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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • DFPI amends requirements for Increased Access to Responsible Small Dollar Loans Program

    State Issues

    On May 10, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued a notice of approval of amendments to regulations under the California Financing Law (CFL) related to the agency’s pilot program for increased access to responsible small-dollar loans (RSDL program). The RSDL program, which became operative in 2014, allows finance lenders licensed under the CFL and approved by the DFPI commissioner to charge specified alternative interest rates and charges, including an administrative fee and delinquency fees, on loans subject to certain requirements.

    The approved amendments, among other things, increase the upper dollar loan limit from $2,500 to $7,500, require applicants to submit mandatory policies and procedures for addressing customer complaints and responding to questions from loan applicants and borrowers, require lenders report additional information about the finders they use, and allow lenders to use qualified finders to disburse loan proceeds, collect loan payments, and issue notices and disclosures to borrowers. (See also DFPI’s final statement of reasons, which outlines specific revisions and discusses the agency’s responses to public comments.) The amendments are effective July 1.

    State Issues California State Regulators DFPI California Financing Law Pilot Program Small Dollar Lending

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  • Connecticut issues CDO against unlicensed small-dollar marketplace lender

    State Issues

    On May 4, the Connecticut Banking Commissioner issued a temporary cease and desist order against an unlicensed California-based marketplace lender after determining it had reason to believe the respondent allegedly violated several provision of the Connecticut General Statutes, as well as Section 1036 of the CFPA. The respondent operates a mobile application to help consumers take out small-dollar loans and solicits lenders via its website through advertisements claiming it “takes the work out of lending by vetting and organizing a marketplace of loan requests” where “[b]orrowers set their own terms and provide appreciation tips to lenders who agree to fund a loan, allowing for mutually beneficial financial outcomes.” Consumers initiate loans on the respondent’s platform for a certain amount, which includes optional monetary tips for both the lender and the respondent of up to 12 and 9 percent of the loan amount respectively. The Commissioner’s investigation noted that while the respondent touted the tips as being optional and not required for submitting a loan request or receiving funding, 100 percent of the loans originated to Connecticut consumers from June 2018 to August 2021 included a tip. When the tips were factored into the finance charge, the APRs of the Connecticut consumers’ loans ranged from 43 percent to over 4,280 percent. During the identified time period, loan disclosures identified the amount of the tips for each loan; however, starting in April 2021, the revised disclosures and promissory notes removed any itemization of the tips, and promissory notes allegedly “failed to indicate any obligation of the borrower to pay tips on their loans.” According to the Commissioner, the corresponding disclosures “stated that only one payment, for the principal loan amount, was due at the end of the loan,” however on the loan’s due date, the total loan amount including tips was withdrawn from the consumer’s account. Additionally, disclosures allegedly informed consumers that the APR on the loans was zero percent even though all the loans carried much higher APRs.

    The Commissioner further concluded that the respondent prohibited direct communication between consumers and lenders and charged several fees on delinquent loans, including late fees and recovery fees for its collection efforts. Moreover, at least one of the contracted collection agencies was not licensed in the state, nor was the respondent licensed as a small loan company in Connecticut, and nor did it qualify for a licensure exemption.

    In issuing its order to cease and desist, order to make restitution, and notice of intent to impose a civil penalty and other equitable relief, the Commissioner stated that the respondent’s “offering, soliciting, brokering, directly or indirectly arranging, placing or finding a small loan for a prospective Connecticut borrower, without the required license” constitutes at least 1,600 violations of the Connecticut General Statutes. The Commissioner cited additional violations, which included engaging in unlicensed activities such as lead generation and debt collection, and cited the respondent for providing false and misleading information related to the terms and costs of the loan transactions in violation of both state law and the CFPA’s prohibition against deceptive acts or practices. In addition to ordering the respondent to immediately cease and desist from engaging in the alleged violations, the Commissioner ordered the respondent to repay any amounts received from Connecticut consumers in connection with their loan, plus interest.

    State Issues Licensing Connecticut State Regulators CFPA UDAAP Deceptive Consumer Finance Small Dollar Lending Interest Rate Disclosures

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  • Hawaii enacts installment loan provisions

    Earlier this year, the Hawaii governor signed HB 1192, which amends certain provisions related to small dollar lending requirements. Specifically, the bill sets forth a new licensing requirement for “installment lenders” and specifies various consumer protection requirements. The bill defines installment lender broadly as “any person who is the business of offering or making a consumer loan, who arranges a consumer loan for a third party, or who acts as an agent for a third party, regardless of whether the third party is exempt from licensure under this chapter or whether approval, acceptance, or ratification by a third party is necessary to create a legal obligation for the third party, through any method including mail, telephone, the Internet, or any electronic means.” This language appears to capture loans offered under a bank partnership model under the purview of the new law.

    Further, the bill: (i) caps installment loan amounts at $1,500, and restricts the total amount of changes to no more than 50 percent of the principal loan amount; (ii) limits monthly maintenance fees to between $25 and $35 depending on the installment loan’s original principal amount; (iii) stipulates that the minimum repayment term is two months for installment loans of $500 or less, or four months for loans of $500.01 or more; (iv) states that lenders must “accept prepayment in full or in part from a consumer prior to the loan due date and shall not charge the consumer a fee or penalty if the consumer opts to prepay the loan; provided that to make a prepayment, all past due interest and fees shall be paid first; (v) prohibits a consumer’s repayment obligations to be secured by a lien on real or personal property; (vi) prohibits lenders from requiring consumers to purchase add-on products such as credit insurance; (vii) provides that the maximum contracted repayment term of an installment loan is 12 months; (viii) caps the annual interest rate on installment loans at 36 percent; and (ix) states that any installment loan made without a required license is void (the collection, receipt, or retention of any principal, interest, fees, or other charges associated with a voided loan is prohibited).

    The bill exempts certain financial institutions (e.g., banks, savings banks, savings and loan associations, depository and nondepository financial services loan companies, credit unions) from the installment lender licensing requirements.

    The bill also repeals existing state law on deferred deposits. While HB 1192 became effective July 1, provisions related to the repeal of the existing law on deferred deposits and installment lender licensing requirements are effective January 1, 2022. License applications will be available via the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System.

    Licensing State Issues State Legislation Hawaii Small Dollar Lending Consumer Finance Installment Loans

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  • SEC charges Florida payday lender with making fraudulent misrepresentations in offering

    Securities

    On September 27, the SEC filed charges against a Florida-based payday lender and its CEO (collectively, “defendants”) for fraudulently raising more than $66 million through the sale of promissory notes to hundreds of retail investors, including members of the South Florida Venezuelan-American community. The SEC charges the defendants with falsely promising investors that their money would be used solely to make small-dollar, short-term loans and for associated costs. However, the defendants allegedly misappropriated roughly $2.9 million for personal use, transferred approximately $3.6 million to family and friends without an apparent legitimate business purpose, and used at least $19.2 million of investor funds to make Ponzi-like payments to other investors. The complaint further contends that the defendants mislead investors by promising high annual returns and representing that the business was profitable, and made misrepresentations about the safety and security of the promissory notes. The SEC’s complaint alleges violations of the registration and antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws, and charges the CEO with acting as an unregistered broker. The complaint seeks a permanent injunction against the defendants, disgorgement with prejudgment interest, civil penalties, and an officer and director ban against the CEO.

    Securities Enforcement SEC Payday Lending Small Dollar Lending Fraud

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  • DFPI proposes small-dollar lending pilot

    On August 6, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to amend certain codes under the California Code of Regulations and to implement the Pilot Program for Increased Access to Responsible Small Dollar Loans (Pilot Program). The Pilot Program is administered by DFPI and established under the California Financing Law (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here). According to DFPI, the proposed regulations implement SB 235, “which authorizes a finder, defined as an entity that brings together a licensed lender and prospective borrower to negotiate a contract, to perform additional services on behalf of a lender,” and AB 237 “which, among other things, increases the upper dollar limit for a permissible Pilot Program loan from $2,500 to $7,500 and requires participating lenders to conduct reasonable background checks on finders.” The proposal would amend regulations of DFPI’s Pilot Program by, among other things: (i) revising general information and instructions to forms; (ii) increasing the upper limit from $2,500 to $7,500 on the amount of a permissible loan; (iii) “requir[ing] Pilot Program applicants to submit the policies and procedures they must maintain to address customer complaints and respond to questions raised by loan applicants and borrowers, including questions about finders”; (iv) permitting finders to disburse funds on behalf of lenders, collecting loan payments from borrowers, and issuing notices and disclosures to borrowers or perspective borrowers; and (v) removing a provision that prohibits finders from discussing marketing materials or loan documents with a borrower or prospective borrower.

    Licensing State Issues State Legislation Small Dollar Lending DFPI

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  • SBA extends PPP whole loan sales guidance

    Federal Issues

    On April 30, the Small Business Administration (SBA) issued a procedural notice, effective immediately, extending guidance on whole loan sales applicable to lender merger and acquisition transactions where a lender has Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans in its portfolio. The guidance, which was set to expire May 1, will allow lenders participating in the PPP to continue to sell all of their interest in PPP loans to other participating lenders without obtaining SBA’s prior written consent. The new guidance outlines purchasing requirements and provides, among other things, that the purchasing lender “will be the party responsible to SBA with respect to all servicing actions, including requests for loan forgiveness, and will be the party eligible for the guarantee purchase of a PPP loan.”

    Federal Issues SBA Covid-19 Small Dollar Lending

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  • Oklahoma and North Dakota adjust finance charges, rates on small dollar loans

    State Issues

    On April 21, the governor of Oklahoma signed SB 796, which amends the loan finance charge limit for supervised lenders. Specifically, a loan finance charge “may not exceed the equivalent of the greater of either” 25 percent per year on an unpaid principal balance or: (i) 32 percent annually on unpaid principal of $7,000 or less; (ii) 23 percent annually on unpaid principal that is greater than $7,000 but does not exceed $11,000; and (iii) 20 percent annually on unpaid principal of more than $11,000. The act also allows lenders to charge a closing fee of up to $28.85. The act takes effect November 1.

    The North Dakota governor also signed into law SB 2103 on April 16, which, when it takes effect on August 1, imposes limits on charges that licensed money brokers can assess, including a 36 percent annual interest rate limit on installment loans, and caps nonpayment or late payment fees at five percent for loans greater than $50,000. The act also includes additional restrictions for loans of less than $2,000, including that (i) the maximum term for an installment loan may not exceed 36 months and balloon payments are prohibited; (ii) existing loan balances may be refinanced into a new loan, provided it is less than $2,000 and “the combination of any refinance fees along with any fees collected as part of the original loans” do “not exceed one hundred dollars per calendar year”; and (iii) licensees may not contract for or receive charges exceeding $100 for a loan extension or payment deferment.

    State Issues State Legislation Consumer Finance Small Dollar Lending

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  • CFPB to address harm created from revocation of payday rule’s ability to repay standard

    Federal Issues

    On March 23, CFPB acting Director Dave Uejio published a blog post highlighting the Bureau’s belief that harms in the small dollar lending market identified by its 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” still exist. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2020, the Bureau issued a final rule revoking certain underwriting provisions of the 2017 final rule, including (i) the provision that makes it an unfair and abusive practice for a lender to make covered high-interest rate, short-term loans or covered longer-term balloon payment loans without reasonably determining that the consumer has the ability to repay the loans according to their terms; (ii) the prescribed mandatory underwriting requirements for making the ability-to-repay determination; (iii) the “principal step-down exemption” provision for certain covered short-term loans; and (iv) related definitions, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements. Uejio stressed that the Bureau intends to “use the authority provided by Congress to address these harms, including through vigorous market monitoring, supervision, enforcement, and, if appropriate, rulemaking.” Additionally, he noted that the Bureau “continues to believe that ability to repay is an important underwriting standard. To the extent small dollar lenders’ business models continue to rely on consumers’ inability to repay, those practices cause harm that must be addressed by the CFPB.”

    Federal Issues CFPB Small Dollar Lending Payday Lending Ability To Repay Payday Rule Underwriting

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  • Bank gets NAL from CFPB using small-dollar template

    Federal Issues

    On November 5, under the CFPB’s revised no-action letter (NAL) policy, the Bureau issued a NAL to a national bank regarding certain small-dollar credit products offered by the bank. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in May, the Bureau approved a template in response to a request by a nonpartisan public policy, research and advocacy group for banks that would assist depository institutions in offering a standardized, small-dollar credit product under $2,500 with a repayment term between 45 days and one year. The bank submitted its application using this template.

    Among other things, the NAL notes that the bank’s application includes (i) each of the “13 Guardrail Certifications” described in the template; (ii) a copy of the small-dollar credit product’s terms and conditions the bank intends to provide to consumers; (iii) marketing materials intended to be used to market the product; and (iv) substantially similar consumer benefits and consumer risks as described in the advocacy groups’ template application. A copy of the bank’s application is available here.

    Additionally, the Bureau released a Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) notice, covering research efforts to “identify information that could be disclosed to consumers during the payday loan process to help them make better-informed decisions.”

    Federal Issues Small Dollar Lending CFPB No Action Letter

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  • CFPB repeals Payday Rule’s ability-to-pay provisions

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On July 7, the CFPB issued the final rule revoking certain underwriting provisions of the agency’s 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” (Payday Lending Rule). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau issued the proposed rule in February 2019 and the final rule implements the proposal without revision. Specifically, the final rule revokes, among other things (i) the provision that makes it an unfair and abusive practice for a lender to make covered high-interest rate, short-term loans or covered longer-term balloon payment loans without reasonably determining that the consumer has the ability to repay the loans according to their terms; (ii) the prescribed mandatory underwriting requirements for making the ability-to-repay determination; (iii) the “principal step-down exemption” provision for certain covered short-term loans; and (iv) related definitions, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements. Additional details regarding the final rule can be found in the Bureau’s unofficial redline and executive summary.

    While compliance with the payment provisions of the Payday Lending Rule is currently stayed by court order (see previous InfoBytes coverage here), the Bureau states that it “will seek to have them go into effect with a reasonable period for entities to come into compliance.” Additionally, the CFPB ratified the payment provisions of the Payday Lending Rule in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Seila Law (covered by a Special Alert here) and issued a statement on the supervision and enforcement of certain aspects of the payment provisions with respect to certain large loans. According to the statement, the Bureau does not intend to take supervisory or enforcement action with regard to covered loans that exceed the Regulation Z coverage threshold (currently set at $58,300). The statement notes that the Bureau is monitoring and assessing the “effects of the [p]ayment [p]rovisions, including their scope, and [it] may determine whether further action is needed in light of what it learns.”

    Moreover, the Bureau released FAQs pertaining to compliance with the payment provisions of the Payday Lending Rule. The FAQs discuss the details of the covered loans and “payment transfers”—defined as a “a debit or withdrawal of funds from a consumer’s account that the lender initiates for the purpose of collecting any amount due or purported to be due in connection with a covered loan”—under the rule.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Payday Rule Small Dollar Lending Installment Loans CFPB Underwriting

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