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On August 16, the CFPB filed its opening brief in the agency’s appeal of a district court’s December 2020 decision, which granted a payment company’s motion for summary judgment and vacated two provisions of the Bureau’s Prepaid Account Rule: (i) the short-form disclosure requirement “to the extent it provides mandatory disclosure clauses”; and (ii) the 30-day credit linking restriction. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau claimed that it had authority to enforce the mandates under federal regulations, including the EFTA, TILA, and Dodd-Frank, but the district court disagreed, concluding, among other things, that the Bureau acted outside of its statutory authority with respect to the mandatory disclosure clauses of the short-form requirement in 12 CFR section 1005.18(b) by presuming that “Congress delegated power to the Bureau to issue mandatory disclosure clauses just because Congress did not specifically prohibit them from doing so.” In striking the mandatory 30-day credit linking restriction under 12 CFR section 1026.61(c)(1)(iii), the district court determined that “the Bureau once again reads too much into its general rulemaking authority,” and that neither TILA nor Dodd-Frank vest the Bureau with the authority to promulgate substantive regulations on when consumers can access and use credit linked to prepaid accounts. Moreover, the court deemed the regulatory provision to be a “substantive regulation banning a consumer’s access to and use of credit” under the disguise of a disclosure, and thus invalid.
In its appeal, the Bureau urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn the district court’s ruling, arguing that both the EFTA and Dodd-Frank authorize the Bureau to promulgate rules governing disclosures for prepaid accounts. “The model-clause provision simply ensures that institutions will always have a surefire way of complying with the statute, even when the Bureau’s regulations do not specify how information should be disclosed,” the CFPB said, stressing that “[n]either that provision nor anything else forecloses—let alone unambiguously forecloses—rules requiring disclosures to present specified content in a specified format so that consumers are better able to find, understand, and compare products’ terms.” The decision to adopt such rules, the Bureau added, is entitled to deference. According to the Bureau, the Prepaid Account Rule “does not make any specific disclosure clauses mandatory,” and companies are permitted to use the provided sample disclosure wording or use their own “substantially similar” wording. Additionally, the Bureau argued, among other things, that “[b]y mandating optional model clauses while remaining silent about content and formatting requirements, Congress did not ‘circumscribe the [agency’s] discretion’ to adopt such requirements.” Instead, the Bureau contended, “whether to adopt content and formatting requirements is left ‘to agency discretion.’” Moreover, the disputed requirements “fit comfortably” within its power to regulate disclosure standards under EFTA and Dodd-Frank, the Bureau argued, adding that the law “authorizes the Bureau to ‘prescribe rules to ensure that the features of any consumer financial product or service … are fully, accurately, and effectively disclosed to consumers.’”
CFPB appeals ruling vacating mandatory disclosures and 30-day credit linking restriction in Prepaid Accounts Rule
On March 1, the CFPB filed a notice to appeal a December 2020 ruling, in which the U.S. District Court for the District of D.C. vacated two provisions of the Bureau’s Prepaid Account Rule: (i) the short-form disclosure requirement “to the extent it provides mandatory disclosure clauses”; and (ii) the 30-day credit linking restriction. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court concluded that the Bureau acted outside of its statutory authority by promulgating a short-form disclosure requirement (to the extent it provided for mandatory disclosure clauses). The court noted that it could not “presume—as the Bureau does—that Congress delegated power to the Bureau to issue mandatory disclosure clauses just because Congress did not specifically prohibit them from doing so.” The court further determined that the Bureau also read too much into its general rulemaking authority when it promulgated a mandatory 30-day credit linking restriction under 12 CFR section 1026.61(c)(1)(iii) that limited consumers’ ability to link certain credit cards to their prepaid accounts. The court first determined that neither TILA nor Dodd-Frank vest the Bureau with the authority to promulgate substantive regulations on when consumers can access and use credit linked to prepaid accounts. Second, the court deemed the regulatory provision to be a “substantive regulation banning a consumer’s access to and use of credit” under the disguise of a disclosure, and thus invalid.
On December 30, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted a payment company’s motion for summary judgment against the CFPB, vacating two provisions of the agency’s Prepaid Account Rule: (i) the short-form disclosure requirement “to the extent it provides mandatory disclosure clauses”; and (ii) the 30-day credit linking restriction. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the company filed a lawsuit against the Bureau alleging, among other things, that the Bureau’s Prepaid Account Rule exceeds the agency’s statutory authority “because Congress only authorized the Bureau to adopt model, optional disclosure clauses—not mandatory disclosure clauses like the short-form disclosure requirement.” The Bureau countered that it had authority to enforce the mandates under federal regulations, including the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA), TILA, and Dodd-Frank, arguing that the “EFTA and [Dodd-Frank] authorize the Bureau to issue—or at least do not foreclose it from issuing—rules mandating the form of a disclosure.” The Bureau also claimed that its general rulemaking power under either TILA or Dodd-Frank provides authority for the 30-day credit-linking restriction.
With respect to the mandatory disclosure clauses of the short-form requirement in 12 CFR section 1005.18(b), the court concluded, among other things, that the Bureau acted outside of its statutory authority. The court stated that “Congress underscored the need for flexibility by requiring the Bureau to ‘take account of variations in the services and charges under different electronic fund transfer systems’ and ‘issue alternative model clauses’ for different account terms where appropriate” and it could not “presume—as the Bureau does—that Congress delegated power to the Bureau to issue mandatory disclosure clauses just because Congress did not specifically prohibit them from doing so.”
In striking the mandatory 30-day credit linking restriction under 12 CFR section 1026.61(c)(1)(iii), the court determined that “the Bureau once again reads too much into its general rulemaking authority.” First, the court determined that neither TILA nor Dodd-Frank vest the Bureau with the authority to promulgate substantive regulations on when consumers can access and use credit linked to prepaid accounts. Second, the court deemed the regulatory provision to be a “substantive regulation banning a consumer’s access to and use of credit” under the disguise of a disclosure, and thus invalid.
On December 11, a payments company filed a lawsuit against the CFPB in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that the Bureau’s Prepaid Account Rule (Rule), which took effect April 1 and provides protections for prepaid account consumers, exceeds the agency’s statutory authority and is “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The company further asserts that the Rule violates its First Amendment rights by requiring it to make confusing disclosures that contain categories not relevant to the company’s products. According to the complaint, the Rule mandates that the company send “short form” fee disclosures to customers that include references to fees for ATM balance inquiries, customer service, electronic withdrawal, international transactions, and other categories, and “prohibits [the company] from including explanatory phrases within the disclosure box to describe the nature of these fee categories.” These disclosures, the company asserts, have confused many customers who mistakenly believe the company charges fees to access funds stored as a balance with the company, to make a purchase with a merchant, or to send money to friends or family in the U.S. The company also claims that the Bureau erroneously lumped it into the same category as providers of general purpose reloadable cards (GPR cards), and argues that the Rule ignores how prepaid cards fundamentally differ from digital wallets, which has resulted in several unintended consequences.
The company asserts that the Rule is unlawful and invalid under the APA and the Constitution for three principal reasons:
- The Rule contravenes the Bureau’s statutory authority by (i) establishing a mandatory and misleading disclosure regime that is not authorized by federal law; and (ii) “impos[ing] a 30-day ban on consumers linking certain credit cards to their prepaid account—a prohibition the law nowhere authorizes the Bureau to impose.”
- Even if the Bureau possesses the statutory authority it claims to have, the rulemaking process was “fundamentally flawed” due to its one-size-fits-all Rule that misunderstands the different characteristics of digital wallets compared to GPR cards. By treating digital wallets as if they are GPR cards, the Rule violates the APA’s reasoned decision-making requirement. Additionally, the Rule is marked by “an insufficient cost-benefit analysis that failed to properly weigh the limited benefits consumers might derive from the Rule against the costs” stemming from the Rule’s changes.
- The Rule violates the First Amendment by failing to satisfy the heightened standard that a law or regulation “directly advances a substantial government interest” because it requires the company to makes certain disclosures that are irrelevant to its digital wallet product. Moreover, the Rule’s disclosure obligations “functionally impair the speech in which [the company] might otherwise engage” by mandating that it provide confusing and misleading disclosures about the nature of its offerings.
The complaint asks that the Rule be vacated and declared arbitrary, an abuse of discretion, not in accordance with the law, and unconstitutional, and additionally seeks injunctive relief, attorneys’ fees and costs.
On April 26, the CFPB released version 3.1 of its Prepaid Small Entity Compliance Guide to incorporate previously issued submission instructions for issuers submitting account agreements pursuant to the prepaid account rule through the electronic submission system “Collect.” (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
On March 26, the OCC released Bulletin 2019-16, which announces that the FFIEC Task Force on Consumer Compliance developed new interagency examination procedures to reflect the amendments to Regulations Z and E under the CFPB’s Prepaid Accounts Rule (covered by InfoBytes here), which go into effect on April 1. Specifically, the examination procedures reflect (i) Regulation E requirements covering disclosures, limited liability and error resolution, periodic statement, and posting of account agreements; and (ii) Regulation Z requirements covering overdraft credit features with prepaid accounts.
On February 27, the CFPB released new technical specifications for prepaid account issuers to use when submitting account agreements pursuant to the prepaid account rule. Issuers can now register to use the new electronic submission system “Collect” before the April 1, 2019 effective date of the Bureau’s prepaid rule. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the prepaid rule here.) The Bureau reminded issuers that all prepaid account agreements offered as of April 1, 2019, must be submitted to the CFPB by May 1, 2019. After May 1, issuers are required to make rolling submissions to the Bureau within 30 days whenever a new agreement is offered, amendments are made to a previously submitted agreement, or a previously submitted agreement is withdrawn. Along with the technical specifications, the Bureau also released several compliance resources, including a user guide, quick reference guide, FAQs and a recorded webinar.
On March 13, the CFPB released version 3.0 of its prepaid rule Small Entity Compliance Guide and the guide to Preparing Short Form Disclosure for Prepaid Accounts. The updated guides reflect the 2018 final rule governing prepaid accounts (Rule). As previously covered by Infobytes, in December 2017, the Bureau announced its plan to delay the effective date and adopt the final amendments to the Rule. In January, the Bureau finalized the Rule and moved the effective date to April 1, 2019.
On January 24, the CFPB released updates to the final rule governing prepaid accounts (Rule) delaying the effective date of the rule by one year, to April 1 2019. In December, as previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau announced its plan to delay the effective date and adopt final amendments to the Rule. In addition to certain clarifications and other minor adjustments, the updates include: (i) finalizing that the requirement for consumers to register their accounts to receive fraud and error protection benefits will only be applied prospectively, after a consumer’s identity has been verified; and (ii) creating a limited exception to certain provisions of the Rule for instances where traditional credit card accounts, subject to Regulation Z open-end credit rules, are linked to digital wallets.
On January 23, acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney sent an email to staff (a similar version was later published as an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal) outlining his vision for how the CFPB will enforce consumer protection laws. In the email, Mulvaney emphasizes that the CFPB will no longer “push the envelope” in pursuit of the agency’s mission, a phrase which he attributes to former CFPB Director Richard Cordray. While Mulvaney acknowledges that there will be times the agency will need to take “dramatic action to protect consumers,” he states that this will only be done as “the most final of last resorts,” after all other resolutions have failed. In terms of what this means for the Bureau’s current work, Mulvaney states that enforcement will be focused on “quantifiable and unavoidable harm to the consumer.” As for regulation, there will be “more formal rulemaking on which financial institutions can rely, and less regulation by enforcement.” Mulvaney also suggests that prioritization will be guided by complaint data, specifically noting that, in 2016, debt collection accounted for almost a third of complaints received by the CFPB whereas prepaid cards and payday lending accounted for nine-tenths of a percent and two percent respectively.
The statements in Mulvaney’s letter to staff are in line with many of the CFPB’s recent actions, including last week’s announcement that the Bureau intends to reconsider its final rule addressing payday loans and its December 21 announcement that it will be amending its prepaid card rule (previously covered by InfoBytes here and here). Additionally, on January 23, a national installment loan lender announced an end to a multi-year investigation by the CFPB, stating that the Bureau does not intend to recommend an enforcement action into the company’s practices. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB also recently dismissed its case against four online installment lenders.
Leandra English’s challenge to Mulvaney’s authority to serve as acting director of the CFPB continues. On January 23, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed to the expedited appeal of English’s case, ordering English’s brief due by January 30 and the government’s response due by February 23.
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss anti-money-laundering at FELABAN Spanish-language webinar “Perspective for banks: LAFT, FINCEN, OFAC, Cryptocurrency”
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "What’s new in BSA/AML compliance?" at the Institute of International Bankers Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Marshall T. Bell and John R. Coleman to speak at 2021 AFSA Annual Meeting
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Regulatory update: What you need to know under the new boss; It won’t be the same as the old boss" at the IMN Residential Mortgage Service Rights Forum (East)
- Benjamin B. Klubes to discuss “Creating a Fantastic Workplace Culture”
- 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