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On March 26, the FDIC, Federal Reserve Board, CFPB, NCUA, and OCC issued a joint statement encouraging banks, savings associations, and credit unions to offer responsible, small-dollar loans to consumers and small businesses affected by Covid-19. The agencies recognize that small-dollar lending can play an important role in meeting credit needs during this time period, and recommend that financial institutions offer loans “through a variety of structures including open-end lines of credit, closed-end installment loans, or appropriately structured single payment loans.” For borrowers experiencing unexpected circumstances who cannot repay a loan as structured, financial institutions are “further encouraged to consider workout strategies designed to help borrowers to repay the principal of the loan while mitigating the need to re-borrow.” All loans, however, should be offered in a manner “consistent with safe and sound practices” that “provides fair treatment of consumers, and complies with applicable statutes and regulations, including consumer protection laws.”
On February 26, the FTC released a staff perspective paper covering topics discussed during the Commission’s “Strictly Business” forum on small business financing held in 2019, as well as an online tool for small businesses to submit lending- or financing-related complaints. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the forum heard from members of the small business marketplace who discussed the recent uptick in online loans and alternative financing products, and analyzed the potential for unfair and deceptive marketing, sales, and collection practices in the industry. The staff paper provides an overview of key issues discussed during the forum, as well as enforcement information, recent small business financing marketplace trends, potential benefits and risks of newer online financing products, and consumer protection issues associated with merchant cash advances. Among other things, the staff paper emphasized that “small business finance providers should avoid the sorts of practices that the Commission has alleged to be deceptive” in its enforcement actions involving either small business consumers or individual consumers, such as actions charging lenders with making “misleading claims regarding fees, consumer savings, payment amounts, and interest rates” in connection with personal loans. The staff paper also stressed that finance providers should understand that using marketing intermediaries, such as brokers and lead generators, “does not immunize them from liability under the FTC Act,” and that finance providers “should take steps to ensure that their marketers do not engage in deceptive or other unlawful conduct.” Small business consumers, the staff paper noted, would also likely benefit from more uniform and easily understood financing disclosures in order to compare costs and product features in the small business marketplace.
On February 26, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California approved a stipulated settlement between plaintiffs, including the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC), and the CFPB to resolve a 2019 lawsuit that sought an order compelling the Bureau to issue a final rule implementing Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plaintiffs argued that the Bureau’s failure to implement Section 1071—which requires the Bureau to collect and disclose data on lending to women and minority-owned small businesses—violates two provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act, and has harmed the CRC’s ability to advocate for access to credit, advise organizations working with women and minority-owned small businesses, and work with lenders to arrange investment in low-income and communities of color.
Under the terms of the settlement, the Bureau has agreed to outline a proposal for collecting data and studying discrimination in small-business lending by September 15, and will also create a Small Business Advocacy Review panel by October 15 to prepare a report on the proposal within 60 days. The Bureau and the plaintiffs will also negotiate the deadlines for issuing the proposed rule, and, if an agreement cannot be reached, the parties will accept a court-supervised process for public reporting as well as for the development and issuance of the proposed and final rules.
Last November, the Bureau held a symposium covering small business lending and Section 1071. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) At the time, Director Kathy Kraninger noted in her opening remarks that the symposium would assist the Bureau with information gathering for upcoming rulemaking and emphasized that the Bureau is focused on a rulemaking that would not impede small business access to credit by imposing unnecessary costs on financial institutions.
On November 20, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs released the CFPB’s fall 2019 rulemaking agenda. According to a Bureau announcement, the information released represents regulatory matters it “reasonably anticipates having under consideration during the period from October 1, 2019, to September 30, 2020.”
Key rulemaking initiatives include:
- Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing: As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) in March 2019 seeking feedback on the unique features of PACE financing and the general implications of regulating PACE financing under TILA. The Bureau notes it is currently reviewing comments as it considers next steps.
- Small Business Rulemaking: On November 6, the Bureau held a symposium on small business lending to gather information for upcoming rulemaking (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau emphasized it will focus on rulemaking that would not impede small business access to credit by imposing unnecessary costs on financial institutions. According to the Bureau, materials will be released prior to convening a panel under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act to consult with businesses that may be affected by future rulemaking.
- HMDA/Regulation C: The Bureau plans to finalize the permanent thresholds for reporting data on open-end lines of credit and closed-end mortgage loans in March 2020, and expects to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to govern the collection of HMDA data points and the disclosure of this data in July 2020. Both initiatives follow an NPRM and an ANPR issued by the Bureau in May (previously covered by InfoBytes here).
- Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans: As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau published two NPRMs related to certain payday lending requirements under the final rule titled “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans.” Specifically, the Bureau proposed to rescind the portion of the rule that would make it an unfair and abusive practice for a lender to make covered high-interest rate, short-term loans or covered longer-term balloon payment loans without reasonably determining that the consumer has the ability to repay, and to delay the rule’s compliance date for mandatory underwriting provisions. The Bureau notes it is currently reviewing comments and expects to issue a final rule in April 2020.
- Debt Collection: Following an NPRM issued in May concerning debt collection communications, disclosures, and related practices (previously covered by InfoBytes here), the Bureau states it is currently “engaged in testing of consumer disclosures related to time-barred debt disclosure issues that were not addressed in the May 2019 proposal.” Once testing has concluded, the Bureau will assess the need for publishing a supplemental NPRM related to time-barred debt disclosures.
- Remittance Transfers: The Bureau expects in December to issue a proposed rule to address the July 2020 expiration of the Remittance Rule’s temporary exception for certain insured depository institutions from the rule’s disclosure requirements related to the estimation of fees and exchange rates. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)
- GSE Patch: The Bureau plans to address in December the so-called GSE patch, which confers Qualified Mortgage status for loans purchased or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while those entities operate under FHFA conservatorship. The patch is set to expire in January 2021, or when Fannie and Freddie exit their conservatorships, whichever comes first. (See Buckley Special Alert here.)
The Bureau further notes in its announcement the addition of entries to its long-term regulatory agenda “to address issues of concern in connection with loan originator compensation and to facilitate the use of electronic channels of communication in the origination and servicing of credit card accounts.”
On November 6, the CFPB held a symposium covering small business lending and Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which amends ECOA to require financial institutions to compile, maintain, and submit to the Bureau certain information concerning credit applications by women-owned, minority-owned, and small businesses, and also directs the Bureau to promulgate regulations to implement these requirements. In her opening remarks, Director Kraninger, noted that the symposium was being convened to assist the Bureau with information gathering for upcoming rulemaking and emphasized that the Bureau is focused on a rulemaking that would not impede small business access to credit by imposing unnecessary costs on financial institutions. The symposium consisted of two panels, with the first covering policy issues related to small business lending, while the second discussed specific aspects of the requirements of Section 1071. Highlights of the panels include:
- Panel #1. During the policy discussion, panelists focused on non-traditional lenders, namely fintech firms, that have entered the small business lending market, with most noting that these online alternative lenders have filled a necessary lending gap left by traditional banks and depository institutions. While concerns around bad actors in the online lending space were discussed, most panelists agreed that online financing may provide an opportunity for women and minority-owned businesses to avoid potential biases in underwriting, with one panelist noting that his company does not collect gender or race information in its online application.
- Panel #2. Panelists focused their discussion on specific implementation concerns of Section 1071, including compliance costs, definitions of small business and financial institutions, data elements to be reported, and privacy concerns. Among other things, panelists noted that the definition of “small business” should be limited to businesses under $1 million in revenue, which is a figure included in other regulations such as ECOA and the CRA. Panelists disagreed on whether the Bureau should exercise its exemptive authority under Section 1071 for the definition of “financial institution.” While some panelists believe that the broad definition included in the Act is necessary to hold all the players in the market accountable, others argued that large financial institutions that receive an “outstanding” CRA rating should be excluded from the reporting requirements. As for data elements, most agreed that the Bureau should only require the statutorily mandated elements and not include any others in the rulemaking, while one panelist suggested that APR must be included in order to ensure that approval rates for minority-owned small businesses are the result of actual innovation and effective business models and not just the charging of high rates. Moreover, panelists reminded the Bureau to be cognizant of the small business lending reporting requirements of the CRA and HMDA and cautioned the Bureau to keep Section 1071 data requirements compatible.
New York says creditors prohibited from obtaining confessions of judgments against out-of-state borrowers
On August 30, the New York governor signed S 6395, which prohibits creditors from obtaining confessions of judgments through the New York court system against individuals and businesses located outside of the state in order to seize borrower assets. According to a press release issued by Governor Cuomo, prior to the enactment of S 6395, creditors were able to “freeze and seize a borrower’s assets by obtaining a judgment entered in a court far from where the contested agreement was executed, making it difficult for a borrower to legally contest the unfair penalty.” Under S 6395, an entry of judgment may only be filed in “the county where the defendant’s affidavit stated that the defendant resided when it was executed or where the defendant resided at the time of filing.” For non-natural persons, the county of residence is where it has a place of business. Notably, government agencies engaged in enforcing civil or criminal law against a person or a non-natural person, are exempt from the bill’s measures and may file an affidavit in any county within the state. S 6395 is effective immediately.
In July, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) issued a request for comment on the first draft of regulations implementing the state’s new law on commercial financing disclosures. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2018, the California governor signed SB 1235, which requires non-bank lenders and other finance companies to provide written consumer-style disclosures for certain commercial transactions, including small business loans and merchant cash advances. Most notably, the act requires financing entities subject to the law to disclose in each commercial financing transaction—defined as an “accounts receivable purchase transaction, including factoring, asset-based lending transaction, commercial loan, commercial open-end credit plan, or lease financing transaction intended by the recipient for use primarily for other than personal, family, or household purposes”—the “total cost of the financing expressed as an annualized rate” in a form to be prescribed by the DBO.
The draft regulation provides general format and content requirements for each disclosure, as well as specific requirements for each type of covered transaction. In addition to the detailed information in the draft regulation, the DBO has released model disclosure forms for the six financing types, (i) closed-end transactions; (ii) open-ended credit plans; (iii) general factoring; (iv) sales-based financing; (v) lease financing; and (vi) asset-based lending. Additionally, the draft regulation uses an annual percentage rate (APR) as the annualized rate disclosure (as opposed to the annualized cost of capital, which was considered in the December 2018 request for comments, covered by InfoBytes here). Moreover, the draft regulation provides additional information for calculating the APR for factoring transactions as well as calculating the estimated APR for sales-based financing transactions.
Comments on the draft regulations are due by September 9.
On June 28, the CFPB issued its seventh fair lending report to Congress, which outlines the Bureau’s efforts in 2018 to fulfill its fair lending mandate. According to the report, in 2018, the Bureau continued to focus on promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit, highlighting several fair lending priorities that continued from years past such as mortgage origination, mortgage servicing, and small business lending. The Bureau also noted two new focus areas for fair lending examinations or investigations: (i) student loan origination, specifically, whether there is discrimination in underwriting and pricing; and (ii) debt collection and model use, specifically, whether there is discrimination in governing auto servicing and credit card collections, including the use of models that predict recovery outcomes. Additionally, the report highlighted several other Bureau activities from 2018, including, among other things (i) issuing guidance to facilitate the implementation of the August 2018 HMDA final rule (covered by InfoBytes here); and (ii) recommending supervisory reviews of third-party credit scoring models, noting that the “use of alternative data and modeling techniques may expand access to credit or lower credit cost and, at the same time, present fair lending risks.”
On May 14, the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC) announced it filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against the CFPB for allegedly failing to implement Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires the Bureau to collect and disclose data on lending to small, women, and minority-owned businesses. In the complaint, the CRC argues that the failure to implement Section 1071 violates two provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act. Specifically, the CRC alleges the that Bureau has “unlawfully withheld and unreasonably delayed” the implementation of Section 1071 since Dodd Frank’s passage in 2011, and also, that the Bureau has acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” by informing financial institutions to “not to make [the] inquiries, nor compile, maintain, and submit [the loan application] data” required by Section 1071. The CRC claims that the failure to collect and publish the data has harmed its ability to advocate for access to credit, advise organizations working with women and minority-owned small businesses, and work with lenders to arrange investment in low-income and communities of color. The CRC is seeking the court to invalidate the Bureau’s countermanding of Section 1071’s requirements on financial institutions and an order or writ compelling the Bureau to issue a final rule implementing Section 1071.
New York legislature introduces bills to protect small businesses, regulate merchant cash advance transactions
On May 1, S5470 was introduced in the New York State Senate and is now sitting with the Committee on Banks, which would establish consumer-style disclosure requirements for certain commercial transactions. Similar to the legislation enacted in California last September, previously covered in InfoBytes here, the bill requires financing entities subject to the law to disclose in each commercial financing transaction “the total cost of the financing, expressed as a dollar cost, including any and all fees, expenses and charges that are to be paid by the recipient and that cannot be avoided by the recipient, including any interest expense.” For open and closed-end commercial financing transactions, the bill requires that the disclosures must include, among other things, (i) the amount financed or the maximum credit line; (ii) the total cost of the financing; (iii) the annual percentage rate; (iv) payment amounts; (v) a description of all other potential fees and charges; and (vi) prepayment charges. The bill sets out analogous, but separate, disclosure requirements for accounts receivable purchase transactions, such as merchant cash advance and factoring transactions.
Importantly, the bill does not apply to (i) financial institutions (defined as a chartered or licensed bank, trust company, industrial loan company, savings and loan association, or federal credit union, authorized to do business in New York); (ii) lenders regulated under the federal Farm Credit Act; (iii) commercial financing transactions secured by real property; (iv) a technology service provider; and (v) a lender who makes no more than one applicable transaction in New York in a 12-month period or any person that makes commercial financing transactions in New York that are incidental to the lender’s business in a 12-month period.
Additionally, the New York legislature is also considering a number of other bills that would affect commercial financing transactions:
- A03637, would amend the state’s banking law to deem asset-based lending transactions (defined as, “a transaction in which advances are made which are contingent on the recipient forwarding payments received from one or more third parties for goods such recipient has supplied or services such recipient has rendered to that third party or parties.”) to be loans for all purposes. On its face, this legislation would subject typical merchant cash advance and factoring transactions, which New York courts have in many recent court cases deemed to be non-loan transactions, to lending law restrictions, which would include potential licensure requirements and usury restrictions.
- A03636, would amend the state’s business law to prohibit the inclusion of a confession of judgment (COJ) in a contract or agreement for a financial product or service provided by an entity regulated by the New York Department of Financial Services for the purpose of consumer or investor protection, which is specifically defined by the bill as: (i) any product or service for which registration or licensing is required or for which the offeror or provider is required to be registered or licensed by state law; (ii) any product or service as to which provisions for consumer or investor protection are specifically set forth for such product or service by state statute or regulation; and (iii) securities, commodities and real property subject to the provisions of article 23A of the general business law. COJs are contractual clauses in which a debtor waives in advance his or her right to be notified of a court hearing, or to present his or her side of the case, which are prohibited under federal law for consumer contracts by the FTC Credit Practices Rule (16 C.F.R. pt. 444). In conjunction with potential licensure required under AO3637 above, the passage of both pieces of legislation in New York could result in the prohibition of COJ clauses in merchant cash advance agreements, a common feature of such agreements and generally permitted under New York law.
- A03638, would extend the majority of the state’s consumer protections with respect to loans made to small businesses (defined by the bill as, a “small business shall be deemed to be one which is resident in this state, independently owned and operated, not dominant in its field and employs one hundred or less persons.”). Specifically, the bill would amend the state’s general obligations law to extend all rights and privileges granted under the title to small businesses and would also amend Section 173 and Section 380-e of the state’s banking law to extend all the rights and privileges granted by the section to small businesses.
Relatedly, the FTC recently held a forum on small business marketplace lending practices, see detailed InfoBytes coverage on the forum here.
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "The international compliance situation and new challenges" at the World Compliance Association Covid Compliance Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Understanding OFAC sanctions" at a NAFCU webinar
- Garylene D. Javier to discuss "Navigating workplace culture in 2020" at the DC Bar Conference