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On July 11, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra delivered prepared remarks at a public hearing on medical billing and collections. Chopra commented on the prevalence of medical debt in the country, which affects over 100 million Americans, while $433.2 billion of the national GDP is sourced from consumers’ out-of-pocket expenses. Specifically, the CFPB hearing addressed the effects of medical payment products, including special-purpose credit cards and installment loans used to cover the cost of medical treatment, which Chopra claimed can leave patients “worse off.” The Bureau highlighted the predatory nature of such medical credit cards, which typically have a higher interest rate than other cards and are often presented to consumers by their providers. According to Chopra, the Bureau recently launched a public inquiry (covered by InfoBytes here) to answer questions related to these products.
During the expert panel discussion, multiple panelists raised issues regarding the federal requirements for hospital financial assistance programs that exist in exchange for tax benefits. Panelists criticized the complicated processes patients must follow for such programs and compared it to the simple and fast online application process for medical credit cards. Panelists also highlighted the need to include stronger, clearer federal requirements for hospital financial assistance programs, such as setting standards on income and setting minimums or floors, so consumers can access such services more easily. Panelists commonly noted that state requirements for hospital financial assistance programs are more robust than the federal requirements. In response to Chopra’s question on what the panelists wish to see from the Bureau regarding regulation, one panelist asked for a ban on deferred interest, noting the “special regulatory authority” the Bureau has. Another panelist requested that the agency ban medical credit cards from being offered in a medical setting, citing her communication with clients who claim they feel “pressured” to sign the paperwork in that setting. Additionally, another panelist requested that the Bureau prohibit the reporting of medical debt on credit reports—mentioning Colorado’s headway in being the first state to ban such reporting and noting the Bureau’s potential to ban it at a federal level. The panelists each applauded the agency’s efforts to bolster regulations on medical payment products.
On July 7, the CFPB, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Treasury Department announced they are looking into high-cost specialty financial products such as medical credit cards and installment loans used by patients to pay for health care. These products, the agencies explained, were once primarily used to pay for medical treatments not traditionally covered by health insurance but may now be more widely used even when medical care may be covered by insurance or financial assistance. The agencies released a request for information (RFI) seeking feedback on a range of topics, including costs associated with medical payment products, how prevalent the products are, health care providers’ incentives to offer these products to patients, and whether patients fully understand the risks and consequences associated with medical payment products.
Specifically, the agencies are soliciting comments “on whether these products may allow health care providers to operate outside of a broad range of patient and consumer protections.” Feedback is also requested on whether use of these products is contributing to health care cost inflation, displacing hospitals’ provision of financial assistance, causing patients to pay inaccurate or inflated medical bills, increasing the amount patients must pay due to financing costs, or otherwise contributing to consumer harm, including through downstream credit reporting and debt collection practices. The agencies also want to know if using these products is creating disparities across different demographic groups, as well as policy options to protect consumers from harm.
The agencies commented that the RFI will assist in their understanding of consumer harms and financial challenges caused by specialty medical payment products and will serve to guide next steps, including future Bureau actions focusing on credit origination, debt collection, and credit reporting practices of the financial companies that originate and service these products.
Comments on the RFI are due within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register.
Additionally, the Bureau is hosting a hearing on July 11 to address medical billing and collection concerns with a focus on medical payment products.
On January 6, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation issued modified proposed regulations under the Student Loan Servicing Act (Act), which provides for the licensure, regulation, and oversight of student loan servicers by DFPI (covered by InfoBytes here). Last September, DFPI issued proposed rules to clarify, among other things, that income share agreements (ISAs) and installment contracts, which use terminology and documentation distinct from traditional loans, serve the same purpose as traditional loans (i.e., “help pay the cost of a student’s higher education”), and are therefore student loans subject to the Act. As such, servicers of these products must be licensed and comply with all applicable laws, DFPI said. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The initial proposed rules also (i) defined the term “education financing products” (which now fall under the purview of the Act) along with other related terms; (ii) amended various license application requirements, including financial requirements for startup applicants; (iii) outlined provisions related to non-licensee filing requirements (e.g., requirements for servicers that do not require a license but that are subject to the Student Loans: Borrower Rights Law, which was enacted in 2020 (effective January 1, 2021)); (iv) specified that servicers of all education financing products must submit annual aggregate student loan servicing reports to DFPI; and (v) outlined new clarifications to the Student Loans: Borrower Rights Law to provide new requirements for student loan servicers (covered by InfoBytes here).
Following its consideration of public comments on the initial proposed rulemaking, DFPI is proposing the following changes:
- Amendments to definitions. The modified regulations revise the definition of “education financing products” by changing “private loans” to “private education loans,” which are not traditional loans. DFPI explained that changing the term to what is used in TILA will provide consistency for servicers and eliminate operational burdens. While the definition of “education financing products” also no longer includes “income share agreements and installment contracts” in order to align it with TILA, both of these terms were separately defined in the initial proposed rulemaking. The definition of “traditional student loan” has also been revised to distinguish which private student loans are traditional loans and which are education financing products (in order to help servicers determine the applicable aggregate reporting and records maintenance rules). The modifications also revise the definitions of “federal student loan,” “income,” “income share agreement,” “installment contract,” “payment cap,” “payment term,” and “qualifying payments,” remove unnecessary alternative terms for “income share,” and add “maximum payments” as a new defined term.
- Time zone requirement revisions. The modified regulations revise the time zone in which a payment must be received to be considered on-time to Pacific Time in order to protect California borrowers.
- Additional borrower protections. The modified regulations specify that servicers are required to send written acknowledgement of receipt and responses to qualified written requests via a borrower’s preferred method of communication. For borrowers who do not specify a preferred method, servicers must send acknowledgments and responses through both postal mail to the last known address and to all email addresses on record.
- Examinations, books, and records requirement updates. The modified regulations revise the information that servicers must provide in their aggregate reports for traditional student loans, including with respect to: (i) loan balance and status; (ii) cumulative balances and amounts paid; and (iii) aggregate information specific to ISAs, installment contracts, and other education financing products. Additionally, DFPI clarified that while the amount a borrower will be required to pay to an ISA provider in the future is unknown, many ISAs contain an “early completion” provision to allow a borrower to extinguish future obligations, and ISA providers must give this information to borrowers. DFPI further clarified that while servicers may choose to maintain records electronically, they must also be able to produce paper records for inspection at a DFPI-designated servicer location to allow an examination to be conducted in one place.
Comments on the modified regulations are due January 26.
On August 16, a multistate lawsuit led by the Pennsylvania attorney general was filed against a subprime installment lender for allegedly charging consumers for hidden add-on products without their consent. According to the Pennsylvania AG’s press release, consumers believed they had entered into agreements to borrow and repay, over time, a fixed loan amount when allegedly the lender “added hundreds to thousands of dollars to the total amount a consumer owed.” Among other things, the complaint claimed the lender’s alleged “aggressive, high-pressure sales tactics” were “dictated by a profit-driven model,” and that its loans and aggressive sales tactics targeted the most vulnerable borrowers (often subprime and deep subprime borrowers that already carry significant credit card, installment loan, and/or student loan debt) by offering them “small dollar personal loans with high interest costs.” Additionally, the complaint contended that the lender’s corporate policies and practices resulted in employees charging consumers for add-on products they did not know about and did not consent to buy, and that employees were encouraged to perpetrate the unlawful conduct by being rewarded for maximizing add-on charges. The complaint seeks restitution, repayment of unlawfully obtained profits, civil penalties, rescission or reformation of all contracts or loan agreements between the lender and affected consumers, and injunctive relief.
On May 2, the Georgia governor signed HB 891, which updates provisions related to licensing exemptions. The bill establishes that, starting on July 1, in addition to all other fees, license fees, fines, or other charges now or hereafter levied or assessed on the licensee, there is a fee of 0.125 percent of the gross loan amount. Further, such per loan fee becomes due on the making of any such loan, including, but not limited to, the closing of a loan, the renewal or refinancing of a loan, or a modification of a loan which results in the execution of a new or amended loan agreement. Additionally, the bill clarifies that the Department of Banking and Finance can issue cease and desist orders to persons that are not licensed. The bill also establishes that an individual cannot engage in the business of making installment loans or acting as an installment lender in Georgia unless that person is licensed. Among other things, the bill also makes conforming changes, provides definitions, and repeals conflicting laws.
On April 22, the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State published in the Illinois Register a notice by the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation of adopted amendments to certain parts of its Consumer Installment Loan Act (CILA). Under the amendments, a licensee may obtain a license under the CILA for the exclusive purpose and use of making title secured loans. The amendments also require consumer installment lenders to provide a disclosure to consumers regarding the 36 percent annual percentage rate (APR) rate cap established by the Predatory Loan Prevention Act Annual Percentage Rate. These amendments eliminate small consumer loans and implement rules for reporting, to the state database, consumer installment loans. Additionally, the amendments include the implementation of a new definition and new rules for title-secured loans. The amendments are effective August 1.
Earlier this year, the Hawaii governor signed HB 1192, which amends certain provisions related to small dollar lending requirements. Specifically, the bill sets forth a new licensing requirement for “installment lenders” and specifies various consumer protection requirements. The bill defines installment lender broadly as “any person who is the business of offering or making a consumer loan, who arranges a consumer loan for a third party, or who acts as an agent for a third party, regardless of whether the third party is exempt from licensure under this chapter or whether approval, acceptance, or ratification by a third party is necessary to create a legal obligation for the third party, through any method including mail, telephone, the Internet, or any electronic means.” This language appears to capture loans offered under a bank partnership model under the purview of the new law.
Further, the bill: (i) caps installment loan amounts at $1,500, and restricts the total amount of changes to no more than 50 percent of the principal loan amount; (ii) limits monthly maintenance fees to between $25 and $35 depending on the installment loan’s original principal amount; (iii) stipulates that the minimum repayment term is two months for installment loans of $500 or less, or four months for loans of $500.01 or more; (iv) states that lenders must “accept prepayment in full or in part from a consumer prior to the loan due date and shall not charge the consumer a fee or penalty if the consumer opts to prepay the loan; provided that to make a prepayment, all past due interest and fees shall be paid first; (v) prohibits a consumer’s repayment obligations to be secured by a lien on real or personal property; (vi) prohibits lenders from requiring consumers to purchase add-on products such as credit insurance; (vii) provides that the maximum contracted repayment term of an installment loan is 12 months; (viii) caps the annual interest rate on installment loans at 36 percent; and (ix) states that any installment loan made without a required license is void (the collection, receipt, or retention of any principal, interest, fees, or other charges associated with a voided loan is prohibited).
The bill exempts certain financial institutions (e.g., banks, savings banks, savings and loan associations, depository and nondepository financial services loan companies, credit unions) from the installment lender licensing requirements.
The bill also repeals existing state law on deferred deposits. While HB 1192 became effective July 1, provisions related to the repeal of the existing law on deferred deposits and installment lender licensing requirements are effective January 1, 2022. License applications will be available via the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System.
On March 17, the Nebraska governor signed LB 363, which amends certain licensing requirements for installment lenders and money transmitters. Among other things, LB 363 amends provisions of the Nebraska Installment Loan Act related to installment loan licenses and surety bonds to require “any person that holds or acquires any rights of ownership, servicing, or other forms of participation in a loan under the Nebraska Installment Loan Act or that engages with, or conducts loan activity with, an installment loan borrower in connection with a loan under the act” to obtain a license from the department. Additionally, licensees will be required to increase their surety bonds by $50,000 for each branch office licensed under the Nebraska Installment Sales Act. The act also provides that certain licensed persons that operate in the state as a collection agency, credit services organization, or that engage in debt management business are not required to be licensed under the Nebraska Money Transmitters Act. Additional amendments further address the expanded definition of a person engaged in money transmission, as well as investigation and examination authorities. The act takes effect immediately.
On October 30, the CFPB and the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs filed a proposed final judgment in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina to settle an action alleging that two companies and their owner (collectively, “defendants”) violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act and the South Carolina Consumer Protection Code by offering high-interest loans to veterans and other consumers in exchange for the assignment of some of the consumers’ monthly pension or disability payments. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October 2019, the regulators filed an action alleging, among other things, that the majority of credit offers that the defendants broker are for veterans with disability pensions or retirement pensions and that the defendants allegedly marketed the contracts as sale of payments and not credit offers. Moreover, the defendants allegedly failed to disclose the interest rate associated with the offers and failed to disclose that the contracts were void under federal and state law, which prohibit the assignment of certain benefits.
If approved by the court, the proposed judgment would require the defendants to pay a $500 civil money penalty to the Bureau and a $500 civil money penalty to South Carolina. The proposed judgment would permanently restrain the defendants from, among other things, (i) extending credit, brokering, and servicing loans; (ii) engaging in deposit-taking activities; (iii) collecting consumer-related debt; and (iv) engaging in any other financial services business in the state of South Carolina. Additionally, the proposed judgment would permanently block the defendants from enforcing or collecting on any contracts related to the action and from misrepresenting any material fact or conditions of consumer financial products or services.
California DBO reports installment consumer lending by California nonbanks increased 68 percent in 2019
On September 9, the California Department of Business Oversight (CDBO) released its annual report covering the 2019 operations of finance lenders, brokers, and Property Assessed Clean Energy program administrators licensed under the California Financing Law. Key findings of the report include (i) “installment consumer lending by nonbanks in California increased more than 68 percent” from $34 billion to $57 billion, largely due to real estate-secured loans, which more than doubled to $47.3 billion; (ii) consumer loans under $2,500 accounted for 40.2 percent of the total number of consumer loans made in 2019, with unsecured loans making up 98.7 percent of these loans; and (iii) online consumer loans increased by 69.1 percent with the total principal amount of these loans increasing by 134 percent. CDBO also noted in its release that 58 percent of loans ranging from $2,500 to $4,999—the largest number of consumer loans—carried annual percent rates of 100 percent or higher. “This report reflects the final year in which there are no state caps on interest rates for loans above $2,500,” CDBO Commissioner Manual P. Alvarez stated. He further noted that “[b]eginning this year, the law now limits permissible interest rates on loans of up to $10,000. Next year’s report will reflect the [CDBO’s] efforts to oversee licensees under the new interest caps.”