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On January 19, the CFPB announced a settlement with a California-based online lender resolving allegations that the company violated the Military Lending Act (MLA) when making installment loans. This settlement is part of “the Bureau’s broader sweep of investigations of multiple lenders that may be violating the MLA,” which provides protections connected to extensions of consumer credit for active-duty servicemembers and their dependents. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last month the Bureau filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California alleging that since October 2016 the lender, among other things, made more than 4,000 single-payment or installment loans to over 1,200 covered borrowers in violation of the MLA. These violations included (i) extending loans with Military Annual Percentage Rates (MAPR) exceeding the MLA’s 36 percent cap; (ii) requiring borrowers to submit to arbitration in loan agreements; and (iii) failing to make certain required loan disclosures, including a statement of the applicable MAPR, before or at the time of the transaction.
Under the terms of the settlement, the company is required to pay $300,000 in consumer redress and pay a $950,000 civil money penalty. The company is also be prohibited from committing future MLA violations and from “collecting on, selling, or assigning any debts arising from Void Loans.” Furthermore, the company is required to submit a compliance plan to ensure its extension of consumer credit complies with the MLA. This plan must include, among other things, a process for correcting information furnished to credit reporting agencies about affected consumers.
On January 13, the Illinois legislature unanimously passed the “Predatory Loan Prevention Act,” (available in House Amendment 3 to SB 1792), which would prohibit lenders from charging more than 36 percent APR on all consumer loans. Specifically, the legislation would apply to any non-commercial loan, including closed-end and open-end credit, retail installment sales contracts, and motor vehicle retail installment sales contracts. For calculation of the APR, the legislation would require lenders to use the system for calculating a military annual percentage rate under the Military Lending Act. Any loan made in excess of 36 percent APR would be considered null and void and no entity would have the “right to collect, attempt to collect, receive, or retain any principal, fee, interest, or charges related to the loan.” Additionally, each violation would be subject to a fine up to $10,000.
On December 30, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Nevada-based consumer lender resolving allegations that the company violated the Military Lending Act (MLA), the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA), and the CFPA when making installment loans. The settlement is part of “the Bureau’s sweep of investigations of multiple lenders that may be violating the MLA.” According to the Bureau, the company allegedly made loans to active-duty servicemembers and their dependents (covered borrowers) in violation of the MLA by requiring borrowers to repay installment loans by “allotment.” Additionally, the Bureau alleges that the company violated the EFTA by requiring all of its covered borrowers to authorize the company “to initiate an electronic-fund transfer on the first business day after the due date of a payment that has been missed.” This requirement, the Bureau states, violates the EFTA’s prohibition against requiring borrowers to preauthorize electronic-fund transfers as a condition of receiving credit.
Under the terms of the consent order, the company is required to pay a $2.175 million civil money penalty, and must also, among other things, (i) provide notice of the Bureau’s consent order to all covered borrowers repaying their loans by allotment, along with notice that they may elect to change their repayment method; and (ii) provide training to employees involved in loan origination. Furthermore, the company is prohibited from accepting payment by allotment without first obtaining signed authorization from the borrower, and is banned from providing any incentives to employees or considering the number or rate of consumers who elect to repay by allotment during performance evaluations.
On December 4, the CFPB announced it filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against a California-based online lender alleging violations of the Military Lending Act (MLA). According to the CFPB, the “action is part of a broader Bureau sweep of investigations of multiple lenders that may be violating the MLA,” which provides protections connected to extensions of consumer credit for active-duty servicemembers and their dependents. The complaint alleges that since October 2016 the lender, among other things, made more than 4,000 single-payment or installment loans to over 1,200 covered borrowers in violation of the MLA. Specifically, the Bureau claims that these violations include (i) extending loans with Military Annual Percentage Rates (MAPR) exceeding the MLA’s 36 percent cap; (ii) requiring borrowers to submit to arbitration in loan agreements; and (iii) failing to make certain required loan disclosures, including a statement of the applicable MAPR, before or at the time of the transaction. The complaint seeks an injunction against the lender that would require the lender to “correct inaccurate information furnished to consumer reporting agencies concerning loans that were void ab initio,” and would prohibit it from collecting on those loans and require it to rescind the credit agreements on those loans. The complaint also seeks damages, redress, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, and civil money penalties.
On April 16, the FFIEC, on behalf of its member agencies, announced the release of two computational tools for annual percentage rates (APR) and annual percentage yields (APY). These web-based tools are intended to assist financial institutions when complying with consumer protection laws and regulations.
The APR Computational Tool is intended to help examiners and financial institutions verify finance charges and APRs included on consumer loan disclosures subject to TILA and Regulation Z, including calculations “related to unsecured and secured installment and construction loans, including real estate-secured loans.” The tool can also be used to verify military annual percentage rates for loans subject to the Military Lending Act. The APY Computational Tool is designed to support the verification of APYs on consumer deposit account disclosures, including advertisements and periodic statements, subject to the Truth in Savings Act and Regulation DD. See FDIC FIL-45-2020 and OCC Bulletin 2020-40 regarding the release of these tools.
On April 15, the CFPB issued a blog post providing resources for servicemembers, veterans, and military families impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Bureau discusses military aid societies where servicemembers and military families can apply for emergency grants and zero-interest loans, and hardship duty pay and other allowances afforded to military families affected by the Stop Movement Order that halted domestic travel by military personnel. The Bureau also provides information for managing mortgage payments and student loans, and reminds active-duty servicemembers, military spouses and National Guard personnel and reservists on active duty for more than 30 consecutive days of their rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and the Military Lending Act. These will include being able to terminate contracts under certain conditions and to receive protections for many types of consumer credit and loans. The blog post also highlights recent changes made to existing programs due to challenges presented by Covid-19, including the expansion of online access for veterans to file benefit claims and the continuation of GI Bill program funding.
On April 3, the CFPB Office of Servicemember Affairs (OSA) released its annual report, which provides an overview of OSA’s activities in fulfilling its statutory responsibilities for fiscal year 2019 and covers the period between October 1, 2018 and September 30, 2019. OSA’s responsibilities include monitoring complaints from military consumers, and the report highlights issues facing military consumers based on approximately 34,600 complaints submitted by servicemembers, veterans, and their families (collectively “servicemembers”). Key takeaways from the report include the following:
- Education and empowerment. OSA examined financial issues that impact military consumers and provided various educational tools on topics including the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, the Military Lending Act, mortgage lending and foreclosure protections, and credit reporting and monitoring. These tools include in-person outreach and digital education and engagement resources.
- Consumer complaints. Thirty-six percent of servicemember complaints focused on credit or consumer reporting. Complaints related to debt collection were the second most frequent issue, with most complaints alleging that debt collectors were attempting to collect debt that the servicemember did not owe. In particular, OSA expressed concern about complaints where “the debt collector ‘took or threatened to take negative or legal action.’” With respect to mortgage debt, many servicemembers reported challenges in the payment process, as well as difficulties in being able to afford mortgage payments. With respect to credit cards, the greatest concentration of complaints focused on problems with purchases on statements. Checking or savings account complaints centered on issues related to account management, and more than two-thirds of student lending complaints related to challenges dealing with lenders or servicers. With respect to auto lending, complaints focused on managing the loan or lease. Other complaint categories included money transfers/services and virtual currency, personal loans, prepaid cards, credit repair, and title loans.
- Agency coordination. During the reporting period, OSA coordinated several consumer protection activities with federal and state government agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs (VA), Education, and Treasury, as well as the FTC, SEC, and state attorneys general. OSA also noted its participation in interagency working groups focused on helping servicemembers.
- Military consumer research. Coordinated research efforts into the financial well-being of veterans and the increased use of home loans guaranteed by the VA are highlighted.
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.
On February 6, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger testified at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on the CFPB’s Semi-Annual Report to Congress. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The hearing covered the semi-annual report to Congress on the Bureau’s work from April 1, 2019, through September 30, 2019. In her opening remarks, Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters argued, among other things, that the Bureau’s recent policy statement on the “abusiveness” standard in supervision and enforcement matters “undercuts” Dodd-Frank’s prohibition on unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices. Waters also challenged Kraninger on her support for the joint notice of proposed rulemaking issued by the OCC and FDIC to strengthen and modernize Community Reinvestment Act regulations (covered by a Buckley Special Alert), arguing that the proposal would lead to disinvestment in communities, while emphasizing that Kraninger’s actions have not demonstrated the Bureau’s responsibility to meaningfully protect consumers. However, in her opening statement and written testimony, Kraninger highlighted several actions recently taken by the Bureau to protect consumers, and emphasized the Bureau’s commitment to preventing harm by “building a culture of compliance throughout the financial system while supporting free and competitive markets that provide for informed consumer choice.”
Additional highlights of Kraninger’s testimony include:
- Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Education (Department). Kraninger discussed the recently announced information sharing agreement (covered by InfoBytes here) between the Bureau and the Department, intended to protect student borrowers by clarifying the roles and responsibilities for each agency and permitting the sharing of student loan complaint data analysis, recommendations, and data analytic tools. Kraninger stated that the MOU will give the Department the same near real-time access to the Bureau’s complaint database enjoyed by other government partners, and also told the Committee that the Bureau and Department are currently discussing a second supervisory MOU.
- Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans. Kraninger told the Committee that a rewrite of the payday lending rule—which will eliminate requirements for lenders to assess a borrower’s ability to repay loans—is expected in April. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Kraninger noted that the Bureau is currently reviewing an “extensive number of comments” and plans to address a petition on the rule’s payments provision. “[F]inancial institutions have argued that there were some products pulled into that that were, you know, unintended,” she stated. “[W]orking through all of that and. . .moving forward in a way that is transparent in. . .April is what I am planning to do.”
- Ability-to-Repay and Qualified Mortgages (QM). Kraninger discussed the Bureau’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that would modify the QM Rule by moving away from the 43 percent debt to income ratio requirement and adopt an alternative such as a pricing threshold to ensure responsible, affordable mortgage credit is available to consumers. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) She stated that the Bureau would welcome legislation from Congress in this area.
- Supervision and Enforcement. Kraninger repeatedly emphasized that supervision is an important tool for the Bureau, and stated in her written testimony that during the reporting period discussed, “the Bureau’s Fair Lending Supervision program initiated 16 supervisory events at financial services institutions under the Bureau’s jurisdiction to determine compliance with federal laws intended to ensure the fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit for both individuals and communities, including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act  and HMDA.” In addition to discussing recent enforcement actions, Kraninger also highlighted three innovation policies: the Trial Disclosure Program Policy, No-Action Letter Policy, and the Compliance Assistance Sandbox Policy. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
- Military Lending Act (MLA). Kraninger reiterated her position that she does not believe Dodd-Frank gives the Bureau the authority to supervise financial institutions for military lending compliance, and repeated her request for Congress to grant the Bureau clear authority to do so. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Congressman Barr (R-KY) noted that while he introduced H.R. 442 last month in response to Kraninger’s request, the majority has denied the mark up.
- UDAAP. Kraninger fielded a number of questions on the Bureau’s recent abusiveness policy statement. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Several Democrats told Kraninger the new policy will put unnecessary constraints on the Bureau’s enforcement powers, while some Republicans said the policy fails to define what constitutes an abusive act or practice. Kraninger informed the Committee that the policy statement is intended to “clarify abusiveness and separate it from deceptive and unfairness because Congress explicitly gave us those three authorities.” Kraninger reiterated that the Bureau will seek monetary relief only when the entity has failed to make a good faith effort to comply, and that “[r]estitution for consumers will be the priority in these cases.” She further emphasized that “in no way should that policy be read to say that we would not bring abusiveness claims.” Congresswoman Maloney (D-NY) argued, however, that a 2016 fine issued against a national bank for allegedly unfair and abusive conduct tied to the bank’s incentive compensation sales practices “would have been substantially lower if the [B]ureau hadn’t charged [the bank] with abus[ive] conduct also.” Kraninger replied that the Bureau could have gotten “the same amount of restitution and other penalties associated with unfairness alone.”
- Constitutionality Challenge. Kraninger reiterated that while she agrees with Seila Law on the Bureau’s single-director leadership structure, she differs on how the matter should be resolved. “Congress obviously provided a clear mission for this agency but there are some questions around. . .this and I want the uncertainty to be resolved,” Kraninger testified. “Congress will have the opportunity to make any changes or respond to that and I think that’s appropriate,” she continued. “I would very much like to see a resolution on this question because it has hampered the CFPB’s ability to carry out its mission, virtually since its inception.” (Continuing InfoBytes coverage on Seila Law LLC v. CFPB here.)
On June 6, the FTC announced that it submitted its 2018 Annual Financial Acts Enforcement Report to the CFPB. The report—which the Bureau requested for its use in preparing its 2018 Annual Report to Congress—covers the FTC’s enforcement activities regarding Regulation Z (the Truth in Lending Act or TILA), Regulation M (the Consumer Leasing Act or CLA), and Regulation E (the Electronic Fund Transfer Act or EFTA). Highlights of the enforcement matters covered in the report include:
- Auto Lending and Leasing. The report discusses two enforcement matters related to deceptive automobile dealer practices. The first, filed in August 2018, alleged that a group of four auto dealers, among other things, advertised misleading discounts and incentives in their vehicle advertisements, and falsely inflated consumers’ income and down payment information on financing applications. The charges brought against the defendants allege violations of the FTC Act, TILA, and the CLA. The FTC sought, among other remedies, a permanent injunction to prevent future violations, restitution, and disgorgement. (Detailed InfoBytes coverage of the filing is available here.) In the second, in December 2018, the FTC mailed over 43,000 checks, totaling over $3.5 million, to consumers allegedly harmed by nine dealerships and owners engaged in deceptive and unfair sales and financing practices, deceptive advertising, and deceptive online reviews. (Detailed InfoBytes coverage is available here.)
- Payday Lending. The report covers two enforcement matters, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s December 2018 decision upholding the $1.3 billion judgment against defendants responsible for operating an allegedly deceptive payday lending program. The decision is the result of a 2012 complaint in which the FTC alleged that the defendants engaged in deceptive acts or practices in violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act by making false and misleading representations about costs and payment of the loans. (Detailed InfoBytes coverage is available here.) The report also indicates that, in February 2018, the FTC issued over 72,000 checks totaling more an $2.9 million to consumers stemming from a July 2015 settlement, that alleged that online payday operators used personal financial information purchased from third-party lead generators or data brokers to make unauthorized deposits into and withdrawals from consumers’ bank accounts, regardless of whether the consumer applied for a payday loan. (Detailed InfoBytes coverage is available here.)
- Negative Option. The report covers six enforcement matters related to alleged violations of the EFTA and Regulation E for “negative option” plans, including three new filings against online marketers for allegedly advertising “free trial” offers for products that enrolled consumers in expensive, ongoing plans without their knowledge or consent. The report notes that, in 2018, the FTC reached a settlement with one entity and obtained a court judgment against another, both resulting in injunctive relief and monetary settlements (which were suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay). The report also notes that the FTC mailed 2,116 refund checks totaling more than $355,000 to people who bought an allegedly deceptive “memory improvement” supplement.
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; and (ii) 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.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to join CFPB panel at CBA’s Washington Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to moderate “Pandemic relief response and lasting impacts on access, credit, banking, and equality” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Post-pandemic CFPB exam preparation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Making fair lending work for you" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Reading the tea leaves of President Biden’s initial financial appointees" at LendIt Fintech
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss “CA, NY, federal licensing and disclosure” at the Equipment Leasing & Finance Association Legal Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Compliance under Biden" at the WSJ Risk & Compliance Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference