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On June 2, the CFPB posted a blog post highlighting abuses within the military allotment system with respect to servicemembers’ automatic recurring payments. According to the Bureau, the allotment system was established to help servicemembers make payments directly from their paychecks, especially when deployed away from home. However, according to the CFPB some lenders have been abusing the allotment system, with certain lenders using the system “as a means of prioritizing repayment of that lender’s loan over the servicemember’s payments of other expenses.” The Bureau noted that servicemembers have other options for automatic payments that are usually free of charge and provide more legal protections than the allotment system, and reiterated that the Department of Defense (DoD) made significant changes in 2014 that prohibited new allotments to purchase, lease, or rent personal property like cars, furniture, and electronics, and “expanded the allotment prohibition in the Military Lending Act (MLA) to include a wider range of credit products, like installment loans, that cannot be repaid by allotment” (revised MLA regulations covered by InfoBytes here).
Through consumer complaints and the work of the agency’s Office of Servicemember Affairs, the Bureau stated it continues to hear about significant concerns in this space, including that some lenders are requiring servicemembers to repay by allotment (a violation of the MLA), and other lenders are entering into partnerships with allotment processing banks to create “allotment-funded savings accounts” for servicemembers in order to evade DoD protections. The blog post emphasized the Bureau’s commitment to protecting servicemembers from abuses and provided information for servicemembers on filing complaints should they believe they have been unfairly treated by a company through the military allotment system.
On January 6, the CFPB, DOJ, and DOD filed an amicus brief on behalf of the United States in support of a consumer servicemember plaintiff’s appeal in Jerry Davidson v. United Auto Credit Corp, arguing that the hybrid loan at issue in the case, which was used for both an MLA-exempt and non-exempt purpose, must comply with the MLA. The loan included an amount used to purchase Guaranteed Auto Protection (GAP) insurance coverage, and the plaintiff alleged that, among other things, the auto lender (defendant) violated the MLA by forcing the plaintiff to waive important legal rights as a condition of accepting the loan and by requiring him to agree to mandatory arbitration should any dispute arise related to the loan. The plaintiff also alleged that the defendant failed to accurately communicate his repayment obligations by failing to disclose the correct annual percentage rate. The case is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit after a district court held that the plaintiff’s GAP insurance fell within the car-loan exception to the MLA as “inextricably tied to” and “directly related” to the vehicle purchase.
Arguing that GAP coverage “is not needed to buy a car and does not advance the purchase or use of the car,” the agencies’ brief noted that GAP coverage is identified as “debt-related product that addresses a financial contingency arising from a total loss of the car” and that the coverage can be purchased as a standalone product. According to the brief, the plaintiff’s loan is a “hybrid loan—that is, a loan that finances a product bundle including both an exempt product (such as a car) and a distinct non-exempt product (such as optional GAP coverage),” and the district court erred in failing to interpret the MLA consistent with guidance issued in 2016 and 2017 by the DOD suggesting that such “hybrid loans” are consumer credit subject to the protections in the MLA. The 2017 guidance explained that “a credit transaction that includes financing for Guaranteed Auto Protection insurance … would not qualify for the exception,” and the agencies argued that although the 2017 guidance was withdrawn in 2020, the “withdrawal did not offer a substantive interpretation of the statute that would alter the conclusion” that the plaintiff’s loan was not exempt from the MLA.
On November 4, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced the completion of an internal assessment of its Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) program and enhancements to that program. While CMMC 2.0 remains focused on safeguarding sensitive national security information, it updates CMMC 1.0 (see DoD guidance here) by streamlining compliance rules, strengthening cyber protection standards for companies operating in the defense industrial base, and encouraging a collaborative culture of cybersecurity and cyber resilience. “By establishing a more collaborative relationship with industry, these updates will support businesses in adopting the practices they need to thwart cyber threats while minimizing barriers to compliance with DoD requirements,” Jesse Salazar, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy, stated. Among other things, CMMC 2.0: (i) simplifies CMMC standards and provides further clarity on cybersecurity regulatory, policy, and contracting requirements; (ii) focuses the most advanced cybersecurity standards and third-party assessment requirements on companies that support the highest priority programs; and (iii) “increase[es] DoD oversight of professional and ethical standards in the assessment ecosystem.” Changes reflected in CMMC 2.0 will be implemented through future rulemaking, and companies are not required to comply with CMMC requirements until the forthcoming rules take effect. DoD will also suspend a current CMMC pilot program and “will not approve inclusion of a CMMC requirement in any DoD solicitation” during this period.
Recently, the Department of Defense (DoD), in consultation with the Treasury Department, released a report to the House Committee on Armed Services in response to Title V of House Report 116-442 on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 202. The House Report requested a report regarding the Military Annual Percentage Rate (MAPR), which cannot exceed 36 percent as established under the Military Lending Act (MLA) and what impact lowering the MAPR to 30 percent would have on military readiness and servicemember retention. Some highlights of the report include, among other things: (i) “the MLA, in combination with the Department’s ongoing financial literacy education and financial counseling efforts, appears to be effective in deterring unfair credit practices”; (ii) the DoD does not take a position regarding the merit of any change to decrease the maximum MAPR rate below 30 percent; (iii) credit cards, auto loans, and personal loans are generally available at risk-based rates below the MAPR; (iv) almost a quarter of all active duty servicemembers in the U.S. are stationed in states that limit a 24 month, $2,000 loan to less than 30 percent; and (v) “a MAPR limit as low as 28 percent would likely have no impact on [servicemembers]’ access to credit cards, assuming credit card issuers meet exemptions for eligible bona fide fees when calculating the MAPR.” The report notes that the DoD “is committed to continue working with Congress to support the financial readiness of [servicemembers] and their families and is willing to provide comment on any such proposal when appropriate.”
On February 28, the Department of Defense (DoD) published an amendment to its December 2017 interpretive rule (2017 Rule) for the Military Lending Act (MLA) to withdraw a provision concerning the exemption of credit secured by a motor vehicle or personal property. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 2017 Rule stated that additional costs may be added to an extension of credit so long as these costs relate to the object securing the credit, and not the extension of credit itself. In particular, the 2017 Rule stated that if credit is extended to cover “Guaranteed Auto Protection insurance or a credit insurance premium” the loan is covered by the MLA.
Following the publication of the 2017 Rule, the DoD received several requests to withdraw this Rule. The requests raised concerns that creditors “would be unable to technically comply with the MLA . . . because 232.8(f) of the [MLA] regulation would prohibit creditors from taking a security interest in the vehicle in those circumstances and creditors may not extend credit if they could not take a security interest in the vehicle being purchased.” The DoD stated that it found merit in these concerns and agreed that additional analysis is warranted. As a result, the DoD has withdrawn amended Q&A #2 from the 2017 Rule, and reinstated the 2016 Rule, which states that loans secured by “personal property” do not fall within the exception to “consumer credit” if the creditor “simultaneously extends credit in an amount greater than the purchase price.”
The amended interpretive rule is effective immediately.
Department of Defense updating data-sharing agreement with Department of Education to preserve servicemember benefit
On April 16, the Department of Defense (DoD) published a proposal in the Federal Register to amend its routine use policy to accommodate a new data-sharing agreement between DoD and the Department of Education (ED). The new agreement ensures that servicemembers with student loans under Part D, Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 receive the “no interest accrual benefit” on eligible loans during the period in which they received imminent danger or hostile fire pay. Through the proposal and the new agreement, ED will be able to access information in the Defense Manpower Data Center Data Base to identify servicemembers eligible for “no interest accrual benefit.” The proposal will take effect after the comment period ends on May 16 “unless comments are received which result in a contrary determination.”
On May 17, in response to a request from the CFPB, the FTC transmitted a letter summarizing its 2017 enforcement activities related to Regulation Z (TILA), Regulation M (Consumer Leasing Act), and Regulation E (Electronic Fund Transfer Act) for the CFPB’s use in preparing its 2017 Annual Report to Congress. The FTC highlighted numerous activities related to the enforcement of the pertinent regulations, including:
- Payday Lending. The FTC acknowledged the continued litigation against two Kansas-based operations and their owner for allegedly selling lists of counterfeit payday loan debt portfolios to debt collectors in violation of the FTC Act, previously covered by InfoBytes here.
- Military Protection. The FTC identified the July 2017 military consumer financial workshop and the launch of the new Military Task Force (previously covered by InfoBytes here and here) among the activities the agency engaged in related to protecting the finances of current and former members of the military. The FTC also noted continued participation in the interagency group working with the Department of Defense on amendments to its rule implementing the Military Lending Act.
- “Negative Option.” For actions under the Regulation E/EFTA, the FTC highlighted numerous “negative option” enforcement actions, in which the consumer agrees to receive goods or services from a company for a free trial option, but if the consumer does not cancel before the trial period ends, the consumer will incur recurring charges for continued goods or services. Among the actions highlighted is a case in which the FTC imposed a $179 million judgment (suspended upon the payment of $6.4 million) settling allegations that the online marketers’ offers of “free” and “risk free” monthly programs for certain weight loss and other products were deceptive.
- Auto Loans. The letter highlighted, among others, the FTC action against a Southern California-based group of auto dealerships that allegedly violated a prior consent order with the FTC by misrepresenting the cost to finance or lease a vehicle, previously covered by InfoBytes here.
On May 11, the OCC issued the “Military Lending Act” (MLA) booklet of the Comptroller’s Handbook. According to the announcement, the booklet reflects the 2015 Department of Defense amendments, as well as the interpretive guidance published in 2016 and updated in 2017 (covered by InfoBytes here and here), and applies to the examinations of OCC-supervised institutions that establish consumer credit products covered by the MLA. The booklet includes, among other things, (i) rules for determining fees and charges included in the calculation of the military annual percentage rate (MAPR); (ii) rules for calculating the MAPR; (iii) required disclosures to be provided to covered borrowers; and (iv) consumer credit limitations for covered borrowers.
Department of Defense Updates MLA Interpretive Guidance; Addresses Timing for Safe Harbor Qualification
The Department of Defense (DoD) published a new interpretive rule (rule) under the Military Lending Act (MLA) on December 14. This interpretive rule takes effect immediately, and it both amends and adds to the interpretive rule issued by DoD in August 2016 (previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert). In general, the rule contains the following updated interpretations:
- Exemption of Credit Secured by a Motor Vehicle or Personal Property. The rule provides additional guidance on the exemption covering purchase money-secured motor vehicle and personal property loans. Specifically, the rule states that additional costs may be added to an extension of credit so long as these costs relate to the object securing the credit, and not the extension of credit itself. For example, the rule explains that credit used to finance “optional leather seats,” “an extended warranty,” or “negative equity” in connection with the purchase of a motor vehicle will not cause the loan to be subject to the MLA. However, the rule also states that, if credit is extended to cover “Guaranteed Auto Protection insurance or a credit insurance premium” or additional “cashout,” the loan is not eligible for the MLA exception.
- Security Interests in Covered Borrowers’ Accounts. The rule addresses the ability of a creditor to take a security interest in a covered borrower’s account. Specifically, the rule states that a covered borrower may “convey security interest for all types of consumer credit” to a creditor, so long as the creditor complies with all other laws and the MLA rule. Similarly, the rule notes that the MLA does not prohibit a creditor from exercising rights to take an otherwise-valid statutory lien on funds that have been deposited into a covered borrower’s account “at any time.” However, the rule also emphasizes methods a creditor may not use to obtain payment from a covered borrower’s account, such as a “remotely created check.”
- Timing for Safe Harbor Qualification. The rule provides additional clarity on when a creditor must check an applicant’s active duty status to obtain the MLA’s safe harbor. The rule states that an applicant’s covered borrower status should be determined when the applicant (i) initiates the transaction, (ii) submits an application to establish an account or during the processing of that application, or (iii) anytime during a 30-day period of time prior to such action. In addition, the rule states that a covered borrower check can qualify for the safe harbor if it is performed “during the course of the creditor’s processing of that application for consumer credit.”
California Legislature Urges Congress to Request the Department of Defense Alter Criteria for Safe Harbor Provision in the MLA
On September 25, the California Legislature filed a joint resolution that urges Congress to impress upon the Department of Defense the need to realign their criteria requiring a social security number for the safe harbor provision in the Military Lending Act (MLA). The resolution noted that the revised MLA regulations requiring lenders to ask for a social security number, among other information from borrowers, may expose lenders to liability under the California Unruh Civil Rights Act. It further states that this provision of the MLA could unnecessarily burden many segments of California’s immigrant communities.
- Kathryn L. Ryan and Jedd R. Bellman to discuss “Risk and compliance management: Are you covered?” at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Melissa Klimkiewicz and Daniel A. Bellovin to discuss “Things to know about flood insurance” at a NAFCU webinar
- Hank Asbill to discuss “Ethical issues at sentencing” at the 31st Annual National Seminar on Federal Sentencing
- Max Bonici will moderate a panel on “Enforcement risk and other regulatory and compliance issues related to crypto and digital assets” at the American Bar Association’s 2022 Annual Meeting
- John R. Coleman to provide a “CFPB Update” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “The shifting data privacy and data protection landscape” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to provide “An update on key fair lending cases and the CRA and UDAAP rules” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Fundamentals of financial crime compliance” at the Practicing Law Institute
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Ongoing CDD: Operational considerations” at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA Seminar
- James C. Chou to discuss ransomware at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA seminar
- Elizabeth E. McGinn, Benjamin W. Hutten, and James C. Chou to discuss “The Evolving Regulatory Landscape: Third-party and cyber risk management” at the 2022 mWISE Conference
- James T. Parkinson to present a “Global anti-corruption update” at IBA’s annual conference