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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 October 30, the CFPB and the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs filed a proposed final judgment in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina to settle an action alleging that two companies and their owner (collectively, “defendants”) violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act and the South Carolina Consumer Protection Code by offering high-interest loans to veterans and other consumers in exchange for the assignment of some of the consumers’ monthly pension or disability payments. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October 2019, the regulators filed an action alleging, among other things, that the majority of credit offers that the defendants broker are for veterans with disability pensions or retirement pensions and that the defendants allegedly marketed the contracts as sale of payments and not credit offers. Moreover, the defendants allegedly failed to disclose the interest rate associated with the offers and failed to disclose that the contracts were void under federal and state law, which prohibit the assignment of certain benefits.
If approved by the court, the proposed judgment would require the defendants to pay a $500 civil money penalty to the Bureau and a $500 civil money penalty to South Carolina. The proposed judgment would permanently restrain the defendants from, among other things, (i) extending credit, brokering, and servicing loans; (ii) engaging in deposit-taking activities; (iii) collecting consumer-related debt; and (iv) engaging in any other financial services business in the state of South Carolina. Additionally, the proposed judgment would permanently block the defendants from enforcing or collecting on any contracts related to the action and from misrepresenting any material fact or conditions of consumer financial products or services.
On September 23, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York held that an active duty servicemember could not avail herself of the foreclosure protections provided by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) even though she was a signatory on the mortgage, because she was not a signatory on the note. According to the opinion, the SCRA foreclosure protections are afforded only to an “obligation on real . . . property” which is “secured by a mortgage” and that it is the note “which evidences the obligations, i.e. the promise to pay the debt.” By signing the mortgage, the servicemember-spouse “merely mortgaged her interest in the property, to secure her husband’s obligation to pay.” Accordingly, the court vacated a prior stay of foreclosure.
On September 15, the DOJ announced a settlement with a Texas-based furniture and appliance company, resolving allegations that the company charged excess interest on servicemembers’ purchases in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). According to the press release, the DOJ launched an investigation into the company after receiving a referral from a United States Army Staff Judge Advocate. After receiving notice of the investigation, the company conducted a self-audit and determined that between March 2014 and May 2019, it had not granted the request for the full six percent interest rate cap required by the SCRA for 184 out of the 322 servicemembers that requested the relief. The complaint, filed by the DOJ in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, states that the company “engaged in a pattern or practice of violating” the SCRA by “failing or refusing to timely and/or accurately lower the interest rate on pre-service obligations obtained by at least 184 SCRA protected servicemembers to 6% per year after being provided with the documentation required by the SCRA.”
The settlement notes that the company voluntarily disclosed its findings to the DOJ and issued over $59,000 in refund checks and over $28,000 in account credits to affected servicemembers. The settlement requires the company to pay an additional $500 to each affected servicemember, and to hire an independent consultant to determine if any other servicemembers were overcharged. Additionally, the company is required to make a $50,000 payment to the United States.
On August 18, the DOJ announced (see here and here) two separate Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) actions. First, the DOJ filed a complaint against a Massachusetts-based moving and storage company for failing to obtain a court order prior to auctioning an active duty servicemember’s storage unit, while he was deployed overseas. The DOJ asserts that while a servicemember has no duty to inform lienholders of their military service, the servicemember told the storage company’s agent about his military status during a phone call. Additionally, the servicemember provided the storage company with his address on Hanscom Air Force Base. In the second complaint, the DOJ alleges a Florida-based towing company auctioned a car belonging to an active duty servicemember without obtaining a court order. The DOJ asserts that the towing company had reason to believe the car was owned by a servicemember, including that there was a military decal on the car and the owner’s auto loan was through a military-oriented financial institution. In both actions, the DOJ is seeking damages, injunctive relief and civil penalties.
On August 14, President Trump signed S.3637, which amends the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to expand the lease protections for servicemembers under stop movement orders in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically, the SCRA’s lease termination protections are expanded to include situations in which a servicemember executes a residential or motor vehicle lease upon the receipt of military orders for a permanent change of station or deployment and then subsequently receives a stop movement order “in response to a local, national, or global emergency, effective for an indefinite period or for a period of not less than 30 days,” which would prevent the servicemember from occupying the residence or using the vehicle. The amendments are retroactively effective and apply to stop movement orders issued on or after March 1.
On May 19, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued Circular 26-20-19 to remind lenders of certain VA policies and provide guidance regarding the processing of VA-guaranteed loans during Covid-19. The circular provides guidance regarding IRS Form 4506-T, renewal applications, applications for underwriter approvals, and fees to conduct business with the VA. The circular is rescinded on April 1, 2021.
On November 25, the CFPB announced a settlement with two companies that originated and serviced travel-related loans for military servicemembers and their families. According to the consent order with the lender and its principal, the lender (i) charged fees to customers who obtained financing, at a higher rate than those customers who paid in full, but failed to include the fee in the finance charge or APR; (ii) falsely quoted low monthly interest rates to customers over the phone; and (iii) failed to provide the required information about the terms of credit and the total of payments in violation of TILA and the TSR. The consent order prohibits future lending targeted to military consumers and requires the lender and its principal to pay a civil money penalty of $1. The order also imposes a suspended judgment of almost $3.5 million, based on an inability to pay.
In its consent order against the servicer, the Bureau asserts the servicer engaged in deceptive practices by overcharging servicemembers for debt-cancellation products and, in violation of the FCRA’s implementing Regulation V, never established or maintained written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy of information furnished to credit reporting agencies. The consent order issues injunctive relief and requires the servicer to (i) pay a $25,000 civil money penalty; (ii) provide redress to consumers who were allegedly overcharged for the debt-cancellation product; (iii) pay over $54,000 in restitution to borrowers with no outstanding balance on their loans and issue additional account credits to borrowers with outstanding balances; and (iv) establish reasonable policies and procedures for accurate reporting to consumer reporting agencies.
On October 8, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it completed its home loan funding fee refund initiative, returning more than $400 million to VA borrowers. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report concluding that the VA improperly charged exempt veterans VA home loan funding fees. The OIG recommended that the VA develop a plan to, among other things, identify exempt veterans who were inappropriately charged funding fees and issue refunds. The VA reviewed nearly 20 years of loan originations, and identified 130,000 loans for potential refunds. VA notes that most fees were charged correctly, except for veterans whose exemption status changed after the closing of their loan. VA also announced changes to its program, in order to provide veterans with “the most up-to-date information possible on a Veteran’s funding fee exemption status,” including (i) enhancements to communications to veterans regarding the loan funding fee; (ii) new policy guidance directing lenders to inquire about a veteran’s disability claim status during the underwriting process; (iii) instructing lenders to obtain an updated Certificate of Eligibility for a veteran within three days of closing, if there was a disability claim pending; (iv) and procedural changes to ensure regulator internal oversight of funding fee activities.
On October 1, the CFPB and the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs filed an action in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina against two companies and their owner, alleging that the defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) and the South Carolina Consumer Protection Code (SCCPC) by offering high-interest loans to veterans and other consumers in exchange for the assignment of some of the consumers’ monthly pension or disability payments. The complaint alleges that the majority of the credit offers are brokered for veterans with disability pensions or retirement pensions. The defendants allegedly did not disclose to consumers the interest rates associated with the products, marketing the contracts as sale of payments and not credit offers. The defendants also allegedly did not disclose that the contracts were void under federal and state law, which prohibit the assignment of certain benefits. The Bureau and South Carolina are seeking injunctive relief, restitution, damages, disgorgement, and civil money penalties.
The Bureau’s announcement notes that this is the third action in 2019 related to the marketing or administration of high-interest credit to veterans. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in January 2019, the Bureau settled with an online loan broker resolving allegations that the broker violated the CFPA by operating a website that connected veterans with companies offering high-interest loans in exchange for the assignment of some or all of their military pension payments. Additionally, in August 2019, the Bureau and the Arkansas attorney general announced a proposed settlement with three loan brokerage companies, along with their owner and operator, for allegedly misrepresenting high-interest credit offers to veterans and other consumers as purchases of future pension or disability payments (covered by Infobytes here).
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Getting your company ready: Managing fair lending for IMBs” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Independent Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Be Your Compliance Best in 2022” at the California Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- 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 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