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On April 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a consumer’s suit arising out of overdraft fees charged by an Arkansas-based bank. The consumer alleged, among other things, that the bank breached its Electronic Fund Transfer Agreement (EFT Agreement) by failing to provide accurate, real-time account balance information online, which caused her to “incur unexpected overdraft fees.” According to the opinion, the consumer claimed that she frequently relied on her online account balance when making purchases, and that the bank’s alleged debiting practices—such as “batching by transaction type,” processing transactions out of chronological order, and “failing to show real-time balance information online [or] intra-bank transfers instantaneously”—sometimes caused her to pay insufficient funds and overdraft fees. The consumer filed suit asserting claims for “actual fraud; constructive fraud; false representation/deceit; breach of fiduciary duty; breach of contract (namely, the EFT Agreement) . . . breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and unjust enrichment.” The consumer appealed following a dismissal of all claims by the district court. In 2017, the 10th Circuit reversed and remanded the dismissal of the breach of contract claim, and affirmed the dismissal of the other claims. The district court granted summary judgment to the bank, determining that the EFT Agreement promised accuracy only to posted amounts and not to pending or unprocessed transactions.
On appeal, the 10th Circuit agreed with the district court, holding that the plain language of the EFT Agreement only promised accuracy of posted amounts, and authorized the bank to collect overdraft fees on insufficient funds items even if an ATM card or check card transaction “was preauthorized based on sufficient funds in the account at the time of withdrawal, transfer or purchase.” Moreover, the court noted that the EFT Agreement specifically stated that there was a 7:00 p.m. cut-off for transfers to be posted. Therefore, it was clear that the bank was not “contractually obligated to make intra-bank transfers instantaneously.” Furthermore, the court pointed out that the consumer failed to provide evidence demonstrating that the bank provided inaccurate balances.
On June 30, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve issued its sixth payments study entitled The Federal Reserve Payments Study 2016: Recent Developments in Consumer and Business Payment Choices. The study includes data on business and consumer noncash payments made in the United States in 2015. Among other things, the study details the differences between business and consumer payments in 2015 compared to those from 2000, general-purpose payment card use in 2015, and increases in use of alternative payment methods.
According to the report, the most popular noncash payment types among consumers were, in descending order: non-prepaid debit cards, general-purpose credit cards, checks, and finally, ACH debit transfers. For businesses, however, ACH credit transfers were the most popular, then checks, general-purpose credit cards, and non-prepaid debit cards. Consumers wrote fewer than half the number of checks in 2015 than they did in 2000 but almost doubled the number of noncash payments that they made. Businesses also cut check-writing by more than half but differed from consumers by more than doubling the number of ACH transfers that they initiated during the same period.
General-purpose or “network-branded” cards accounted for more than 65 percent of noncash payments in 2015. The data showed that 60 percent of these card accounts carried revolving debt, while 40 percent of accounts were paid in full each month.
Information on fraudulent payments also was collected and should be available in the third quarter of this year.
On December 16, the CFPB announced that it had entered a stipulation and consent order assessing a $250,000 civil monetary penalty and other remediation against a financial-services company that offers payday loans and check-cashing services based on allegations that it misled consumers through deceptive online advertisements and collections letters and made unauthorized electronic transfers from consumers’ bank accounts. Among other things, the Bureau took particular issue with the fact that Bureau examiners had previously identified “significant compliance-management-system weaknesses that heightened the risk that violations w[ould] occur,” and that “[a]t the times the violations described in this order, the company had not adequately addressed these issues.”
According to the terms of the consent order, the company is required to: (i) end its deceptive practices and obtain authorization for any electronic-fund transfers; (ii) pay approximately $255,000 to redress harm caused to affected consumers; and (iii) pay a civil monetary penalty of $250,000. As explained by CFPB Director Richard Cordray, “consumers were making decisions based on false and deceptive information, and today’s action will give the company’s customers the redress they are owed.”
CFPB Releases Final Rule on Prepaid Financial Products; Chamber of Digital Commerce Comments on Scope of the Rule
On October 5, the CFPB released its final rule on prepaid financial products, including traditional prepaid cards, mobile wallets, person-to-person payment products, and other electronic accounts with the ability to store funds. The rule is intended to provide consumers with additional federal protections under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act analogous to the protections checking account consumers receive. The following federal protections are included in the new rule: (i) financial institutions will be required to provide certain account information for free via telephone, online, and in writing upon request, unless periodic statements are provided; (ii) financial institutions must work with consumers who find errors on their accounts, including unauthorized or fraudulent charges, timely investigate and resolve these incidents, and restore missing funds when appropriate; and (iii) consumers will be protected against unauthorized transactions, such as withdrawals or purchases, if their prepaid cards are lost or stolen. The rule contains new “Know Before You Owe” prepaid disclosures similar to those used for mortgages and student financial aid offers. In addition to requiring two (one short, the other long) disclosure forms, the new rule requires that prepaid account issuers post agreement offers made available to the general public on their websites, submit all agreements to the CFPB, and make agreements that are not required to be posted on their website available to relevant consumers. The new rule also includes credit protections stemming primarily from the Truth in Lending Act and the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, including providing consumers with monthly credit billing statements, giving consumers reasonable time – at least 21 days – to repay their debt before incurring late fees, ensuring that consumers are able to repay the debt before making a credit offer, and limiting the fee and interest charges to 25% of the total credit limit during the first year an account is open. The rule, which has not yet been published in the Federal Register, has a general compliance date of October 1, 2017, but includes certain accommodations, one of which is an October 2018 effective date for the requirement that agreements be submitted to the CFPB.
The Chamber of Digital Commerce submitted comments to the CFPB in December advocating that virtual currency products and services should fall outside the scope of the prepaid rule. Pursuant to the final rule, the CFPB found that “application of Regulation E and this final rule to such products and services is outside the scope of this rulemaking.”
On March 23, the CFPB simultaneously issued a report and an advisory providing financial institutions with information on the financial exploitation of older Americans and recommendations on how to prevent and respond to such exploitation. The report combines the CFPB’s “expertise regarding elder financial exploitation” with knowledge gained from interviews conducted between May 2014 to March 2016 with various stakeholders, including, but not limited to, representatives of individual banks and credit unions of various sizes, trade associations, technology vendors, and law enforcement. According to the CFPB, the release of recommendations outlined in the report and advisory mark the “first time a federal regulator has provided an extensive set of voluntary best practices to help banks and credit unions fight [financial exploitation of older Americans].” The CFPB recommended that financial institutions (i) establish protocols for ensuring staff compliance with the Electronic Fund Transfer Act; (ii) train staff to detect the warning signs of financial exploitation and respond appropriately to suspicious events; (iii) maintain fraud detection systems that provide analyses of the types of products and account activity associated with elder financial exploitation; (iv) report cases of suspected exploitation, which includes filing Suspicious Activity Reports with FinCEN when necessary; and (v) collaborate with stakeholders, including law enforcement, at the local, regional, and state level.
On January 5, the FTC announced separate settlements with two online payday lenders to resolve charges dating back to April 2012 that the defendants violated TILA, the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act), and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA). According to the FTC, the defendants (i) violated TILA by failing to accurately disclose information regarding the loan terms, such as the finance charge, annual percentage rate, payment schedule, and the total of payments; (ii) violated the FTC Act’s prohibition on deceptive acts or practices by misrepresenting how much loans would cost consumers; and (iii) violated the EFTA by conditioning extension of credit to consumers on the consumers’ repayment by preauthorized debits from their bank accounts. In addition to prohibiting the defendants from engaging in practices that violate the TILA and EFTA, the FTC’s final orders require the defendants to each pay $2.2 million and collectively waive $68 million in uncollected fees to consumers. Combined with other settlements, the FTC has recovered approximately $25.5 million in connection with its case against several payday lending companies and related individuals.
CFPB Orders Small-Dollar Lender to Pay $10 Million for Debt Collection Practices; Releases Compliance Bulletin
On December 16, the CFPB announced a consent order against a Texas-based small-dollar lender for alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA), and the EFTA’s implementing regulation, Regulation E. According to the CFPB, beginning in July 2011, the company engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices and violated Regulation E by (i) visiting consumers’ homes and places of employment to collect debts; (ii) contacting third parties for reasons other than to acquire consumers’ location information, which put consumers at risk of their information being disclosed to third parties, and ignoring requests to stop calling consumers’ workplaces; (iv) making false threats of litigation if consumers did not pay the past due amount; (v) misrepresenting the company’s ability to, and routine practice to, run credit checks on loan applicants; (vi) requiring consumers to pay using pre-authorized electronic fund transfers; (vii) causing consumers to incur fees from their banks due to electronic withdrawal practices; and (viii) misrepresenting a consumer’s ability to repay loans early and to revoke authorization for electronic withdrawal authorization. The CFPB’s administratively-filed consent order requires the company to pay $7,500,000 towards refunding consumers affected by its practices, and pay a civil money penalty of $3,000,000. In addition, the order prohibits the company from collecting on defaulted loans owed by approximately 130,000 consumers, and from engaging in unfair and deceptive debt collection practices in the future.
The CFPB simultaneously released Compliance Bulletin 2015-07, warning creditors, debt buyers, and third-party collectors of potentially unlawful in-person debt collection practices. Specifically, the bulletin reminds the financial services industry of debt collection practices prohibited by the Dodd-Frank Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, including (i) engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices; (ii) communicating with a consumer at any place or time that the debt collector knows, or should know, to be inconvenient to the consumer; (iii) communicating with persons other than the consumer (and other identified parties, except in certain circumstances) for purposes other than acquiring location information; (iv) “‘us[ing] unfair or unconscionable means to collect, or attempt to collect, debt’”; and (v) “‘engag[ing] in any conduct the consequences of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse a person in connection with collecting a debt.’”
On November 18, the CFPB announced an action against a Delaware-based online payday lender and its CEO for alleged violations of the Truth in Lending Act and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, and for engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Specifically, the CFPB alleges 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. The case will be tried by an Administrative Law Judge from the CFPB’s Office of Administrative Adjudication.
CFPB Files Complaint Against Student Financial Aid Consulting Company for Allegedly Illegal Sales and Billing Practices
On July 23, the CFPB announced that it had entered into a proposed consent order with a Sacramento-based company that provides fee-based student financial aid counseling and preparation services. The CFPB’s simultaneously filed complaint alleges that the company violated the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act by engaging in deceptive sales tactics through its websites and call center representatives. The complaint claims that from at least July 21, 2011 to present (recognizing that the company no longer operates one of the websites effective July 13, 2015), the company offered consumers certain services “as an upgrade from its ‘standard’ service level at ‘no additional cost.’” However, consumers were allegedly charged future annual fees of $67 to $85 for such upgrades. The Bureau also alleges that the company violated the Electronic Fund Transfer Act by enrolling consumers in automatic, recurring payments without their knowledge or consent: “The Company did not provide consumers a copy of the consumers’ authorization for electronic fund transfers in which the terms of the preauthorized transfers – including automatic, recurring charges going forward – were clear and readily understandable.” The proposed consent order would require the company to pay $5.2 million in consumer relief and cancel all automatic and recurring charges currently in place. Due to the company’s limited financial resources, the proposed order seeks a civil money penalty of $1.00.
On June 9, the FTC announced that it has provided to the CFPB its 2014 Annual Financial Acts Enforcement Report. The report highlights the FTC’s enforcement, research, rulemaking, and policy development activities with respect to the Truth in Lending Act (Regulation Z), the Consumer Leasing Act (Regulation M), and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (Regulation E). Areas detailed within the report include enforcement actions related to non-mortgage credit, including auto finance and payday lending, mortgage loan advertising, and forensic audit scams; and consumer and business outreach related to truth in lending requirements. The report, submitted on May 29, will be used to prepare the CFPB’s Annual Report to Congress. The FTC also submitted a copy of the report to the Federal Reserve Board.
- 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