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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insurance … would not qualify for the exception,” and the agencies argued that although the 2017 guidance was withdrawn in 2020, the “withdrawal did not offer a substantive interpretation of the statute that would alter the conclusion” that the plaintiff’s loan was not exempt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 September 30, the DOJ announced a proposed settlement with a Texas-based auto lender, resolving allegations that the lender denied early motor vehicle lease terminations to qualifying servicemembers as required by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The SCRA allows servicemembers to terminate their motor vehicle leases early without penalty if they enter military service or receive qualifying military orders for a permanent change of station or to deploy to another location. According to the DOJ’s complaint, filed concurrently with the proposed settlement, an investigation revealed 10 instances in which the lender allegedly failed to provide early lease terminations to qualifying servicemembers. As a result, the DOJ claimed that the servicemembers, among other things, continued to make payments for vehicles they no longer wanted and were charged early termination penalties. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the lender is required to pay more than $94,000 in compensation to the affected servicemembers and a $40,000 civil penalty. The proposed settlement also requires the lender to update its SCRA policies and procedures to avoid future violations and to provide SCRA compliance training to any employees whose customer interaction includes discussion of early lease termination benefits.
On September 20, the DOJ announced a settlement with a New Jersey’s student lending authority, resolving allegations that the authority obtained unlawful court judgments in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) against two military servicemembers who co-signed student loans . According to the press release, the DOJ launched an investigation into the authority after receiving a report from the Coast Guard that the authority obtained a default judgment in 2019 against a Coast Guard petty officer who co-signed on behalf of the two student loans. The complaint, filed by the DOJ in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, states that the authority “obtained default judgments against two SCRA-protected servicemembers” by failing “to file true and accurate affidavits indicating the military status of [the two service servicemembers].” According to the DOJ, lenders can verify an individual’s military status by utilizing a defense data center’s free and public website, or by reviewing their files to confirm military status. The authority allegedly filed affidavits in state court that inaccurately stated that the servicemembers were not in military service, even though the authority had conducted searches in the defense data center’s website that confirmed that the individuals were active military servicemembers.
The settlement notes that the authority must pay $15,000 each to the two servicemembers who had default judgments entered against them, and must pay a $20,000 civil penalty. Among other things, the settlement also requires the authority to provide compliance training to its employees and to develop new policies and procedures consistent with the SCRA. The settlement also notes that the authority, since the opening of the investigation, has been fully cooperative and has “taken steps to improve its compliance with the SCRA.”
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 July 1, the Virginia governor signed SB 1410, which, among other things, amends the state’s anti-discrimination statutes to prohibit discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and housing based on military status. The bill amends the Virginia Fair Housing Law to prohibit discrimination in the sale or rental of dwellings by any person or entity, and prohibit discrimination by “any person or other entity, including any lending institution, whose business includes engaging in residential real estate-related transactions.” The bill also provides that “the term ‘residential real estate-related transaction’ means any of the following: [t]he making or purchasing of loans or providing other financial assistance (i) for purchasing, constructing, improving, repairing, or maintaining a dwelling or (ii) secured by residential real estate; or [t]he selling, brokering, insuring, or appraising of residential real property.” The bill is effective immediately.
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 January 29, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued Circular 26-21-2, which further extends foreclosure and eviction relief for borrowers affected by Covid-19 (previously covered here). Specifically, all properties secured by VA-guaranteed loans, including those previously secured by VA-guaranteed loans but currently in the VA’s REO (real estate owned) portfolio, are subject to a moratorium on foreclosure and eviction through March 31, 2021. With the exception of abandoned or vacant property, the moratorium applies to the initiation of foreclosures, the completion of foreclosures in process, and evictions.
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 December 28, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued Circular 26-20-40, which further extends foreclosure and eviction relief for borrowers affected by Covid-19 (previously covered here). Specifically, all properties secured by VA-guaranteed loans, including those previously secured by VA-guaranteed loans but currently in the VA’s REO (real estate owned) portfolio, are subject to a moratorium on foreclosure and eviction through February 28, 2021. With the exception of abandoned or vacant property, the moratorium applies to the initiation of foreclosures, the completion of foreclosures in process and evictions.
- Buckley Webcast: Privacy and cybersecurity outlook for 2022
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Be Your Compliance Best in 2022” at the California Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Hank Asbill to discuss white collar ethics issues at the Stetson Law Review Symposium
- Lauren R. Randell to discuss “Significant legal developments in the Northeast” at the 37th Annual National Institute on White Collar Crime
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where it is heading?” at the Consumer Bankers Association Live program
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek
- Max Bonici to discuss “Fintech-bank partnerships and potential enforcement” at the 2022 ABA Spring Meetings
- Jonice Gray Tucker and Kari Hall to discuss “Equity, equality, regulation and enforcement – The evolving regulatory landscape of fair lending, redlining, and UDAAP” at the ABA Business Law Committee Hybrid Spring Meeting