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On April 7, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia preliminarily approved a revised class action settlement concerning allegations that an operation used tribal sovereign immunity to evade state usury laws when charging unlawful interest on loans. The plaintiffs filed a class action complaint against the operation alleging, among other things, violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, EFTA, and TILA. The preliminarily-approved revised settlement would cancel approximately 71,000 class member loans, including a group of loans sold by the operation to another investor. It would also require the operation to pay $86 million, including an additional $21 million payment from the individual defendant, and cap attorneys’ fees for class counsel at $15 million. The operation would also be required to comply with several non-monetary provisions, including (i) requesting that negative credit reporting information concerning the loans be deleted; and (ii) ensuring that key loan terms, including interest rates and payment schedules to borrowers, are disclosed in loan agreements in compliance with federal law.
On March 9, the CFPB denied a request made by a Delaware online payday lender and its CEO (collectively, “respondents”) to stay a January 2021 final decision and order requiring the payment of approximately $51 million in restitution and civil money penalties, pending appellate review. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2015, the Bureau filed a notice of charges alleging the respondents (i) continued to debit borrowers’ accounts using remotely created checks after consumers revoked the lender’s authorization to do so; (ii) required consumers to repay loans via pre-authorized electronic fund transfers; and (iii) deceived consumers about the cost of short-term loans by providing them with contracts that contained disclosures based on repaying the loan in one payment, while the default terms called for multiple rollovers and additional finance charges. Former Director Kathy Kraninger issued the final decision and order in January, affirming an administrative law judge’s recommendation that the respondents’ actions violated TILA, EFTA, and the CFPA’s prohibition on unfair or deceptive acts or practices by, among other things, deceiving consumers about the costs of their online short-term loans.
The Bureau’s March 9 administrative order determined that respondents (i) failed to show they have a substantial case on the merits with respect to their argument regarding ratification as an appropriate remedy for the respondents’ alleged constitutional violation; (ii) failed to show they “suffered irreparable harm” because the Bureau’s final decision does not infringe on the respondents’ constitutional rights and merely requires them to pay money into an escrow account; and (iii) failed to demonstrate that staying the final decision would not harm other parties and the public interest because the respondents might “dissipate assets during the pendency of further proceedings,” potentially impacting future consumer redress. The administrative order, however, granted a 30-day stay to allow respondents to seek a stay from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
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 30, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Nevada-based consumer lender resolving allegations that the company violated the Military Lending Act (MLA), the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA), and the CFPA when making installment loans. The settlement is part of “the Bureau’s sweep of investigations of multiple lenders that may be violating the MLA.” According to the Bureau, the company allegedly made loans to active-duty servicemembers and their dependents (covered borrowers) in violation of the MLA by requiring borrowers to repay installment loans by “allotment.” Additionally, the Bureau alleges that the company violated the EFTA by requiring all of its covered borrowers to authorize the company “to initiate an electronic-fund transfer on the first business day after the due date of a payment that has been missed.” This requirement, the Bureau states, violates the EFTA’s prohibition against requiring borrowers to preauthorize electronic-fund transfers as a condition of receiving credit.
Under the terms of the consent order, the company is required to pay a $2.175 million civil money penalty, and must also, among other things, (i) provide notice of the Bureau’s consent order to all covered borrowers repaying their loans by allotment, along with notice that they may elect to change their repayment method; and (ii) provide training to employees involved in loan origination. Furthermore, the company is prohibited from accepting payment by allotment without first obtaining signed authorization from the borrower, and is banned from providing any incentives to employees or considering the number or rate of consumers who elect to repay by allotment during performance evaluations.
On December 21, the CFPB announced a settlement with a large non-bank remittance transfer provider resolving allegations that the company violated the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) and the Remittance Transfer Rule by failing to adequately comply with the rules’ requirements. According to the Bureau, the company sent $2.2 billion in remittance transfers from the United States to several countries in Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and Africa. In sending the remittance transfers, the Bureau claims the company failed to (i) honor cancellation requests or provide cancellation rights; (ii) develop and maintain appropriate error resolution policies and procedures; (iii) promptly investigate whether errors have occurred and make error determinations; (iv) provide consumers with written reports of investigation findings; (v) refund certain fees and taxes when funds were not available on time; (vi) treat international bill pay services as remittances covered by the Remittance Rule; and (vii) make proper disclosures in numerous instances. The consent order requires the company to pay a $750,000 civil money penalty, and prohibits the company from offering or providing remittance transfers without complying with EFTA and Remittance Rule requirements. The company is also required to adopt a compliance plan to ensure that its remittance transfer acts and practices are in compliance with all applicable federal consumer financial laws and the consent order.
On August 20, the CFPB announced a settlement with a national bank, resolving allegations that the bank violated the EFTA, CFPA, and FCRA through the marketing and sale of its optional overdraft service. According to the consent order, the bank violated the EFTA and Regulation E by enrolling customers who orally consented to the bank’s optional overdraft program without first providing the customers with written notice, and subsequently charged those customers overdraft fees. The bank also allegedly engaged in abusive practices by, among other things, (i) requiring new customers to sign its optional overdraft notice with the “enrolled” option pre-checked without first providing written notice or, in certain instances, without mentioning the optional overdraft service to the customer at all; (ii) enrolling new customers in the optional overdraft service without requesting their oral enrollment decision; and (iii) deliberately obscuring, or attempting to obscure, the overdraft notice “to prevent a new customer’s review of their pre-marked ‘enrolled’ status” in the optional overdraft service. The CFPB also asserted the bank engaged in deceptive practices by marketing the optional overdraft service as a “free” service or benefit, downplaying the associated fees and disclosures, and by suggesting that the overdraft service was a “‘feature’ or ‘package’ that ‘comes with’ all new consumer-checking accounts, rather than as an option that new customers must opt in to.” However, the bank actually charged customers $35 for each overdraft transaction paid through the service, the CFPB alleged.
With respect to the alleged FCRA and Regulation V furnishing violations, the CFPB claimed the bank failed to establish and implement policies and procedures concerning the accuracy and integrity of the consumer-account information it furnished to two nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies (NSCRAs). The bank also allegedly failed to implement policies or procedures for investigating customer disputes related to the furnished information, failed to timely investigate certain indirect customer disputes concerning its furnishing to one of the NSCRAs, and instructed customers who called to dispute furnished information to contact the NSCRA instead of submitting a direct dispute to the bank.
Under the terms of the consent order, the bank is required to provide approximately $97 million in restitution to roughly 1.42 million consumers and pay a $25 million civil money penalty. The bank has also agreed to (i) correct its optional overdraft service enrollment practices; (ii) stop using pre-marked overdraft notices to obtain affirmative consent from customers; (iii) provide current customers who have remained enrolled in the optional overdraft service with enrollment status details and instructions on how to unenroll from the service; and (iv) establish policies and procedures designed to ensure its furnishing practices comply with the FCRA.
On August 4, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) recommended that a Delaware-based online payday lender and its CEO be held liable for violations of TILA, CFPA, and the EFTA and pay restitution of $38 million and $12.5 million in civil penalties in a CFPB administrative action. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in November 2015, the Bureau filed an administrative suit against the lender and its CEO alleging violations of TILA and the EFTA, and for engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Specifically, the CFPB argued that, from May 2008 through December 2012, the online lender (i) continued to debit borrowers’ accounts using remotely created checks after consumers revoked the lender’s authorization to do so; (ii) required consumers to repay loans via pre-authorized electronic fund transfers; and (iii) deceived consumers about the cost of short-term loans by providing them with contracts that contained disclosures based on repaying the loan in one payment, while the default terms called for multiple rollovers and additional finance charges. In 2016, an ALJ agreed with the Bureau’s contentions, and the defendants appealed the decision. In May 2019, CFPB Director Kraninger remanded the case to a new ALJ.
After a new hearing, the ALJ concluded that the lender violated (i) TILA (and the CFPA by virtue of its TILA violation) by failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose consumers’ legal obligations; and (ii) the EFTA (and the CFPA by virtue of its EFTA violation) by “conditioning extensions of credit on repayment by preauthorized electronic fund transfers.” Moreover, the ALJ concluded that the lender and the lender’s owner engaged in deceptive acts or practices by misleading consumers into “believing that their APR, Finance Charges, and Total of Payments were much lower than they actually were.” Lastly, the ALJ concluded the lender and its owner engaged in unfair acts or practices by (i) failing to clearly disclose automatic rollover costs; (ii) misleading consumers about their repayment obligations; and (iii) obtaining authorization for remote checks in a “confusing manner” and using the remote checks to “withdraw money from consumers’ bank accounts after consumers attempted to block electronic access to their bank accounts.” The ALJ recommends that both the lender and its owner pay over $38 million in restitution, and orders the lender to pay $7.5 million in civil money penalties and the owner to pay $5 million in civil money penalties.
On July 17, the CFPB announced a new Compliance Assistance Statement of Terms Template (CAST Template) under its Compliance Assistance Sandbox (CAS) Policy issued to a company’s program designed to help employees build emergency savings. Specifically, under the approved template, known as “Autosave,” interested employers could help employees build emergency savings by directing a portion of the employee’s pay to an employee-designated account at a financial institution; or if an employee does not designate an account, directing the funds to an “Autosave” account at an employer-designated institution. The Bureau notes that a CAST Template is necessary for this program due to the legal uncertainty around the application of the “compulsory use” prohibition in the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA), and Regulation E. However, the applicants assert the Autosave program embodies a “reasonable default enrollment method,” which, according to the Bureau, can be consistent with the consumer choice requirements of the EFTA and Regulation E.
On June 4, the FTC announced that it submitted its 2019 Annual Financial Acts Enforcement Report to the CFPB. The report covers the FTC’s enforcement activities regarding the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), the Consumer Leasing Act (CLA), and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA). Highlights of the enforcement matters covered in the report include:
- TILA and CLA. FTC enforcement actions concerning TILA/Regulation Z and CLA/Regulation M include: (i) efforts to combat deceptive automobile dealer practices; (ii) a payday lending action involving undisclosed, inflated fees; (iii) credit repair and debt relief schemes, including the failure to make clear, conspicuous written disclosures for closed-end financing; and (iv) consumer electronics financing.
- EFTA. The FTC reported 12 new or ongoing cases related to EFTA/Regulation E. These include: (i) negative option plans involving, among other things, companies applying recurring charges to consumers’ debit or credit card numbers for goods or services without obtaining proper written authorization; and (ii) unfair loan servicing practices.
Additionally, the report addresses the FTC’s research and policy efforts related to truth in lending and leasing, and electronic fund transfer issues, including (i) a study of consumers’ experiences in buying and financing automobiles at dealerships; (ii) a small business financing forum to examine “trends and consumer protection issues in the small business marketplace, including. . .online loans and alternative financing products”; and (iii) the FTC’s Military Task Force’s work on military consumer protection issues. The report also outlines the FTC’s consumer and business education efforts, which include several blog posts warning of new scams and practices.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “How the new administration sets the tone for 2021” at the American Conference Institute Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Fintech & Emerging Payment Systems
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP in consumer finance at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "LO comp challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable