to export interest rates” nor does it “permit national banks to charge whatever rate they like” as both federal and state-chartered banks are required to conform to applicable interest rate limits. “Disparities of interest rates from state to state result from differences in the state laws that impose these caps, not OCC rules or actions,” the OCC stressed, adding that “[s]tates retain the authority to set interest rates.” However, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors sent a letter to Congress in support of S.J. Res. 15, disagreeing with the OCC and noting that the final rule, if it stands, would “eviscerate the power of state interest rate caps and rid state regulators of the most effective tool to protect consumers from such predatory lending.”
On January 1, the U.S. Senate voted to override President Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, following a similar vote in the House a few days prior. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the NDAA includes significant changes to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and anti-money laundering (AML) laws under the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020, such as:
- Establishing federal disclosure requirements of beneficial ownership information, including a requirement that reporting companies submit, at the time of formation and within a year of any change, their beneficial owner(s) to a “secure, nonpublic database at FinCEN”;
- Expanding the declaration of purpose of the BSA and establishing national examinations and supervision priorities;
- Requiring streamlined, real-time reporting of Suspicious Activity Reports;
- Establishing a Subcommittee on Innovation and Technology within the Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group to encourage and support technological innovation in the area of AML and countering the financing of terrorism and proliferation (CFT);
- Expanding the definition of financial institution under the BSA to include dealers in antiquities;
- Requiring federal agencies to study the facilitation of money laundering and the financing of terrorism through the trade of works of art; and
- Including digital currency in AML-CFT enforcement by, among other things, expanding the definition of financial institution under the BSA to include businesses engaged in the transmission of “currency, funds or value that substitutes for currency or funds.”
On December 14, congressional lawmakers released the details of bipartisan Covid-19 relief legislation (and accompanying memorandum), titled “the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020,” which would provide $300 billion to the U.S. Small Business Administration to allow for second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to certain businesses after the program’s lending expired in August (covered by InfoBytes here). In addition to capping the maximum PPP loan amount at $2 million, the proposed legislation would limit eligibility of new PPP loans to (i) businesses with 300 or fewer employees that have sustained a 30 percent revenue loss in any quarter of 2020; and (ii) non-lobbying, tax-exempt organizations that have 150 employees or fewer. Additionally, the legislation clarifies that business expenses paid for with the proceeds of PPP loans are tax deductible, and simplifies the loan forgiveness process for loans $150,000 or less. Lastly, the legislation includes set-asides for (i) small businesses with 10 or fewer employees; (ii) loans made by small community lenders, including Community Development Financial Institutions, credit unions, Minority Depository Institutions; and (iii) the Minority Business Development Agency.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Updates on Artificial Intelligence Regulations - the U.S. and EU” at the American Bar Association Busines Law Section Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Government investigations, and compliance 2021 trends” at the Corporate Counsel Women of Color Career Strategies Conference
- APPROVED Webcast: California debt collection license requirement: Overview and analysis
- Max Bonici to discuss “BSA/AML trends: What to expect with the implementation of the AML Act of 2020” at the American Bar Association Banking Law Fall Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Regulators are gearing up: Are you ready?” at HousingWire Annual
- Amanda R. Lawrence and Elizabeth E. McGinn discuss “U.S. state privacy legislation – Are you compliant?” at the Privacy+Security Forum
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss “Modifications and exiting forbearance” at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Jonice Gray Tucker and Kari K. Hall to discuss “Consumer Protection Priorities in the Biden Administration and Beyond" at the SWABC and TBA 2021 Legal Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Truth in lending” at the American Bar Association National Institute on Consumer Financial Services Basics
- John R. Coleman and Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “Consumer financial services government enforcement actions – The CFPB and beyond” at the Government Investigations & Civil Litigation Institute Annual Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek