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On May 27, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Florida-based lender and the CEO of the company (collectively, “defendants”) to resolve allegations that the defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act by misrepresenting the risks associated with their deposit product and the annual percentage rate (APR) associated with their consumer loans. The settlement resolves a complaint against the defendants filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in November 2020 (covered by InfoBytes here). The CFPB alleged that the company took deposits from consumers to fund loans, claiming their deposits would have a fixed and guaranteed 15 percent annual percentage yield and would be deposited at FDIC-insured institutions. However, according to the complaint, the representations were false in that the funds were not held in FDIC-insured accounts and the rate of return was not guaranteed. The CFPB also alleged that most deposited funds were used to fund short-term, high-interest personal loans that were deceptively marketed as having an APR of 440 percent when the actual APRs are alleged to have been more than 900 percent, well in excess of the rate permitted under Florida’s criminal-usury law, causing the loans to be uncollectable and creating risk that obligations could not be met to depositors who sought to withdraw their deposited funds. The complaint claimed that the defendants had loaned a total of more than $30 million to consumers since 2017.
Under the terms of the stipulated order, the defendants are (i) subject to a judgment for monetary relief and damages for the full amount defendants received from consumers who purchased their financial products and services, around $1 million, plus all interest due to consumers under the terms of the advertised products and services purchased; and (ii) required to pay a $100,000 civil money penalty. The order also permanently bans the defendants from engaging in deposit-taking activity and from making deceptive statements to 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 September 11, the California Department of Business Oversight (CDBO) initiated the formal rulemaking process with the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) for the proposed regulations implementing the requirements of the commercial financing disclosures required by SB 1235 (Chapter 1011, Statutes of 2018). In September 2018, California enacted SB 1235, which requires non-bank lenders and other finance companies to provide written consumer-style disclosures for certain commercial transactions, including small business loans and merchant cash advances (covered by InfoBytes here). In July 2019, California released the first draft of the proposed regulations (covered by InfoBytes here) to consider comments prior to initiating the formal rulemaking process with the OAL.
The new proposed regulations, which have been modified since the July 2019 draft, provide general format and content requirements for each disclosure, as well as specific requirements for each type of covered transaction. Additionally, the proposed regulations provide information on calculating the annual percentage rate (APR), including additional details for calculating the APR for factoring transactions, as well as calculating the estimated APR for sales-based financing transactions, among other things. Additional details about the proposed regulations can be found in the CDBO’s initial statement of reasons. Comments on the proposed regulations will be accepted through October 28.
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.
In July, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) issued a request for comment on the first draft of regulations implementing the state’s new law on commercial financing disclosures. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2018, the California governor signed SB 1235, which requires non-bank lenders and other finance companies to provide written consumer-style disclosures for certain commercial transactions, including small business loans and merchant cash advances. Most notably, the act requires financing entities subject to the law to disclose in each commercial financing transaction—defined as an “accounts receivable purchase transaction, including factoring, asset-based lending transaction, commercial loan, commercial open-end credit plan, or lease financing transaction intended by the recipient for use primarily for other than personal, family, or household purposes”—the “total cost of the financing expressed as an annualized rate” in a form to be prescribed by the DBO.
The draft regulation provides general format and content requirements for each disclosure, as well as specific requirements for each type of covered transaction. In addition to the detailed information in the draft regulation, the DBO has released model disclosure forms for the six financing types, (i) closed-end transactions; (ii) open-ended credit plans; (iii) general factoring; (iv) sales-based financing; (v) lease financing; and (vi) asset-based lending. Additionally, the draft regulation uses an annual percentage rate (APR) as the annualized rate disclosure (as opposed to the annualized cost of capital, which was considered in the December 2018 request for comments, covered by InfoBytes here). Moreover, the draft regulation provides additional information for calculating the APR for factoring transactions as well as calculating the estimated APR for sales-based financing transactions.
Comments on the draft regulations are due by September 9.
New York legislature introduces bills to protect small businesses, regulate merchant cash advance transactions
On May 1, S5470 was introduced in the New York State Senate and is now sitting with the Committee on Banks, which would establish consumer-style disclosure requirements for certain commercial transactions. Similar to the legislation enacted in California last September, previously covered in InfoBytes here, the bill requires financing entities subject to the law to disclose in each commercial financing transaction “the total cost of the financing, expressed as a dollar cost, including any and all fees, expenses and charges that are to be paid by the recipient and that cannot be avoided by the recipient, including any interest expense.” For open and closed-end commercial financing transactions, the bill requires that the disclosures must include, among other things, (i) the amount financed or the maximum credit line; (ii) the total cost of the financing; (iii) the annual percentage rate; (iv) payment amounts; (v) a description of all other potential fees and charges; and (vi) prepayment charges. The bill sets out analogous, but separate, disclosure requirements for accounts receivable purchase transactions, such as merchant cash advance and factoring transactions.
Importantly, the bill does not apply to (i) financial institutions (defined as a chartered or licensed bank, trust company, industrial loan company, savings and loan association, or federal credit union, authorized to do business in New York); (ii) lenders regulated under the federal Farm Credit Act; (iii) commercial financing transactions secured by real property; (iv) a technology service provider; and (v) a lender who makes no more than one applicable transaction in New York in a 12-month period or any person that makes commercial financing transactions in New York that are incidental to the lender’s business in a 12-month period.
Additionally, the New York legislature is also considering a number of other bills that would affect commercial financing transactions:
- A03637, would amend the state’s banking law to deem asset-based lending transactions (defined as, “a transaction in which advances are made which are contingent on the recipient forwarding payments received from one or more third parties for goods such recipient has supplied or services such recipient has rendered to that third party or parties.”) to be loans for all purposes. On its face, this legislation would subject typical merchant cash advance and factoring transactions, which New York courts have in many recent court cases deemed to be non-loan transactions, to lending law restrictions, which would include potential licensure requirements and usury restrictions.
- A03636, would amend the state’s business law to prohibit the inclusion of a confession of judgment (COJ) in a contract or agreement for a financial product or service provided by an entity regulated by the New York Department of Financial Services for the purpose of consumer or investor protection, which is specifically defined by the bill as: (i) any product or service for which registration or licensing is required or for which the offeror or provider is required to be registered or licensed by state law; (ii) any product or service as to which provisions for consumer or investor protection are specifically set forth for such product or service by state statute or regulation; and (iii) securities, commodities and real property subject to the provisions of article 23A of the general business law. COJs are contractual clauses in which a debtor waives in advance his or her right to be notified of a court hearing, or to present his or her side of the case, which are prohibited under federal law for consumer contracts by the FTC Credit Practices Rule (16 C.F.R. pt. 444). In conjunction with potential licensure required under AO3637 above, the passage of both pieces of legislation in New York could result in the prohibition of COJ clauses in merchant cash advance agreements, a common feature of such agreements and generally permitted under New York law.
- A03638, would extend the majority of the state’s consumer protections with respect to loans made to small businesses (defined by the bill as, a “small business shall be deemed to be one which is resident in this state, independently owned and operated, not dominant in its field and employs one hundred or less persons.”). Specifically, the bill would amend the state’s general obligations law to extend all rights and privileges granted under the title to small businesses and would also amend Section 173 and Section 380-e of the state’s banking law to extend all the rights and privileges granted by the section to small businesses.
Relatedly, the FTC recently held a forum on small business marketplace lending practices, see detailed InfoBytes coverage on the forum here.
On May 8, the FTC held a forum with members of the small business marketplace to discuss the recent uptick in online loans and alternative financing products, and to analyze the potential for unfair and deceptive marketing, sales, and collection practices in the industry. Opening “Strictly Business: An FTC Forum on Small Business Financing,” FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra expressed broad concerns about the state of entrepreneurship in the U.S. and the barriers small businesses face when negotiating contracts. Three panels discussed topics including (i) recent trends in the financing marketplace and small business financing products; (ii) the impact of fintech in online lending; (iii) an examination of the risks and benefits of the merchant cash advance industry; and (iv) consumer protection risks and legislative, self-regulatory, and educational efforts to help better protect borrowers.
During the first panel, several industry members discussed the importance of credit and financing products in meeting the capital needs of small businesses who often experience challenges with funding operations and cash management. While traditional bank lending and Small Business Administration (SBA) loans often require lengthy, costly underwriting standards, several panelists noted that new marketplace financing options have created opportunities for small businesses that previously did not exist. Among other things, panelists emphasized that there is a big difference between consumer credit and business credit, and that online lenders are leveraging underlying business data, credit card receivables data, and fundamental underlying business transaction data to make sure small businesses can sustain and service their debt. Funding time is also critical to small businesses with many choosing online lenders for faster access to funds. The panel discussed the benefits of online financing products, such as moving away from including consumer credit scores in the underwriting process and examining nontraditional data to look at cash flow, but also cautioned that there can be a lack of transparency around terms and pricing.
The second panel discussed the merchant cash-advance (MCA) industry, which they described as providing an unregulated form of financing for small businesses in the form of factoring future receivables. Recently, the industry has been scrutinized for alleged collection abuses and use of confessions of judgment (COJs). COJs, which allow lenders to legally seize borrowers’ bank accounts and other assets without a judge’s review, have led to a flood of questionable legal actions against small businesses, according to Commissioner Chopra. However, one of the panelists noted that the FTC limited the ban on COJs to consumers.
The third panel discussed consumer protection risks as well as products and information available for small business borrowers. A key concern amongst several of the panelists was whether business borrowers are sophisticated enough to understand the various options and if they are able to receive the necessary information to shop between products, such as APRs, total costs, and average monthly payments. The panel also discussed federal and state law, as well as self-regulatory efforts, that offer protections for small business borrowers. All agreed that there has been significant action taken at the state level to try to standardize and harmonize these types of lending practices, and while there was support for a national standard, they cautioned that a weaker national standard should not preempt a stronger state standard. Transparent disclosure standards, consumer protection oriented issues such as privacy and data security, as well as deceptive practices, were also discussed, with panelists agreeing that outreach and consumer education is vital in helping consumers make informed decisions.
Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Andrew Smith, closed the forum by emphasizing that the FTC has broad authority under the FTC Act to tackle unfair and deceptive practices, and stating that the Commission is very concerned about reports of unfair and deceptive marketing, sales, and collection practices in the small-business finance market. He stressed that while financial technologies can evolve quickly, the underlying legal protections for small businesses remain the same.
On February 6, the CFPB announced a settlement with an Indiana-based payday retail lender and affiliates (companies) in seven states to resolve alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Truth in Lending Act (TILA), and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) privacy protections. The CFPB alleges that the companies engaged in unfair acts or practices, failed to properly disclose annual percentage rates, and failed to provide consumers with required initial privacy notices.
Specifically, the Bureau alleges that the companies violated CFPA’s UDAAP provisions by, among other things, (i) failing to implement processes to prevent unauthorized charges, including those resulting from unauthorized draws on borrowers’ bank accounts; (ii) requiring loan applicants to provide contact information for their employers, supervisors, and four personal references, and then repeatedly calling employers to seek payments when borrowers became delinquent; (iii) disclosing the borrower’s financial information during those calls and, in certain instances, asking the third party to make payments on the loan; (iv) misusing personal references for marketing purposes; and (v) advertising check-cashing and telephone reconnection services they were no longer providing.
While the companies have not admitted to the allegations, they have agreed to pay a $100,000 civil money penalty and are prohibited from continuing the illegal behavior.
On January 23, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota denied two financing companies’ (collectively, “defendants”) motions to dismiss an action alleging the defendants violated the Consumer Leasing Act (CLA), TILA, and a Minnesota law prohibiting usurious contracts through a transaction to purchase a puppy. According to the opinion, the plaintiff financed the purchase of a puppy through the defendants, which allowed her to take possession of the puppy in exchange for 24 monthly payments through an agreement styled as a “Consumer Pet Lease.” The agreement had an APR of 120 percent. The plaintiff filed suit against the defendants alleging the companies violated (i) the CLA by failing to disclose the number of payments owed under the agreement prior to execution; (ii) TILA by failing to adequately disclose the finance charge, the APR, and the “total of payments” as required under the Act; and (iii) the state’s usury law cap of 8 percent for personal debt. The defendants moved to dismiss the action challenging the plaintiff’s standing, among other things. The court, rejected the defendants arguments, finding that the consumer adequately alleged injury by stating she “would” have, not “might” have, pursued other funding had the defendants disclosed the actual interest rate. Additionally, the court determined the consumer plausibly alleged a CLA violation because the agreement contains information the plaintiff could view as “conflicting and confusing.” With respect to the TILA claims, the plaintiff argued that, although the agreement is styled as a lease, it is actually a credit sale, and the court rejected one of the defendant’s arguments that it was not a creditor, but rather a servicer not subject to TILA. Lastly, the court held the plaintiff adequately pleaded her state usury claim, but noted the claim’s viability would be better informed by discovery. Accordingly, the court denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss.
On December 4, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) released an invitation for comments from interested stakeholders in the development of regulations to implement the state’s new law on commercial financing disclosures. As previously covered by InfoBytes, on September 30, the California governor signed SB 1235, which requires non-bank lenders and other finance companies to provide written consumer-style disclosures for certain commercial transactions, including small business loans and merchant cash advances. Most notably, the act requires financing entities subject to the law to disclose in each commercial financing transaction —defined as an “accounts receivable purchase transaction, including factoring, asset-based lending transaction, commercial loan, commercial open-end credit plan, or lease financing transaction intended by the recipient for use primarily for other than personal, family, or household purposes”—the “total cost of the financing expressed as an annualized rate” in a form to be prescribed by the DBO.
The act requires the DBO to first develop regulations governing the new disclosure requirements, addressing, among other things, (i) definitions, contents, and methods of calculations for each disclosure; (ii) requirements concerning the time, manner, and format of each disclosure; and (iii) the method to express the annualized rate disclosure and types of fees and charges to be included in the calculation. While the DBO has formulated specific topics and questions in the invitation for comments covering these areas, the comments may address any potential area for rulemaking. Comments must be received by January 22, 2019.