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On June 3, the FTC announced that it submitted its 2021 Annual Financial Acts Enforcement Report to the CFPB. The report covers FTC 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, among other things:
- Automobile Credit and Leasing. The report discussed the FTC’s July 2021 settlement with the owners of car dealerships in Arizona and New Mexico (collectively, “defendants”) resolving claims that the defendants misrepresented consumer information on finance applications and misrepresented financial terms in advertisements in violation of TILA and CLA (covered by InfoBytes here).
- Payday Lending. The report highlighted the FTC’s settlement against a payday lending enterprise for allegedly overcharging consumers millions of dollars, deceiving them about the terms of their loans, and failing to make required loan disclosures. According to the report, the owners and operators of the settling entities are banned from making loans or extending credit, nearly all debt held by the company will be deemed paid in full, and the companies involved are being liquidated, with the proceeds to be used to provide redress to consumers harmed by the company.
- Credit Repair and Debt Relief. The report discussed the FTC’s settlement with the operators of a student loan debt relief scheme, who were charged with falsely promising consumers the company could lower or eliminate student loan balances, illegally imposing upfront fees for credit repair services, and signing consumers up for high-interest loans to pay the fees without making required loan disclosures in violation of TILA. The order bans the defendants from providing debt relief services and collecting any further payments from consumers who purchased the services, and requires the defendants to return money to be used to refund consumers.
Additionally, the report addressed the FTC’s research and policy efforts and highlighted the FTC’s Military Task Force’s work on military consumer protection issues.
On June 1, the FTC announced that it submitted its 2020 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 deceptive charges and tactics used to overcharge customers on loan repayments; and (iii) credit repair and debt relief schemes, including a student loan debt relief scheme involving illegal fees and false claims loan payments.
- EFTA. The FTC reported eight 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) use of robocalls for marketing deceptive products.
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) collaboration with Department of Defense’s interagency group on preauthorized electronic fund transfer issues; (ii) a small business financing forum that provided “an overview of small business lending and the emergence of new online options available to businesses seeking finance”; 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.
On February 5, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona granted in part and denied in part summary judgment in favor of the FTC, concluding the owners of a car dealership with locations in Arizona and New Mexico (collectively, “defendants”) failed to include legally required information in violation of TILA and the Consumer Leasing Act (CLA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in August 2020, the FTC brought charges against the defendants for violations of TILA, the CLA, and FTC Act, on the grounds that the defendants purportedly falsified consumers’ income and down payments on credit applications in order to make the consumers seem more creditworthy, which resulted in consumers “default[ing] at a higher rate than properly qualified buyers.” The FTC asserted that these advertising practices were deceptive in that they concealed the true nature and terms of the financing or leasing offers and thus were in violation of federal law for failing to disclose the required terms.
Subsequently, the corporate defendants stipulated to a permanent injunction and monetary judgment and the FTC moved for summary judgment against the co-owners. As against the owners, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the FTC on the TILA and CLA claims, concluding that the advertisements were “missing legally required information such as the terms of repayment or the annual percentage rate.” However, the court denied summary judgment as to the FTC Act claims, after the defendants provided declarations from a small sample of consumers admitting to knowing the down payment and income information was misreported. The court determined that based on the declarations, a reasonable jury could infer that “consumers were not likely deceived or misled, only led astray and persuaded to participate in a lie.” However, the court did not grant full relief requested by the FTC. In particular, the court did not grant summary judgment on the FTC Act claims and held it was premature to hold one of the owners individually responsible for the TILA and CLA claims. Provided these findings presented unresolved factual issues, the court found reason to delay the entry of judgment.
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.
On January 23, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota denied two financing companies’ (collectively, “defendants”) motions to dismiss an action alleging the defendants violated the Consumer Leasing Act (CLA), TILA, and a Minnesota law prohibiting usurious contracts through a transaction to purchase a puppy. According to the opinion, the plaintiff financed the purchase of a puppy through the defendants, which allowed her to take possession of the puppy in exchange for 24 monthly payments through an agreement styled as a “Consumer Pet Lease.” The agreement had an APR of 120 percent. The plaintiff filed suit against the defendants alleging the companies violated (i) the CLA by failing to disclose the number of payments owed under the agreement prior to execution; (ii) TILA by failing to adequately disclose the finance charge, the APR, and the “total of payments” as required under the Act; and (iii) the state’s usury law cap of 8 percent for personal debt. The defendants moved to dismiss the action challenging the plaintiff’s standing, among other things. The court, rejected the defendants arguments, finding that the consumer adequately alleged injury by stating she “would” have, not “might” have, pursued other funding had the defendants disclosed the actual interest rate. Additionally, the court determined the consumer plausibly alleged a CLA violation because the agreement contains information the plaintiff could view as “conflicting and confusing.” With respect to the TILA claims, the plaintiff argued that, although the agreement is styled as a lease, it is actually a credit sale, and the court rejected one of the defendant’s arguments that it was not a creditor, but rather a servicer not subject to TILA. Lastly, the court held the plaintiff adequately pleaded her state usury claim, but noted the claim’s viability would be better informed by discovery. Accordingly, the court denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss.
On December 1, the FTC announced a proposed order to settle with a Dallas, Texas auto dealership for alleged deceptive advertisements containing loan and lease terms in Spanish-language newspapers. According to the FTC, the dealership violated the FTC Act by prominently displaying advantageous loan and lease terms in Spanish and qualifying those terms in smaller-print English at the bottom of the page. The FTC alleges the dealership misrepresented (i) the total cost of purchasing or leasing; (ii) the underwriting restrictions for the advertised loan or lease; and (iii) the availability of the inventory advertised. Additionally, the FTC alleged that the dealership violated Truth in Lending Act and the Consumer Leasing Act by failing to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose credit and lease terms. The proposal requires the dealership to cease the allegedly deceptive conduct and comply with all applicable advertisement regulations in the future. The proposal is published in the Federal Register and is open for public comment until January 2, 2018.
On November 8, the CFPB and the Federal Reserve Board (Board) finalized the annual dollar threshold adjustments that govern the application of Regulation Z (Truth in Lending Act) and Regulation M (Consumer Leasing Act) to credit transactions as required by the Dodd-Frank Act. Each year the thresholds must be readjusted based on the annual percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The exemption threshold for 2018, based on the annual percentage increase in the CPI-W, is now $55,800 or less, except for private student loans and loans secured by real property, which are subject to TILA regardless of the amount.
Additionally, on November 8, the OCC, along with the CFPB and the Board, finalized amendments to the official interpretations for the regulations implementing section 129H of TILA, which determines the threshold amount for a small loan’s exemption from the special appraisal requirements that apply to higher-priced mortgage loans. The threshold for 2018, based on the annual percentage increase in the CPI-W, is now $26,000.
On November 6, the FTC announced a settlement of $1.4 million with a Southern California auto dealership for violating a 2014 administrative order (Order). The Order prohibited the dealership from misrepresenting the cost to finance or lease a vehicle. In issuing the Order, the FTC alleged that the dealership had violated the FTC Act by using advertisements that deceptively stated a $0 up-front lease option while excluding other fees and costs, and also that the dealership’s advertisements violated disclosure requirements of the Consumer Leasing Act (CLA) and TILA.
The new settlement resolves a complaint in which the FTC alleged the auto dealership “routinely violated” the Order requiring the dealership to, among other things, (i) accurately represent costs and terms of financing or leasing vehicles; (ii) conform its advertisements to the requirements of the CLA and TILA; and (iv) maintain necessary records and make those records available to the agency. In addition to the monetary penalty and the prohibition of similar practices, the settlement also subjects the dealership to strong compliance and reporting requirements.