Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
California Department of Business Oversight issues advisory to small businesses with merchant cash advance contracts
On April 6, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) issued an advisory to small businesses with merchant cash advance contracts. Small businesses are encouraged to review the terms of their existing financing products to determine whether they may be entitled to relief and report finance companies that fail to honor contractual terms that provide relief. The DBO notes that payments under certain financing arrangements are typically adjustable and may be lowered if the small business is closed as a result of government orders.
On February 26, the FTC released a staff perspective paper covering topics discussed during the Commission’s “Strictly Business” forum on small business financing held in 2019, as well as an online tool for small businesses to submit lending- or financing-related complaints. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the forum heard from members of the small business marketplace who discussed the recent uptick in online loans and alternative financing products, and analyzed the potential for unfair and deceptive marketing, sales, and collection practices in the industry. The staff paper provides an overview of key issues discussed during the forum, as well as enforcement information, recent small business financing marketplace trends, potential benefits and risks of newer online financing products, and consumer protection issues associated with merchant cash advances. Among other things, the staff paper emphasized that “small business finance providers should avoid the sorts of practices that the Commission has alleged to be deceptive” in its enforcement actions involving either small business consumers or individual consumers, such as actions charging lenders with making “misleading claims regarding fees, consumer savings, payment amounts, and interest rates” in connection with personal loans. The staff paper also stressed that finance providers should understand that using marketing intermediaries, such as brokers and lead generators, “does not immunize them from liability under the FTC Act,” and that finance providers “should take steps to ensure that their marketers do not engage in deceptive or other unlawful conduct.” Small business consumers, the staff paper noted, would also likely benefit from more uniform and easily understood financing disclosures in order to compare costs and product features in the small business marketplace.
New York says creditors prohibited from obtaining confessions of judgments against out-of-state borrowers
On August 30, the New York governor signed S 6395, which prohibits creditors from obtaining confessions of judgments through the New York court system against individuals and businesses located outside of the state in order to seize borrower assets. According to a press release issued by Governor Cuomo, prior to the enactment of S 6395, creditors were able to “freeze and seize a borrower’s assets by obtaining a judgment entered in a court far from where the contested agreement was executed, making it difficult for a borrower to legally contest the unfair penalty.” Under S 6395, an entry of judgment may only be filed in “the county where the defendant’s affidavit stated that the defendant resided when it was executed or where the defendant resided at the time of filing.” For non-natural persons, the county of residence is where it has a place of business. Notably, government agencies engaged in enforcing civil or criminal law against a person or a non-natural person, are exempt from the bill’s measures and may file an affidavit in any county within the state. S 6395 is effective immediately.
In July, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) issued a request for comment on 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 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.
New California law requires non-bank lenders and other finance companies to provide commercial financing disclosures
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 California Department of Business Oversight (DBO).
Although the act is effective immediately, the act requires the DBO to first develop regulations governing the new disclosure requirements, and lenders are not required to comply with the provisions of the act until the final regulations are adopted and become effective. Once final regulations are in place, recipients of commercial financing offers will have to sign the disclosures, which are to be provided at the time of the offer. The disclosures must include (i) the total amount of funds provided; (ii) the total dollar cost of the financing; (iii) the term or estimated term; (iv) the method, frequency, and amount of payments; (v) a description of prepayment policies; and (vi) the total cost of the financing expressed as an annualized rate. Finance companies subject to the law are required to provide the annualized financing rate until January 1, 2024, at which time that portion of the disclosure requirement sunsets. The act also allows for finance companies who offer factoring or asset-based lending to provide alternative disclosures using an example transaction that could occur under the agreement.
Importantly, the act does not apply to (i) depository institutions; (ii) lenders regulated under the federal Farm Credit Act; (iii) commercial financing transactions secured by real property; (iv) a commercial financing transaction in which the recipient is a vehicle dealer, vehicle rental company, or affiliated company, and meets other specified requirements; and (v) a lender who makes no more than one applicable transaction in California in a 12-month period or a lender who makes five or fewer applicable transactions that are incidental to the lender’s business in a 12-month period. The act also does not cover (i) true leases, but will apply to bargain-purchase leases; (ii) commercial loans under $5,000, which are considered consumer loans in California regardless of any business-purpose and subject to separate disclosure requirements; and (iii) commercial financing offers greater than $500,000.