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  • Minnesota Attorney General settles with tribal company over high interest rates

    State Issues

    On February 21, the Minnesota Attorney General announced a settlement with a tribal economic development entity to resolve a 2023 federal lawsuit that alleged the entity’s lending subsidiaries were engaged in predatory lending and illegal interest rates, in violation of Minnesota and federal consumer lending laws. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint claimed that the entity’s lending subsidiaries charged interest rates of up to 800 percent in violation of state statutory caps of eight percent, and led state residents to believe that the entity was exempt from state laws that protect against predatory lending.

    Under the terms of the settlement, the entity and its subsidiaries can no longer lend to Minnesota residents nor advertise or market those loans. The settlement also required any loan issued to consumers in Minnesota before the settlement is canceled, except to recover the original principal balance with all past payments to be attributed towards paying down the principal balance.

    State Issues Courts Minnesota Interest Rate Consumer Finance State Attorney General Settlement Enforcement Consumer Protection

  • CFPB, seven State AGs file suit against debt-relief company

    Federal Issues

    On January 19, the CFPB and seven state attorneys general (Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, and Wisconsin) announced a lawsuit against a debt-relief company, its subsidiaries, and its two individual owners (defendants) for allegedly facilitating an unlawful debt relief service. According to the complaint, the company used third parties to solicit consumers with large debts and direct them to contact defendants. The company then, allegedly, advised consumers to enroll in their debt-relief service that will negotiate reduced payoff amounts with consumers’ creditors and represent consumers. Additionally, individual defendants implicated in the action created law firms paired with one of the company’s subsidiaries, which performed little to no work on behalf of consumers, while non-attorney negotiators from the company were tasked with renegotiating a consumer’s debt. The CFPB and the AGs alleged that the company charges fees ($84 million since 2016) before and during the service, that left consumers with additional debt, lower credit scores, lawsuits with creditors, and had none of their original debts settled or reduced.

    Among other things, the CFPB claimed the company violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by (i) charging advance fees before a consumer has made at least one payment under a debt settlement plan; (ii) collecting fees after settling some of a consumer’s debts when the fees are not proportional to the amount of debt defendant successfully settled or based on a fixed percentage of the amount saved; and, (iii) supporting its subsidiary law firms that the company knew or knowingly avoided knowing engaged in abusive acts or practices. The complaint sought permanent and preliminary injunctive relief, redress for consumers, and a civil money penalty. On January 11, the court granted the Bureau’s request for a temporary restraining order.

    Federal Issues CFPB State Attorney General Colorado Delaware Illinois Minnesota New York North Carolina Wisconsin Debt Relief

  • Minnesota amends health care provision in extensive new law

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On November 9, the State of Minnesota enacted Chapter 70--S.F.No. 2995, a large bill to amend certain sections of its current health care provisions. The bill covers extensive changes to healthcare provisions, from prescription contraceptives, hearing aids, mental health, long COVID, and childcare, among many others.

    One of the significant new laws requires a hospital to first check if a patient’s bill is eligible for charity care before sending it off to a third-party collection agency. Further, the bill places new requirements on hospitals collecting on a medical debt before it can “garnish wages or bank accounts” of an individual. The Minnesota law also outlines how a hospital wishing to use a third-party collection agency, must first complete an affidavit attesting that it has checked if the patient is eligible for charity care, confirmed proper billing, given the patient the opportunity to apply for charity care, and, under certain circumstances, if the patient is unable to pay in one lump sum, offered a reasonable payment plan instead.

    Privacy Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Minnesota Health Care Medical Debt Debt Collection

  • Minnesota AG files complaint against a tribal company for steep rates

    Courts

    On October 30, the Minnesota Attorney General’s office filed a complaint against a Montana tribal economic development entity claiming that the entity’s lending subsidiaries violated state and federal usury laws through deceptive trade practices and false advertising. The complaint alleges that “[d]efendants ignore these laws and have in recent years made thousands of loans to consumers in Minnesota at interest rates exponentially higher than what is permitted. They do so while deceiving Minnesotans to believe the defendant lenders are immune from Minnesota law because they are owned by a federally recognized Indian tribe. But even sovereign entities and their subsidiaries must comply with Minnesota and federal law when they transact business in Minnesota.” The complaint claims that the company’s lending subsidiaries charged interest rates up to 800 percent and led state residents to believe that the entity was exempt from state laws that protect against predatory loans. Minnesota laws cap interest rates for written contracts at 8% unless otherwise exempted. Loan contracts that violate the law may be voidable and have no legal effect. The Attorney General is seeking an injunction to block the company from operating in Minnesota, a declaration that “marketing, offering, issuing, servicing, collection, and providing of [these] loans” is in violation of federal and state laws, and compensation for the residents affected by the defendants’ actions.

    Courts State Issues Minnesota State Attorney General Interest Rate Consumer Finance

  • Payment processor fined $75k, partner owes $243M in CFPB suit

    Courts

    On July 31, the District Court for the Central District of California entered judgment in favor of the court-appointed receiver for defendants against the non-party provider of payment processing and escrow services to defendants and its managing member in the amount of $75,000, following a July 10 order requiring defendant to pay $243 million in redress and civil penalties. These judgments were entered in connection with the lawsuit filed by the CFPB, along with the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney, against a student loan debt relief operation for allegedly deceiving thousands of student-loan borrowers and charging more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees (covered by InfoBytes here).

    The defendant companies and one of the controlling business partners settled in 2020, but the court ordered the remaining controlling business partner to pay $243 million in redress and civil penalties earlier in July based on his involvement in violating various laws through the operation, including the TSR and the CFPA. Of the $243 million, the CFPB is entitled to over $95 million as redress for unlawful fees paid by consumers affected by the student loan debt relief operation and nearly $148 million of civil money penalties, and Minnesota, North Carolina, and California are each entitled to $5,000 of civil money penalties. The recent judgment of $75,000 entered against the non-party payment processing service provider resulted from the settlement of a separate lawsuit alleging that the service provider facilitated the fraud perpetuated by the defendants in the student loan debt relief operation and later attempted to deceptively transfer consumer funds held by defendants to avoid their transfer to the receiver.

    Courts CFPB Student Lending Debt Relief Payment Processors California Minnesota North Carolina State Attorney General CFPA TSR

  • Minnesota further regulates payday loans

    State Issues

    On May 24, Minnesota enacted SF 2744 (the “Act”) to amend several sections of the state statutes relating to payday loans. Among other things, Section 47.603 has been added to create barriers for payday lenders charging annual interest rates of more than 36 percent and to require payday lenders to assess the borrower’s ability to repay a payday loan or payday advance.

    The provisions specify an ability to repay analysis, which requires a payday lender to first determine whether a borrower has the ability to make the loan payment at the end of the loan period. The Act further explains that a “payday lender’s ability to repay determination is reasonable if, based on the calculated debt-to-income ratio for the loan period, the borrower can make payments for all major financial obligations, make all payments under the loan, and meet basic living expenses during the period ending 30 days after repayment of the loan.” Additionally, amendments replace past provisions for charges in lieu of interest, with an umbrella policy for any consumer small loan with an annual percentage rate of up to 50 percent that bans lenders from adding any additional charges or payments in connection with the loan.

    The amendments will apply to “consumer small loans” and “consumer short-term loans,” as defined by the Act, originated on or after January 1, 2024.

    State Issues State Legislation Consumer Lending Consumer Finance Minnesota

  • Minnesota enacts small-dollar consumer lending and money transmitter amendments; Georgia and Nevada also enact money transmission provisions

    On May 24, the Minnesota governor signed SF 2744 to amend several state statutes relating to financial institutions, including provisions concerning small-dollar, short-term consumer lending, payday lending, and money transmitter requirements. Changes to the statutes governing consumer small loans and consumer short-term loans amend the definition of “annual percentage rate” (APR) to include “all interest, finance charges, and fees,” as well as the definition of a “consumer short-term loan” to mean a loan with a principal amount or an advance on a credit limit of $1,300 (previously $1,000). The amendments outline certain prohibited actions and also cap the permissible APR on a loan at no more than 50 percent and stipulate that lenders are not permitted to add other charges or payments in connection with these loans. The changes apply to loans originated on or after January 1, 2024. The amendments also make several modifications to provisions relating to payday loans with APRs exceeding 36 percent, including requirements for conducting an ability to repay analysis. These provisions are effective January 1, 2024.

    Several new provisions relating to the regulation and licensing of money transmitters are also outlined within the amendments. New definitions and exemptions are provided, as well implementation instructions that provide the state commissioner authority to “enter into agreements or relationships with other government officials or federal and state regulatory agencies and regulatory associations in order to (i) improve efficiencies and reduce regulatory burden by standardizing methods or procedures, and (ii) share resources, records, or related information obtained under this chapter.” The commissioner may also accept licensing, examination, or investigation reports, as well as audit reports, made by other state or federal government agencies. To efficiently minimize regulatory burden, the commissioner is authorized to participate in multistate supervisory processes coordinated through the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS), the Money Transmitter Regulators Association, and others, for all licensees that hold licenses in the state of Minnesota and other states. Additionally, the commissioner has enforcement, examination, and supervision authority, may adopt implementing regulations, and may recover costs and fees associated with applications, examinations, investigations, and other related actions. The commissioner may also participate in joint examinations or investigations with other states.

    With respect to the licensing provisions, the amendments state that a “person is prohibited from engaging in the business of money transmission, or advertising, soliciting, or representing that the person provides money transmission, unless the person is licensed under this chapter” or is a licensee’s authorized delegate or exempt. Licenses are not transferable or assignable. The commissioner may establish relationships or contracts with the Nationwide Multi-State Licensing System and Registry and participate in nationwide protocols for licensing cooperation and coordination among state regulators if the protocols are consistent with the outlined provisions. The amendments also outline numerous licensing application and renewal procedures including net worth and surety bond, as well as permissible investment requirements.

    The same day, the Nevada governor signed AB 21 to revise certain provisions relating to the licensing and regulation of money transmitters in the state. The amendments generally revise and repeal various statutory provisions to establish a process for governing persons engaged in the business of money transmission that is modeled after the Model Money Transmission Modernization Act approved by the CSBS. Like Minnesota, the commissioner may participate in multistate supervisory processes and information sharing with other state and federal regulators. The commissioner also has expanded examination and enforcement authority over licensees. The Act is effective July 1.

    Additionally, the Georgia governor signed HB 55 earlier in May to amend provisions relating to the licensing of money transmitters (and to merge provisions related to licensing of sellers of payment instruments). The Act addresses licensee requirements and prohibited activities, outlines exemptions, and provides that applications pending as of July 1, “for a seller of payment instruments license shall be deemed to be an application for a money transmitter license as of that date.” Notably, should a license be suspended, revoked, surrendered, or expired, the licensee must, “within five business days, provide documentation to the department demonstrating that the licensee has notified all applicable authorized agents whose names are on record with the department of the suspension, revocation, surrender, or expiration of the license.” The Act is also effective July 1.

    Licensing State Issues Fintech Digital Assets State Legislation Minnesota Georgia Nevada Consumer Finance Consumer Lending Payday Lending Money Service / Money Transmitters Virtual Currency

  • CFPB to issue $95 million in redress to victims of student loan debt relief operation

    Federal Issues

    On December 13, the CFPB announced that it will distribute more than $95 million in redress to over 87,000 consumers harmed by a student loan debt relief operation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB, along with the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney (together, the “states”), announced an action against the defendants for allegedly deceiving thousands of student loan borrowers and charging more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. In the complaint filed October 21, 2019, and unsealed on October 29, 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the Bureau and the states alleged that since at least 2015, the defendants have violated the CFPA, the TSR, and various state laws by charging and collecting improper advance fees from student loan borrowers prior to providing assistance and receiving payments on the adjusted loans. The CFPB also claimed that the defendants automatically put loans in forbearance and submitted false information to loan servicers to qualify customers for lower monthly payments.

    Federal Issues State Issues State Attorney General CFPB Consumer Redress Consumer Finance Enforcement Student Lending CFPA TSR Minnesota North Carolina

  • Minnesota fines debt collector for violating earlier consent order

    State Issues

    Recently, the Minnesota Department of Commerce issued a consent order assessing $20,000 in fines to a debt collector accused of violating a 2020 consent order. The state previously entered into a consent order with the debt collector, in which it agreed to cease and desist from violating the FDCPA and state law after it was found to have, among other things, commingled funds and allowed agents to work from unlicensed branch locations. The state later found that the debt collector allegedly continued to violate state and federal law by collecting on payday loans from unlicensed lenders and failing to provide meaningful disclosures on telephone calls or register several of its agents as debt collectors in the state. As a result, the state ordered the debt collector to pay the stayed portion of the 2020 fine ($19,000), as well as a $25,000 civil penalty of which $24,000 is stayed. If the stay has not been lifted by December 31, 2025, the remaining portion of the civil penalty will be vacated provided the debt collector does not commit any further violations.

    State Issues State Regulators Enforcement Minnesota FDCPA Debt Collection

  • Minnesota regulator issues telework guidance

    State Issues

    On December 15, the Minnesota Commerce Department issued guidance regarding non-depository financial institution telework. The guidance provides that if the licensed location is still offering financial products or services, employees can work from home to perform tasks as long as the following are met: (i) transactions are tied to the licensed/registered location; (ii) consumers are not physically going to an unlicensed location (e.g., employee’s home); (iii) no physical records are maintained at the unlicensed location; and (iv) the employee is able to maintain the company’s data security policies and standards while working remotely.

    State Issues Covid-19 Minnesota Non-Depository Institution Licensing Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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