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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insurance … would not qualify for the exception,” and the agencies argued that although the 2017 guidance was withdrawn in 2020, the “withdrawal did not offer a substantive interpretation of the statute that would alter the conclusion” that the plaintiff’s loan was not exempt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 12, the CFPB filed a complaint against a Texas-based pawn lender and its wholly owned subsidiary (together, “lenders”) for allegedly violating the Military Lending Act (MLA) by charging active-duty servicemembers and their dependents more than the allowable 36 percent annual percentage rate on pawn loans. According to the Bureau, between June 2017 and May 2021, the two lenders together allegedly made more than 3,600 pawn loans carrying APRs that “frequently exceeded” 200 percent to more than 1,000 covered borrowers. The Bureau further claimed that the lenders failed to make all loan disclosures required by the MLA and forced borrowers to waive their ability to sue. The identified 3,600 pawn loans only represent a limited period for which the Bureau has transactional data, the complaint stated, adding that the pawn stores located in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Washington that originated these loans only comprise roughly 10 percent of the Texas lender’s nationwide pawn-loan transactions. As such, that Bureau alleged that the lenders—together with their other wholly owned subsidiaries—made additional pawn loans in violation of the MLA from stores in these and other states. The Bureau seeks injunctive relief, consumer restitution, disgorgement, civil money penalties, and other relief, including a court order enjoining the lenders from collecting on the allegedly illegal loans and from selling or assigning such debts.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau issued a prior consent order against an affiliated lender in 2013, which required the payment of $14 million in consumer redress and a $5 million civil money penalty. The affiliated lender was also ordered to cease its MLA violations. In its current action, the Bureau noted that because the Texas lender (who was not identified in the 2013 action) is a successor to the prior affiliated lender, it is therefore subject to the 2013 order. Accordingly, the Bureau alleged that the Texas lender’s violations of the MLA also violated the 2013 order.
On October 18, consumer advocates and several state attorneys general and financial regulators responded to a request for comments issued by the OCC, Federal Reserve Board, and the FDIC on proposed interagency guidance designed to aid banking organizations in managing risks related to third-party relationships, including relationships with fintech-focused entities. (See letters here and here.) As previously covered by InfoBytes, the proposed guidance addressed key components of risk management, such as (i) planning, due diligence and third-party selection; (ii) contract negotiation; (iii) oversight and accountability; (iv) ongoing monitoring; and (v) termination. Consumer advocates and the states, however, expressed concerns that the agencies’ proposed guidance does not “highlight the significant risks associated with high-cost lending involving third-party relationships,” and does not include measures to prevent banks from entering into nonbank lending partnerships (e.g. “rent-a-bank schemes”).
According to the consumer advocates’ letter, the agencies’ guidance “should unequivocally declare that it is inappropriate for a bank to rent out its charter to enable attempted avoidance of state consumer protection laws, in particular interest rate and fee caps, or state oversight through licensing regimes.” The consumer advocates stated that they are aware of six FDIC-supervised banks involved in rent-a-bank schemes with nonbank lenders making allegedly illegal high-cost loans, and urged the FDIC to take immediate, “overdue” action to put an end to them. Among other things, the consumer advocates said the new guidance should explicitly specify: (i) that a bank’s involvement in lending that exceeds state interest rate limits with a nonbank is a “critical activity”; (ii) that lending partnerships involving loans exceeding a fee-inclusive 36 percent annual percentage rate (APR) “pose especially high risks”; and (iii) that in instances where a loan exceeds the Military Lending Act’s 36 percent APR, the federal banking supervisor will directly examine the third-party partner and charge the bank for the cost of the examination.
The states wrote in their letter that “experience teaches us that, in the absence of an explicit disavowal of rent-a-bank schemes, the [p]roposed [g]uidance invites continued abuse of banks’ interest exportation rights, to the considerable detriment of state regulation, consumer protection, and banks’ safety and soundness.” The states strongly encouraged the agencies to “explicitly disavow rent-a-bank schemes.”
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 June 16, the CFPB issued an interpretive rule explaining the reversal of its prior determination that it lacked the authority to examine supervised financial institutions for compliance with the Military Lending Act (MLA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2018, the Bureau discontinued MLA-related examination activities, contending the law does not explicitly prescribe the Bureau the authority to examine financial institutions for compliance with the MLA. In January 2019, the Bureau issued a statement from former Director Kathy Kraninger announcing that she had asked Congress to grant the agency “clear authority to supervise for compliance with the [MLA],” and in March 2019, Senate Democrats issued a letter urging the resumption of reviews for compliance with the MLA during routine lender examinations (covered by InfoBytes here and here).
The CFPB’s interpretive rule states that the Bureau has statutory authority to conduct MLA examinations “[b]ecause conduct that violates the MLA is associated with activities that are subject to TILA and the CFPA.” The Bureau also indicated it may “conduct examinations of very large banks and credit unions for purposes of detecting and assessing those ‘risks to consumers’ that are ‘associated’ with ‘activities subject to’ Federal consumer financial laws.” The interpretive rule states that the Bureau can use formal administrative adjudications, civil enforcement actions, and other authorities to enforce the MLA, which is “complemented by the Bureau’s use of the examination process to detect and assess risks to consumers arising from violations of the MLA.” The rule also points out that the Bureau “believes that the very harmful conduct that Congress sought to prevent in the MLA, which the Bureau has the authority to remedy through its other authorities (specifically enforcement action), sits within the core of this authority.” CFPB acting Director Dave Uejio further emphasizes in the Bureau’s press release that “[t]hrough our enforcement of the MLA, companies that harmed military borrowers have been ordered to pay millions of dollars in redress and civil penalties. To fulfill its purpose and protect military borrowers we must supervise financial institutions and hold them accountable for endangering consumers.” With the issuance of the interpretative rule, the Bureau will now resume MLA-related examination activities.
On May 6, the CFPB’s 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 2020 and covers the period between January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020. The report also addresses concerns raised by military consumers based on approximately 40,000 complaints submitted by servicemembers, veterans, and their families (collectively “servicemembers”). Key takeaways from the report include the following:
- Financial help due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In response to Covid-19, the Bureau released an online resource “to highlight tools and information that consumers can use to protect themselves and manage their finances, including information on topics such as mortgage and housing assistance, student loans, and avoiding scams.” For servicemembers, the page connects to an OSA blog detailing resources that military personnel can use for immediate financial assistance and to sustain long-term financial well-being.
- Misadventures in Money Management (MiMM). MiMM serves as an online educational tool that provides young servicemembers with an important “baseline of financial education through the power of storytelling and gamification.”
- Consumer Financial Protection Week and Military Consumer Protection Month. OSA took part in a joint webinar with the CFPB’s Office of Older Americans and the Office of Community Affairs, which highlighted initiatives for vulnerable populations and emphasized the “importance of research in understanding the financial well-being of military consumers.” The webinar also unveiled the Bureau’s “first research report that studied how the credit records of young servicemembers coevolve with military service.”
- National Veterans and Military Families Month. During November 2020, OSA organized with other agencies and organizations to encourage the military community to leverage available resources to help improve their financial well-being. These initiatives included, among other things: (i) publishing OSA’s Debt and Delinquency after Military Service research report; (ii) participating in the Bureau’s Financial inTuition Repayment Podcast Series; and (iii) convening “a virtual military consumer webinar with partner agencies and organizations to discuss financial challenges facing servicemembers, veterans, and their families in the financial marketplace.”
- Education and empowerment. The Bureau also “deployed and amplif[ied] [its] financial education tools through partners, engaging servicemembers and military families at townhall-style listening sessions at military installations.”
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.
- Kathryn L. Ryan to host the affiliate members meeting at AARMR’s 2022 Annual Regulatory Conference & Training
- 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
- 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