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On June 27, the CFPB released its monthly complaint report, highlighting complaints from around the country. According to the Bureau, it has handled over 1.2 million complaints from 2011 through June 1 of this year. The report shows nationwide complaint statistics and statistics for service members and older consumers. In addition, the report breaks down statistics on the state level covering financial products and services, company responses to complaints, as well as number of complaints. The vast majority of consumers report high company response rates to complaints averaging in the high 90 percent range, although the volume of complaints is trending upward. The top five products receiving complaints across the country in descending order are: (i) debt collection; (ii) mortgages; (iii) credit reporting; (iv) credit cards; and (v) bank accounts or services.
FTC Announces Settlement of More Than $104 Million with Company for Selling Sensitive Financial Information
On July 5, the FTC issued a press release announcing a settlement of more than $104 million with a lead generation company for allegedly misleading loan applicants with promises of matching consumers with lenders that could offer the best loan terms. Actually, the FTC asserts, defendants were selling the applications, including sensitive personal information such as Social Security numbers and bank account numbers, to anyone who would pay for them “without regard for how the information would be used or whether it would remain secure.”
The proposed order accompanying the settlement states that defendants used deceptive and unfair acts or practices in the course of their lead generation activities, and permanently prohibits defendants from misrepresenting financial products or services to consumers. It also enjoins defendants from selling or transferring a consumer’s personal information unless the consumer has provided consent and provides that defendants may not benefit from any consumer information collected before the entry of the order. Further, defendants must destroy all personal consumer information in any form within 30 days after the order.
In addition to the above settlement terms, the defendants agreed to (i) compliance monitoring, (ii) creating certain records for ten years after the date of entry of the order, and (iii) compliance reporting
Although defendants have filed for bankruptcy, they agreed that the amount owed to the FTC in the settlement will not be dischargeable.
On May 14, six Senate Democrats, including Senate Banking Committee Members Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), sent a letter to CFPB Director Richard Cordray asking that the CFPB consider the proposals included in Senator Merkley’s SAFE Lending Act, S. 172, in developing the forthcoming payday lending proposed regulations. That legislation primarily attempts to address perceived gaps in the regulation of Internet and offshore small dollar lenders—including those lenders affiliated with Native American tribes—and lead generators. The letter also petitions the CFPB to adopt “strong” reforms—such as minimum loan terms, fee and renewal limitations, and a waiting period between loans—that cover all types of small dollar lending. The CFPB highlighted many of these potential reforms in a March 2014 report and field hearing.
On April 7, Illinois Attorney General (AG) Lisa Madigan sued a payday loan lead generator to enforce a 2012 cease and desist order issued by the state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The regulator and the AG assert that the state’s Payday Loan Reform Act (PLRA), which broadly defines “lender” to include “any person or entity . . . that . . . arranges a payday loan for a third party, or acts as an agent for a third party in making a payday loan, regardless of whether approval, acceptance, or ratification by the third party is necessary to create a legal obligation for the third party,” required the lead generator to obtain a license before operating in Illinois. The AG claims that the lead generator violated the state’s Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act by offering and arranging payday loans in knowing violation of the PLRA’s licensing and other requirements. The suit also alleges that the lead generator knowingly matched Illinois consumers with unlicensed members of the generator’s payday lender network. The AG is seeking a permanent injunction and a $50,000 civil penalty. On the same day, the AG also announced it filed suits against four online payday lenders for failing to obtain a state license, making payday loans with interest rates exceeding state usury caps, and otherwise violating state payday loan limitations. Those suits ask the court to permanently enjoin the lenders from operating in Illinois and declare all existing payday loan contracts entered into by those lenders null and void, with full restitution to borrowers.
On March 31, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that the Minnesota state legislature may regulate the activities of online payday lenders that extend loans to individuals residing within the state’s borders, even if the lender’s operations are based in a different state. State of Minn. v. Integrity Advance, LLC, No. 62-CV-11-7168, 2014 WL 1272279 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 31, 2014). The state of Minnesota alleged that an online payday lender violated Minnesota law by charging high annual interest rates, automatically rolling-over loans for extended periods, and failing to obtain a state lending license. The lender argued that the dormant commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from discriminating against or unduly burdening interstate commerce, prevented the Minnesota legislature from regulating the lender because the lender received and accepted Minnesotans’ loan applications at its place of business in Delaware, where the loans were consummated. The court rejected the lender’s argument and held that the U.S. Constitution permits states to regulate commercial transactions that affect their citizens so long as the transactions are not “wholly extraterritorial” – that is, occurring entirely outside of the state’s borders. The court determined that the online lender’s loans were not “wholly extraterritorial” because the lender (i) accepted loan applications online from Minnesota residents that indicated the applicant resided and worked in Minnesota; (ii) contacted Minnesotans in their home state approximately 27,944 times for loan underwriting and other business purposes; and (iii) deposited loan funds directly into Minnesota borrowers’ bank accounts. The court also upheld the district court’s award of $7 million in civil and statutory damages against the lender, finding that the lower court did not abuse its discretion since the award amounted to only 21% of the statutorily-allowed amount.
On March 19, the FTC reported that the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada held that the FTC Act “grants the FTC authority to regulate arms of Indian tribes, their employees, and their contractors,” including tribe-affiliated businesses sued by the FTC over allegedly unfair and deceptive practices in the origination and collection of payday loans. FTC v. AMG Servs., Inc., No. 12-536, 2014 WL 910302 (D. Nev. Mar. 7, 2014). The court’s order affirmed a report and recommendation issued last July by a magistrate judge in which the magistrate concluded that under controlling Ninth Circuit precedent, the FTC has authority to regulate “Indian Tribes, Arms of Indian Tribes, employees of Arms of Indian Tribes and contractors of Arms of Indian Tribes with regard to” the payday lending activities at issue in the case. The district court rejected the defendant’s objections that the magistrate erred in (i) assigning the defendants the burden of establishing whether they fall within the FTC’s jurisdiction; (ii) determining that the FTC Act is a statute of general applicability; and (iii) failing to apply Indian law canons and Supreme Court opinions the defendants argued are controlling in determining whether a federal statute of general applicability applies to Indian tribes and arms of Indian tribes.
On March 16, Maine enacted legislation that makes it a violation of the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act for a lender not organized and supervised under the laws of any state or the United States to solicit or make, either directly or through an agent, a loan to a Maine consumer unless licensed under state law. The law also establishes as an unfair or deceptive act or practice for entities other than supervised financial institutions to process a check, draft, other form of negotiable instrument or an electronic fund transfer from a consumer's financial account in connection with a loan solicited from or made by an unlicensed lender who is not exempt from the licensure requirement. The statute similarly establishes as an unfair or deceptive act or practice for any person or lender to provide substantial assistance to a lender or processor when the person or lender or the person's or lender's authorized agent either knows or consciously avoids knowing that the lender or processor is unlicensed and not otherwise exempt from licensure or is engaging in an unfair or deceptive act or practice. The Maine UTPA provides a private right of action and allows the state attorney general to seek injunctive relief and civil penalties for violations of an injunction.
On January 28, the House Financial Services Committee held a lengthy hearing with CFPB Director Richard Cordray in connection with the CFPB’s November 2013 Semi-Annual Report to Congress, which covers the period April 1, 2013 through September 30, 2013. The hearing came a day after the Committee launched a CFPB-like “Tell Your Story” feature through which it is seeking information from consumers and business owners about how the CFPB has impacted them or their customers. The Committee has provided an online submission form and also will take stories by telephone. Mr. Cordray’s prepared statement provided a general recap of the CFPB’s recent activities and focused on the mortgage rules and their implementation. It also specifically highlighted the CFPB’s concerns with the student loan servicing market.
The question and answer session centered on the implementation and impact of the CFPB’s mortgage rules, as well as the CFPB’s activities with regard to auto finance, HMDA, credit reporting, student lending, and other topics. Committee members also questioned Mr. Cordray on the CFPB’s collection and use of consumer data, particularly credit card account data, and the costs of the CFPB’s building construction/rehabilitation.
Mortgage Rule Implementation / Impact
Generally, Director Cordray pushed back against charges that the mortgage rules, in particular the ATR/QM rule, are inflexible and will limit credit availability. He urged members to wait for data before judging the impacts, and he suggested that much of the concerns being raised are “unreasoned and irrational,” resulting from smaller institutions that are unaware of the CFPB’s adjustments to the QM rule. He stated that he has personally called many small banks and has learned they are just not aware of the rule’s flexibility. He repeatedly stated that the rules can be amended, and that the CFPB will be closely monitoring market data.
The impact of the mortgage rules on the availability of credit for manufactured homes was a major topic throughout the hearing, On the substance of the issue, which was raised by Reps. Pearce (R-NM), Fincher (R-TN), Clay (D-MO), Sewell (D-AL), and others, Director Cordray explained that in his understanding, the concerns from the manufactured housing industry began with earlier changes in the HOEPA rule that resulted in a retreat from manufacture home lending. He stated that industry overreacted and now lenders are coming back into the market. Mr. Cordray has met personally with many lenders on this issue and will continue to do so while monitoring the market for actual impacts, as opposed to the “doomsday scenarios that are easy to speculate on in a room like this.” Still, he committed to work on this issue with manufacturers and lenders, as well as committee members.
Several committee members, including Reps. Sherman (D-CA), and Huizenga (R-MI) raised the issue of the requirement that title insurance from affiliated companies must be counted in the QM three percent cap. Mr. Cordray repeated that the CFPB believes Congress made a determination to include affiliate title protections in numerous places in the Dodd-Frank Act. That said, the CFPB is looking at the data on the impacts and meeting with stakeholders. Rep. Huizenga was most forceful, stating that while the CFPB has sought to limit the impact of the three percent cap, it is not enough. He raised again his bill, HR 1077, Rep. Meeks’ HR 3211, and ongoing work with Senators Vitter (R-LA) and Manchin (D-WV). He cited a survey conducted by the Real Estate Settlement Providers Council that found the inclusion of title charges causes 60 percent of loans under $60,000 to fail as qualified mortgages, and such loans actually become high-cost HOEPA loans. The survey also found that 45 percent of affiliated loans between $60,000 and $125,000 failed to qualify as qualified mortgages, and that 97 percent of the loans that failed as QMs were under $200,000 simply due to the inclusion of title insurance. Director Cordray did not have time to respond in full, but indicated the CFPB is waiting to see data on the actual impact.
Rep. Capito focused on the QM rule impact on Habitat for Humanity and other 501(c)(3) entities. Director Cordray stated that he spoke with the Habitat CEO prior to the hearing and believes the CFPB can address all of that organization’s concerns through rule amendments. He added that the CFPB already amended the rule to address Habitat’s first set of concerns, and that its latest concerns are new.
HMDA Rule Amendments & Small Business Fair Lending Rule
As she has done several times in the past, Rep. Velazquez (D-NY) raised the status of rulemaking required by Dodd-Frank Act section 1071 regarding small and minority/women-owned business lending. As he has in the past, Director Cordray explained that the CFPB is having difficulty addressing this rule given it is the only area in which the CFPB is required to address business lending. He added that the CFPB has determined that as it moves forward with the rule to amend HMDA data collection, which is underway now, the Bureau will attempt to fold the small business lending element into that process. He stated that the CFPB is working with the Federal Reserve Board on “overhauling that whole [HMDA] database” and “it feels to me that the right spot for this, and we've talked to a number of folks both from industry and consumer side on this, is to make [the small business lending requirements] part of the later stages of that, so it's coming, but not immediate.”
Rep. Bachus (R-AL) asked Director Cordray to specify appropriate dealer compensation alternatives. Mr. Cordray responded that the CFPB does not know all the mechanisms yet that would be satisfactory. It is “open to auto lenders and others bringing those to [the CFPB’s] attention, but [the CFPB] did say flat fees are one possibility. A flat percentage of the loan might be a possibility. Some combination of that with different durations of the loan, different levels, and potentially other things that [the CFPB has not] thought of but others in the industry may think of and bring to [its] attention. So [the CFPB is] open-minded on that.”
Reps. Scott (D-GA) and Barr (R-KY) also were critical of the CFPB’s auto finance guidance and suggested the CFPB should have met with industry stakeholders in advance or should have conducted a rulemaking. Mr. Scott asserted that auto credit is tighter and more expensive now. Mr. Cordray defended the guidance, as he has in the past, as a restatement of existing law. He does not believe the guidance has impacted or will impact the health of the auto market.
Rep. Beatty (D-OH) raised a recent proposal from the National Association of Auto Dealers on alternative dealer compensation models. Mr. Cordray acknowledged having seen it, and said that as long as all parties agree that the CFPB is respecting its jurisdictional lines in the auto context, the Bureau is willing to sit down with dealers and others to work on a “broader solution.”
Rep. Velazquez (D-NY) asked for an update on the CFPB’s efforts to regulate consumer credit reporting agencies. Director Cordray described the CFPB’s efforts to, for the first time, provide federal supervision of the major credit reporting agencies. He stated that those agencies are not used to such supervision and that, in his view, it has been an adjustment for them. The CFPB has had examination teams into each of the three largest credit reporting agencies and is discussing “various issues” with them and areas of concern. He informed the committee that as a result of the CFPB’s efforts the credit reporting agencies, for the first time, are forwarding the documentation that consumers send them about problems and potential errors in their credit reports to the furnishers to be evaluated. The CFPB still is concerned about errors and error resolution.
Prepaid & Overdraft
In response to an inquiry from Rep. Maloney (D-NY), Mr. Cordray stated that the CFPB is continuing to work on the prepaid card proposed rule to address “a hole in the fabric” of consumer protection. He said the rule likely will address disclosures and add new protections. On overdraft, he acknowledged the CFPB is not as far along—the agency is still studying the market.
Payday & Internet Lending
Rep. Luetkemeyer (R-MO) stated the FDIC and DOJ have admitted to working to shut down online lending. He confirmed that the Oversight Committee is considering investigating DOJ on Operation Choke Point (its payment processor investigations). He asked Director Cordray to support, perhaps with a letter of some sort, legitimate online lending businesses and processors. Mr. Cordray agreed that there is plenty of appropriate online lending, but declined to offer specific help absent further context.
Rep. Murphy (D-FL) later suggested that the CFPB look at the “good regulation and great enforcement” in Florida. Director Cordray responded that the CFPB is looking at “a number of states that have developed different provisions on short-term, small-dollar payday lending” including Florida, Colorado, and Washington.
Rep. Heck (D-WA) inquired as to the status of proposed Military Lending Act regulations. Director Cordray explained that the CFPB has been “actively engaged” on writing new rules with the Department of Defense, the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, the OCC, Treasury Department, and the FTC. It stated that it has been difficult to get multiple agencies to work together, and asked Congress to “keep our feet to the fire and make it clear that you want to see that quickly.”
Mobile Payments & Emerging Products/Providers
Rep. Ellison (D-MN) asked about the CFPB’s views on emerging financial service providers, citing recent reports about T-Mobile’s efforts. Mr. Cordray stated that the CFPB is watching very closely and trying to keep up with the rapidly changing products and markets. He stated that it will present challenges to the current regulatory structure, particularly when phone companies are involved, and that the CFPB will need to coordinate with other regulators and probably will need legislation from Congress. Rep. Heck asked the CFPB to conduct a front-end in-depth analysis of consumer protection issues across various emerging mobile payments platforms. Mr. Cordray did not commit.
Rep. Peters (D-MI) raised his FAIR Student Credit Act bill, HR 2561. The bill, which is co-sponsored by Reps. Bachus (R-AL), Capito (R-WV), and seven other Republicans and 11 Democrats, would amend FCRA with respect to the responsibilities of furnishers of information to consumer reporting agencies. It would provide for the removal of a previously reported default regarding a qualified education loan from a consumer report if the consumer of the loan meets the requirements of a loan rehabilitation program, where the number of consecutive on-time monthly payments are equal to the number of payments specified in a default reduction program under the Higher Education Act of 1965. The bill would limit such rehabilitation benefits to once per loan. Rep. Peters indicated the Committee will consider the legislation, and that he has met with lenders who stated they could start offering rehabilitation immediately after the bill is enacted. Director Cordray stated that without having read the bill, it sounded promising, and that he would ask Rohit Chopra to work with the Congressman.
On January 24, New York Attorney General (AG) Eric Schneiderman announced the resolution of a lawsuit filed in August 2013 against Native American tribe-affiliated payday lending firms and their owners for allegedly violating the state’s usury and licensed lender laws in connection with their issuing of personal loans over the Internet. The AG claims that the companies charged New York consumers annual interest rates on payday loans far in excess of the 16% rate cap set by state law. According to the announcement, the defendants agreed to modify the terms of all outstanding loans made to New York borrowers and to not collect interest on outstanding loans. The defendants also must provide refunds to borrowers who have paid back more than the principal of their loan plus the state-capped interest rate of 16%, and pay $1.5 million in penalties. The companies also must become licensed in New York before offering new loans in the state.
California Appellate Court Holds State Regulators Lack Authority To Regulate Tribe-Affiliated Lenders
On January 21, the California Court of Appeal, Second District, held that short-term, small-dollar credit businesses owned by certain federally recognized Indian tribes are sufficiently related to their respective tribes to be protected under the doctrine of tribal immunity from state regulation. California v. Miami Nation Enterprises, No. B242644, 2014 WL 212220 (Cal. Ct. App. Jan. 21, 2014). The court affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of a civil action filed by the Commissioner of the California Department of Corporations seeking to enforce an order directing five tribe-affiliated lenders to cease providing payday loans over the Internet to California residents allegedly in violation of several provisions of the California Deferred Deposit Transaction Law. The two tribes had entered into management agreements with a non-tribal payday marketing company to direct and operate their lending activities. The court rejected the Commissioner’s argument that tribal immunity does not apply because under those agreements the day-to-day operations of the businesses have been effectively delegated to a nontribal entity, and that the tribes do not participate in the net income from the businesses, receiving instead only a “modest percentage” of the gross revenues. The court held that a business functions as an arm of the tribe if it (i) has been formed by tribal resolution and according to tribal law, for the purpose of tribal economic development and with the clearly expressed intent by the sovereign tribe to convey its immunity to that entity; and (ii) has a governing structure both appointed by and ultimately overseen by the tribe. The court added that “[n]either third-party management of day-to-day operations nor retention of only a minimal percentage of the profits from the enterprise (however that may be defined) justifies judicial negation of that inherent element of tribal sovereignty.”
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “How the new administration sets the tone for 2021” at the American Conference Institute Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Fintech & Emerging Payment Systems
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP in consumer finance at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "LO comp challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable