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On November 27, the CFPB announced that the ceiling on the maximum allowable charge for disclosures by a consumer reporting agency to a consumer pursuant to section 609 of the FCRA will remain unchanged at $12.50 for the 2020 calendar year. The final rule announcing the amount was published the same day in the Federal Register.
On November 20, the CFPB issued a request for information (RFI) regarding the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosures Rule (TRID Rule) assessment, which is required by Section 1022(d) of the Dodd-Frank Act. Section 1022(d) requires the Bureau to conduct an assessment of each “significant rule or order” no later than five years after its effective date. The Bureau issued the TRID Rule in November 2013, and the rule took effect on October 3, 2015. In addition to comments received on this RFI, the Bureau notes that it is also considering the approximately 63 comments already received regarding the TRID Rule from the 2018 series of RFIs issued on the adopted regulations and new rulemakings, as well as the inherited regulations (covered by InfoBytes here and here).
The RFI seeks public feedback on any information relevant to assessing the effectiveness of the TRID Rule, including (i) comments on the feasibility and effectiveness of the assessment plan; (ii) recommendations to improve the assessment plan; (iii) data and information about the benefits, costs, and effectiveness of the TRID Rule; and (iv) recommendations for modifying, expanding, or eliminating the TRID Rule.
Comments must be received within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register.
On October 30, the SEC requested public input on asset-level disclosure requirements for residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). The current requirements, which were adopted in 2014 in response to the financial crisis, require issuers to disclose a wide range of data on each mortgage loan in the underlying pool at the time of an offering and on an ongoing basis. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September, the U.S. Treasury Department released a Housing Reform Plan, which, among other things, recommended that the SEC review the RMBS asset-level disclosure requirements to assess the number of required reporting fields and to clarify certain defined terms for SEC-registered private-label securitization offerings. In response to Treasury’s plan, Chairman Clayton requests that SEC staff assess the “RMBS asset-level disclosure requirements with an eye toward facilitating SEC-registered offerings,” and seeks public input on a variety of questions related to the topic, including (i) whether the circumstances in the RMBS market have changed since the financial crisis and the 2014 adoption of the requirements; (ii) whether one or more data points in the requirements should be revised and why; and (iii) whether any data points should be eliminated and if elimination would result in any adverse effects. The announcement does not contain a deadline for members of the public to submit their input.
On October 21, the FTC announced two separate actions involving social media and online reviews. In its complaint against a skincare company, the FTC alleged that the company misled consumers by posting fake reviews on a retailer’s website and failed to disclose company employees wrote the reviews. The FTC asserted that the retailer’s customer review section is “a forum for sharing authentic feedback about products,” and the company and owner “represented, directly or indirectly, expressly or by implication, that certain reviews of [the company] brand products on the [retailer’s] website reflected the experiences or opinions of users of the products.” The FTC argued that the failure to disclose that the owner or employees wrote the reviews constitutes a deceptive act or practice under Section 5 of the FTC Act because the information would “be material to consumers in evaluating the reviews of [the company] brand products in connection with a purchase or use decision.” In a 3-2 vote, the Commission approved the administrative consent order, which notably does not include any monetary penalties. The order prohibits the company from misrepresenting the status of an endorser and requires the company and owner to disclose the material connection between the reviewer and the product in the future.
The FTC also entered into a proposed settlement with a now-defunct company and its owner for allegedly selling fake social media followers and subscribers to motivational speakers, law firm partners, investment professionals, and others who wanted to boost their credibility to potential clients; as well as to actors, athletes, and others who wanted to increase their social media appeal. According to the FTC, the company “provided such users of social media platforms with the means and instrumentalities for the commission of deceptive acts or practices,” in violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act. The Commission unanimously voted to approve the proposed court order, which bans the company from selling or assisting others in selling “social media influence.” The proposed order imposes a $2.5 million monetary judgment against the company owner, but suspends the majority upon the payment of $250,000.
On September 10, the CFPB issued three final innovation policies, the No-Action Letter (NAL) Policy, Compliance Assistance Sandbox (CAS) Policy, and Trial Disclosure Program (TDP) Policy. Director Kraninger noted that the new policies will “improve how the Bureau exercises its authority to facilitate innovation and reduce regulatory uncertainty. . .contribut[ing] to an environment where innovation can flourish—giving consumers more options and better choices.” In September 2018, the Bureau published the proposed TDP policy (covered by InfoBytes here), and in December 2018, the Bureau published the proposed NAL and CAS policies (covered by InfoBytes here). Highlights of the final policies include:
- NAL. The NAL policy provides a NAL recipient reassurance that the Bureau will not bring a supervisory or enforcement action against the company for providing a product or service under the covered facts and circumstances. After an application is considered complete, the Bureau will grant or deny the request within 60 days. The Bureau intends to publish NALs on its website and, in some cases, a version or summary of the application. The Bureau may also publish denials and an explanation of why the application was denied. The policy notes that disclosure of information is governed by the Dodd-Frank Act, FOIA and the Bureau’s rule on Disclosure of Records and Information, which generally would prohibit the Bureau from disclosing confidential information.
- CAS. The CAS policy will evaluate a product or service for compliance with relevant laws and will offer approved applicants a “safe harbor” from liability for certain covered conduct during the testing period under TILA, ECOA, or the EFTA. The CAS was originally proposed as the “Proposed Sandbox Policy,” and included, in addition to the now listed carve-outs, exemptions by order from statutory provisions of ECOA, HOEPA, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (FDIA). The final CAS policy does not include the exemption program. The Bureau noted that, based on the comments received on the proposal, it will issue, at a later date, a new proposal to establish a program for exemptions by order through a separate notice-and comment rulemaking.
- TDP. The TDP policy creates the “CFPB Disclosure Sandbox,” which carries out the requirements of Section 1032(e) of the Dodd-Frank Act. The Bureau’s first TPD policy was finalized in 2013, allowing for approved company disclosures to be deemed in compliance with, or exempted from, applicable federal disclosure requirements during the testing period. Under the previous policy, the Bureau did not approve a single company program for participation. The updated TDP policy streamlines the application process, including providing formal determinations within 60 days of deeming an application complete. The policy provides procedures for requesting extensions of successful testing programs, as the Bureau expects most testing periods will start at two-years.
The Bureau also announced the first NAL issued under its new policy in response to a request by HUD on behalf of more than 1,600 housing counseling agencies (HCAs) that participate in HUD’s housing counseling program. The NAL states that the Bureau will not take supervisory or enforcement action under RESPA against HUD-certified HCAs that have entered into certain fee-for-service arrangements with lenders for pre-purchase housing counseling services. Specifically, the Bureau will not take such action against a HCA for including and adhering to a provision in such agreements conditioning the lender’s payment for the housing counseling services on the consumer making contact or closing a loan with the lender, even if that activity could be construed as a referral under RESPA, provided that the level of payment for the services is no more than a level that is commensurate with the services provided and is reasonable and customary for the area. The Bureau issued a template for lenders to seek a NAL for such arrangements, which includes certain anti-steering certifications that (i) the consumer will choose between comparable products from at least three different lenders; (ii) the funding is based on services rendered, not on the terms or conditions of any mortgage loan or related transaction; and (iii) no endorsement, sponsorship, or other preferential treatment will be conveyed to the lender for entering into the arrangement. According to the Bureau, the NAL, “is intended to facilitate HCAs entering into such agreements with lenders and will enhance the ability of housing counseling agencies to obtain funding from additional sources.” In addition to the template, the Bureau has made the HUD NAL application publicly available as well.
On August 19, the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed the Indiana Department of Financial Institutions (Department) finding that a car dealership charged an “impermissible additional charge” in violation of the state’s additional-charges statute when the dealership improperly disclosed a finance charge to its consumers. According to the opinion, the dealership charged, in addition to a third party titling fee, a $25.00 convenience fee to its credit customers for electronic titling through the third party. The service was required for credit customers but was optional for cash customers. After conducting a routine examination, the Department identified one violation from a transaction in July 2015, where the dealership did not disclose the convenience fee in the “finance charge” box of the disclosures, noting “the fee was only mandatory for credit customers and therefore was ‘a condition of the extension of credit.’” The dealership provided a contract from the same time period, showing it disclosed the fee in the “Itemization of Amount Financed” and “Amount Financed” boxes, not in the “Finance Charge” box. The Department charged the dealership with violating the state’s additional-charges statute, “for assessing ‘impermissible additional charges’ in the form of the $25.00 convenience fee,” as opposed to a charge for violating the state’s disclosure statute.
On review, the Court of Appeals concluded the charge was a finance charge because it was mandatory for the dealership’s credit customers but not its cash customers, and noted a finance charge cannot also be an additional charge. The Department argued it made no practical difference which violation it alleged, because the remedies under both statutes are the same, while the dealership noted a disclosure violation would entitle it to raise certain defenses under TILA. The appellate court did not address this issue, but nonetheless concluded “a finance charge doesn’t become an ‘impermissible additional charge’ when it’s not disclosed in the ‘Finance Charge’ box,” and remanded the case back to the Department for proceedings under the disclosure statute.
On August 20, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit concluded that a plaintiff failed to adequately allege the existence of a written agreement for his deductible payment plan and therefore, his surgery institute did not violate TILA’s disclosure requirements. According to the opinion, the day before his surgery, the surgery institute orally agreed to accept a partial deductible payment and agreed to permit the plaintiff to pay the remaining deductible requirements in monthly installments. The plaintiff received two emails, one confirming the initial payment and the other confirming the payment plan and listing the plaintiff’s credit card. The institute performed the surgery, but the plaintiff failed to make any further payments on the deductible. Instead, the plaintiff filed an action against the institute alleging it violated TILA by extending credit and failing to provide the required disclosures. The district court granted judgment on the pleadings for the institute, concluding that the plaintiff' failed to establish a written agreement for the extension of credit. The court also issued sanctions, in the form of attorneys’ fees, against the plaintiff’s counsel, reasoning the counsel could have reasonably discovered the lack of written agreement and lack of payment before initiating the action.
On appeal, the 3rd Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part in the district court’s judgment. The appellate court agreed with the district court that the plaintiff failed to establish the existence of a written agreement for credit with the institute, noting “the requirement of a written agreement [under TILA] is not satisfied by a ‘letter that merely confirms an oral agreement.’” But the appellate court noted that the district court erred in relying on an admission to that effect by plaintiff’s counsel during a telephone conference. Nonetheless, the error was “harmless” because the plaintiff failed to establish a written agreement was executed and signed, stating “[n]owhere does he allege that he signed a written agreement, and the  email correspondence was merely ‘confirming’ the ‘previously discussed’ agreement." The appellate court then reversed the district court’s sanctions ruling, concluding it abused its discretion when it imposed them.
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 August 1, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York allowed breach of contract and clear and conspicuous disclosure claims brought by a proposed class of consumers against a national bank to proceed, finding that ambiguity exists over whether credit card cryptocurrency purchases are “cash-like transactions.” The plaintiffs claimed that the bank breached their cardholder agreements when it changed the classification of cryptocurrency acquisitions from “purchases” to “cash advances” between January 23 and February 2, 2018. Plaintiffs contended that this change subjected cardholders to higher interest rates and transaction fees in violation of their cardholder agreements. Moreover, the plaintiffs claimed that the bank’s failure to clearly and conspicuously disclose the different types of transactions and varying rates, as well as its failure to provide advance notice of significant changes in its account terms and accurate disclosures in periodic account statements, violated TILA and Regulation Z.
The bank countered that no breach of contract occurred because cryptocurrency acquisitions are “cash-like transactions” that, under the cardholder agreement, are properly classified as cash advances. Specifically, the bank stated that because cryptocurrency can be a “medium of exchange, a measure of value, or a means of payment” under the definition of “cash,” it is therefore “cash-like.”
The court concluded that the plaintiffs offered a reasonable argument that purchases of cryptocurrency did not constitute cash advances. Plaintiffs argued that the contractual term “cash-like”—which was used in the cardholder agreement to describe a cash advance—referred only to financial instruments formally tied to physical, government-issued “fiat” currency, such as checks, money orders, and wire transfers. “Because, as plaintiffs plausibly allege, cryptocurrency does not imbue its holder with a legal right to any government-issued currency, acquisitions of cryptocurrency could not be classified as a cash-like transaction,” the court stated. As such, “[b]ecause plaintiffs have identified a reasonable interpretation of ‘cash-like transactions’ that would exclude purchases of cryptocurrency, the breach of contract claim survives the motion to dismiss.” The court also allowed plaintiffs’ “clear and conspicuous” disclosure claim under TILA to survive because the contract was not clear that purchases of cryptocurrency would result in cash advance fees. However, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ remaining TILA claims, finding that (i) the bank did not change the contract terms themselves, but rather their application; and (ii) the periodic account statements did not inaccurately convey what the plaintiffs owed to the bank for those particular periods of time.
On July 31, the CFPB released FAQs to assist with TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure Rule (TRID Rule) compliance. The five new FAQs relate to providing loan estimates to consumers. Highlights include:
- If a consumer submits the six pieces of information (name, income, social security number, property address, estimate of the value of the property, and loan amount sought) that constitute an application under the TRID Rule, the creditor must ensure that a loan estimate is delivered or placed in the mail within three business days.
- A creditor cannot require the consumer to submit anything other than the six pieces of information that constitute an application under the TRID Rule as a condition to providing a loan estimate.
- A creditor cannot require a consumer to provide verifying documents in order to receive a loan estimate.
- If a consumer submits the six pieces of information that constitute an application, in order to receive a pre-approval or a pre-qualification letter, the creditor must also provide a loan estimate within three business days of receipt.
- A creditor may collection additional information, beyond the six pieces of information that constitute an application, it deems necessary to process a request for a mortgage loan, including a request for a pre-approval or pre-qualification letter.
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss “Beneficial Ownership: You have questions – We have quick answers” at the ABA/ABA Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Legal & regulatory issues – Next wave of regulatory policy" at the Marketplace Lending & Alternative Financing Summit
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Risk management in enforcement actions: Managing risk or micromanaging it" at an American Bar Association webinar
- Kari K. Hall and Christopher M. Walczyszyn to speak on the "Understanding updates to Regulation CC to ensure effective check processing" at a National Association of Federal Credit Unions webinar
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "ACAMS Moneylaundering.com Year-End Compliance Review and 2020 Outlook" at an ACAMS webinar
- APPROVED Webcast: Periodic reporting made easier
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A 20/20 view on 2020’s legislative and regulatory outlook" at the ACAMS Anti-Financial Crime and Public Policy Conference