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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • CFPB Begins Taking Payday Loan Complaints

    Consumer Finance

    On November 6, the CFPB announced that it now will formally accept borrower complaints regarding payday loans through its online complaint portal and by phone. The CFPB’s complaint taking process launched with the Bureau in July 2011, and the CFPB began publishing complaints through its online complaint database in June 2012. The CFPB started with credit card complaints and has since expanded the complaint program and public database to cover mortgages, debt collection, credit reporting, student and other consumer loans, and other products and services.

    For purposes of complaint collection, the CFPB defines a payday loan as a “small loan, generally for $500 or less, that is typically due on [the borrower’s] next payday or the next time [the borrower] receive[s] income.” The CFPB adds that a payday loan also may be known as a “cash advance” or a “check loan.” The complaint categories offered by the CFPB include: (i) unexpected fees or interest, (ii) unauthorized or incorrect charges to a bank account, (iii) failure to credit a payment, (iv) problems contacting a lender, (v) receiving a loan not applied for, and (vi) failure to provide borrowed funds. Separately, the CFPB highlighted servicemember payday loan protections provided by the Military Lending Act and encouraged servicemembers to submit payday loan complaints.

    These announcements are the most recent from the CFPB in connection with its sustained and expanding interest in short-term, small dollar products. Indeed, as we’ve reported here in the past, federal and state authorities more generally have increased their scrutiny of companies that offer these products and affiliated parties like payment processors. For its part, earlier this year the CFPB issued a white paper on payday loans and deposit advance products, and the CFPB has repeatedly ranked high on its enforcement agenda short-term products it believes have the potential to trap consumers in a “cycle of debt.” In addition, based on the CFPB’s most recent rulemaking agenda, the CFPB may publicly begin certain rulemaking activities with regard to payday loans and deposit advance products.

    CFPB Payday Lending Enforcement Consumer Complaints Internet Lending

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  • FDIC Explains Supervisory Approach to Payment Processing Relationships

    Consumer Finance

    On September 27, the FDIC issued Financial Institution Letter FIL-43-2013, which is intended to clarify the FDIC’s policy and supervisory approach related to financial institutions that facilitate payment processing services—directly or through a third party—for merchant customers engaged in “higher-risk activities.”  The letter states that banks that perform these services for merchants engaged in activities that “tend to display a higher incidence of consumer fraud or potentially illegal activities” are expected to perform proper risk assessments, conduct due diligence to determine the merchants are operating in accordance with applicable law, and maintain systems to monitor the relationships with payment processors and merchants. Institutions that properly manage payment processing relationships and risks are not prohibited or discouraged from providing such services to businesses operating in compliance with applicable law. The FDIC intends to assess whether institutions are adequately overseeing these activities and addressing related risks. The FDIC’s statement follows concerns raised by certain banks, their representatives in Congress, and third-party payment processors about the scope of the governmental scrutiny of online lenders, payment processors, and their relationships with banks.

    FDIC Internet Lending Payment Processors

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  • Federal District Court Denies Tribal Lenders' Attempt to Block New York Internet Lending Investigation

    Consumer Finance

    On September 30, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied a motion filed by two Native American tribes and related entities seeking to enjoin the New York Department of Financial Services (NY DFS) from interfering with the tribes’ online payday lending activities. Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians v. N.Y. St. Dept. of Fin. Servs., No 13-5930, 2013 WL 5460185 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2013). In August, the NY DFS sent letters to 35 online lenders, including lenders affiliated with Native American tribes, demanding that they cease and desist offering loans to New York borrowers that allegedly violate the state’s 16% usury cap. The plaintiffs filed suit, claiming a right to market and sell short-term, high-interest loans to New York residents via the Internet and that the NY DFS’s actions violate the plaintiffs’ inherent sovereignty and the Indian Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Citing prior analysis from a Colorado appeals court and the Tenth Circuit, as well as the undisputed facts that the New York DFS’s actions are directed at activity involving New York residents in New York, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that the targeted online lending activity occurs on the tribes’ lands. The court held that the plaintiffs failed to identify an applicable “express federal law” prohibiting the state’s activity and that the tribes are subject to the state’s anti-usury laws. The court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction and ordered the parties to begin discovery.

    Payday Lending Enforcement Internet Lending

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  • CFPB Rejects Tribal Lenders' CID Challenge

    Consumer Finance

    On September 26, the CFPB denied three tribal lenders’ joint petition to set aside civil investigative demands (CIDs) issued in June 2012. The CIDs were issued in connection with the Bureau’s investigation into several lenders that offer a variety of online small-dollar credit products, including payday loans, installment loans, and lines of credit. The July 2012 petition primarily argued that the CFPB does not have jurisdiction over the three lenders, which are organized and chartered under the “sovereign authority of federally recognized Indian Tribes with longstanding traditions of tribal independence.”

    The CFPB’s decision and order rejects the lenders’ claim that the CFPB lacks authority over tribally-affiliated entities under the Consumer Financial Protection Act, stating that the Supreme Court has “long established” that generally-applicable federal statutes apply to Indian tribes, individual Indians, and tribally-affiliated entities. Moreover, in explaining why certain exceptions would not apply to this general rule, the Bureau noted that it “has reason to believe that the Lenders are making loans to non-Indians over the internet, and it seeks to investigate those lending practices for compliance with Federal consumer financial laws.” The decision and order likewise rejects the lenders’ claim of tribal sovereign immunity, finding that “[e]very court of appeals to address the issue has agreed that Indian tribes, like individual States, do not enjoy immunity from suits by the federal government.”

    The lenders’ petition also raised procedural challenges, argued that the requests were vague, overly broad, and unduly burdensome, and sought to incorporate by reference arguments from another entity’s motion to set aside a separate CID. The CFPB rejected all arguments as lacking merit and further announced that it will not consider incorporated arguments going forward. While directing the three tribal lenders to comply with the CIDs within 21 calendar days, the Bureau also noted that the tribal lenders were welcome to continue to discuss issues regarding the scope and burden of individual interrogatories and document requests with the Bureau’s enforcement team.

    In an article published earlier this year, BuckleySandler attorney Amanda Raines analyze the reasoning behind previous decisions to deny such petitions and identify issues that companies must be cognizant of while navigating the investigation and petitioning phases.

    CFPB Payday Lending Enforcement Investigations Internet Lending

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  • FDIC Promises Guidance on Bank Payment Processing


    On September 17, FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg responded to a letter sent recently by Republican members of the House of Representatives, in which the members objected to the agency’s approach toward online lending and the banks that process payments on behalf of online lenders. In his response letter, Chairman Gruenberg explains the FDIC’s approach to the issue, describes the challenges for banks who do business with online lenders and third party payment processors, and promises “ a Financial Institution Letter . . . to make it clear that the FDIC's focus is the proper management of the banks' relationships with their customers, particularly those engaged in higher risk activities, and not underlying activities that are permissible under state and federal law.”

    FDIC Payday Lending Internet Lending Payment Processors

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  • FTC Files Amicus Brief in Tribal Payday Lending Case

    Consumer Finance

    On September 26, the FTC announced that it had filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in a class action suit against a Native American payday lender. In that case, the putative class is challenging a payday lender’s practice of requiring borrowers to submit to arbitration at a Native American reservation in South Dakota. The FTC notes that it is pursuing its own action against the same lender, challenging its jurisdiction over borrowers who do not belong to the tribe and who do not reside on the reservation or in South Dakota. In its Seventh Circuit filing, the FTC argues that Native American tribes and tribal courts have legal authority over their own members and not over non-members, unless non-members conduct activities inside the reservation or enter into a commercial relationship with the tribe or a member of the tribe. The FTC claims that borrowers who take out payday loans from these companies via the Internet do not conduct business on the reservation and should not be subject to arbitration there.

    FTC Payday Lending Arbitration Internet Lending

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  • Alabama Establishes Payday Loan Database

    Consumer Finance

    On September 18, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley announced new State Banking Department regulations that will create a state database of payday loans made to borrowers. Under the Alabama Deferred Presentment Services Act (DPSA), payday lenders are prohibited from making loans to borrowers with more than $500 in outstanding payday loan debt. According to the announcement, the Governor believes that the database is needed to enforce this restriction because lenders and borrowers can easily exceed the $500 limit by obtaining loans from multiple lenders. The regulations also implement other aspects of the DPSA, including a payday lender licensing regime. The database is expected to be operational by January 2014. Following the Governor’s announcement, a group of payday lenders reportedly filed suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court to prevent the state from implementing the database provisions. According to reports, the lenders argue that (i) the Banking Department is trying to create the database by regulation after it failed to obtain legislative authority to do so, (ii) the database is discriminatory because it does not apply to other lenders, such as banks and online lenders, and (iii) the state is unlawfully imposing a tax by charging payday lenders a fee to access the database.

    Payday Lending Internet Lending

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  • Director Cordray's Statements Offer Insight Into CFPB Activities

    Consumer Finance

    During a September 12 House Financial Services Committee hearing and in a recent interview published in the Washington Post, CFPB Director Richard Cordray made a number of statements that shed light on a wide range of topics related to the agency’s thinking and priorities. As discussed in more detail below, Director Cordray and House committee members touched on, among other things, the status of the CFPB’s small business lending data and HMDA rules, efforts to implement the CFPB’s mortgage rules (in particular the QM rule), small-dollar lending, and the CFPB’s collection and use of consumer information.

    In addition, in his interview with the Washington Post, Director Cordray confirmed that the CFPB will be writing rules that apply the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) to prepaid cards and govern debt collection practices. He also promised additional enforcement actions against debt collectors and “activity” on payday lending.

    Highlights from House Hearing:

    • Mortgage Rule/QM Implementation and Impact: A number of committee members from both sides of the aisle raised concerns about the impact of the CFPB’s mortgage rules, particularly its ATR/QM rule. Members are concerned with the complexity and regulatory burden of the rules, and that the ATR/QM rule is drawn too narrowly and will limit credit availability. The concerns of community bankers were again front and center—members stated that the rules unnecessarily burden community bankers and limit their ability to make loans, which may, in turn, force them to exit the mortgage market. Mr. Cordray described the various changes to the ATR/QM rule designed to accommodate community banks, reviewed the CFPB’s implementation process and resources, and pledged to continue to work to inform bankers of those accommodations and resources. More broadly, however, he stated that most institutions have told the CFPB that they will be in substantial compliance when the rules take effect in January 2014 and he did not indicate any intention to delay the effective dates of any of the mortgage rules.

      Rep. Huizenga (R-MI) focused on the ATR/QM rules’ inclusion of affiliate charges in the 3% points and fees cap and asked if the CFPB would support changing it. Director Cordray stated that the CFPB is “happy to think further” about the issue and can provide “technical assistance,” but that the rule reflects congressional intent and any substantive change would require legislation. He also acknowledged discussions with the Representative’s staff about whether title insurance should be treated differently because it is regulated.

    • Cumulative Regulatory Burden: Several members raised a broader concern about the cumulative burden of regulations on financial institutions. Rep. Capito (R-WV) asked specifically about the CFPB’s regulations streamlining initiative and for evidence that it actually is moving forward. Mr. Cordray cited the CFPB’s work to eliminate an ATM notice requirement, which was removed by legislation before the CFPB finalized its effort, and explained that the CFPB now is focused on limiting burdens related to Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act privacy notices. He did not identify any other specific efforts to eliminate regulatory burden, but stated generally that the CFPB attempts to address duplicative and unnecessarily burdensome provisions in all of its rulemakings.
    • TILA/RESPA Integration Rule: Two members – Reps. Miller (R-CA) and Perlmutter (D-CO) – asked about an aspect of the CFPB’s proposed TILA-RESPA integrated disclosure that would identify title insurance as “optional.” The members expressed concern that identifying it as such would not serve consumers. Mr. Cordray was not familiar with the issue, but pledged to revisit it. He also confirmed, as expected, that the final TILA-RESPA rule will be published this fall. (The CFPB’s recent rulemaking agenda stated more specifically October 2013.) Mr. Cordray promised an adequate implementation period.
    • Small Business Lending and HMDA Rules: Rep. Velasquez (D-NY), who also serves as ranking member of the Small Business Committee, asked about the status of a rule to implement Dodd-Frank Act amendments to ECOA that require financial institutions to report information concerning credit applications made by women- or minority-owned businesses and small businesses. Mr. Cordray stated that the Bureau understands the importance of this data but was proceeding carefully because the rulemaking is outside the Bureau’s “comfort zone,” which is addressing consumer issues. In particular, he noted the Bureau was seeking to work with agencies that are more knowledgeable in this area, such as the Small Business Administration. However, he added that the CFPB internally has begun developing a rulemaking to implement changes to HMDA data collection. He explained that the CFPB expects that the HMDA rulemaking will inform its small business lending rule effort, and may overlap in parts.
    • Small Dollar or “Payday” Lending: Small-dollar lending, particularly through the Internet, remains an active topic for both Congress and the CFPB. Several members raised a general concern with the growth of online lending and potential consumer protection challenges, while others accused the CFPB and other federal authorities of attempting to eliminate the practice altogether. Director Cordray recited the supervision and enforcement challenges associated with online lending and stated that it is a “subject of some considerable scrutiny right now, by [the CFPB] and by others.” He declined to comment more specifically on the CFPB’s involvement in reported efforts by the DOJ, the FDIC, and state authorities with regard to online lenders and the banks that process payments for them. Mr. Cordray later added that the CFPB considers the challenges of “offshore” lending to differ from those presented by Native American lenders. While both are difficult for state authorities to address, the CFPB does not consider tribal lenders to be “offshore” and believes that it is well established in federal law that the federal government can regulate tribal businesses and activities affiliated with tribes.

      Rep. Luetkemeyer (R-MO) mentioned a bill he first introduced last year to address some of these issues by creating a national charter for qualified non-depository creditors. Mr. Cordray responded that he did not have a position on the proposal at this time. Last year, the proposal met opposition from the OCC, state attorneys general, and state bank regulators.

      In response to Rep. Meeks (D-NY), who expressed concern about borrowers who need access to small dollar loans, Mr. Cordray stated that he believes financial institutions could make small dollar loans cheaply.

    • Supervision and Enforcement: Rep. Neugebauer (R-TX) and others inquired about the CFPB’s examination and enforcement programs. Mr. Neugebauer asked about the CFPB’s application of the “abusive” prong in the Dodd-Frank Act “UDAAP” standard and about the scope of the CFPB’s information requests. With regard to “abusive practices,” Director Cordray stated that examiners are looking only at practices that meet the statutory definition. He explained that he has difficulty with the abusive standard, and that, in his view, something that is abusive is likely also unfair and deceptive. He promised that the CFPB will “tread carefully” and will not be “wild and overly aggressive” in its application of the abusive standard. With regard to information requests, Mr. Cordray agreed that the CFPB’s practice should be to only sample data and information in connection with exams, but added that in enforcement situations the CFPB may need much more data. Some members also criticized the salaries paid to CFPB staff, while others complained about the lack of experience of some examiners.
    • CFPB Data Collection: Numerous members assailed Mr. Cordray with regard to the CFPB’s collection and use of consumer information, and the CFPB’s alleged failure to respond to information requests submitted by Republican members. Mr. Cordray asserted that the CFPB’s data collection and use is legal and necessary. He objected to the characterization that the CFPB has delayed its response to the committee, and indicated that he will be back to testify on this topic in the coming weeks.

    Excerpts from Washington Post Interview:

    (For the original Washington Post interview, please click here.)

    • Debt Collection:  “We will be undertaking rulemaking in the debt-collection area. The work on that will get started later this fall. Debt collection is an area that is in need of revision and updating. It’s a very problematic area, one of the most complained-about areas by the public. It’s only gotten worse in the wake of the financial meltdown because so many people owe debt. An estimated 30 million Americans have a debt collector chasing after them now, so it’s a very salient issue now for the public. The Fair Debt Collection Act was passed in 1977, and there were never any provisions for rules to be written under it, so it hasn’t kept pace with the times. It’s now 35 years old, and there is room for us to update the act to take account of various court decisions, changes in the industry, changes among the consumer public to improve coverage so people are protected and treated fairly. That’s an important area for us and an area where we’ve already had some activity moving toward rulemaking. We’re also examining debt collectors. We’ve done some enforcement actions involving debt collection, and there will be more. We’ve put out a bulletin on first-party debt collectors, making clear that they’re also covered under existing law. And we’re starting to provide some tools for consumers to use, such as the template letters they can use to try and avoid undue harassment and abuse from debt collectors.”
    • Small Dollar or “Payday” Lending:  “We put out the white paper on payday lending and the deposit advance products in late spring. That is leading us toward policy work in the area. There is some follow-up research work we’re doing that has been underway since the first paper came out. But there will be activity in this area in the near future. The issue coming out recently of online payday lenders who are relying on financial banks to be the mechanism for financing and collecting the money really has been interesting. Frankly, the work in that area involves coordination with both federal regulators and state officials, and it can even be international, with some online lenders originating from outside of the United States now. It’s an area where we’ve been building partnerships as well as thinking about the policy work that we need to do, and we’re making progress.” (See our prior post on the CFPB payday lending white paper.)
    • Prepaid Cards:  “The fact that prepaid cards are not covered by ­consumer-protection laws at the moment is a compelling need for us to write regulations to get them covered. We’re moving forward to write rules to make sure they are protected under [the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA)]. It’s a real front-burner issue for us.” (Note that on September 12, the CFPB also issued a bulletin on the application of EFTA to payroll cards.)
    • Ability-to-Pay Requirements for Non-Mortgage Products:  “It’s something that we are thinking about. Some of the most interesting issues for me have been the ones where we start to see some of the same philosophical issues extending across different markets, but potentially in different ways. So ability to pay in the mortgage market is arguable at its zenith because it’s a huge dollar transaction. You can justify more demands on the lenders and the borrower to make sure that transaction works. In the credit card context, under the [Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009], there is an ability-to-repay provision in there. But it operates in a somewhat different way for credit cards than it should for mortgages. They’re different kinds of transactions, different size, different scope. You can get in and out of credit cards in a hurry. Not so easy to get in and out of mortgages. How it applies to smaller-dollar lending is a further differentiation. It’s something that we’re having to think about. The general principle, though, of ability to repay as the basis for making loans is just common sense. The lender should care about whether the borrower can repay because they’re the ones lending the money. They’re the ones at risk. The market is no longer so straightforward. With mortgages, for example, the ability to repay was arguably lost if you could sell into the secondary market. There are a number of consumer groups that have been pushing [the ability-to-repay model] as a broad principle across markets. There is quite a bit to what they’re saying. How it would apply from one market to another is worth further analysis, and that’s something we’re engaged in analyzing.”
    • Supervision:  “We have to institute our supervision program for financial institutions that are used to being regulated, but not necessarily used to being regulated with a focus on consumer protection. It’s an adjustment for them. But in the non-bank sphere, they’re often not used to being regulated at all, or only on the state level. In that area, there has been a real shift toward more of a compliance mentality. And our being on the scene and doing this work has caused that shift.”
    • Safety and Soundness:  “It’s the right perspective that an institution needs to merge the short-term and long-term thinking about its business model. It’s not a long-term business model to take advantage of your consumers in ways that are not sustainable. That’s what brings safety and soundness regulation and consumer protection regulation back together and really makes them harmonious."

    CFPB Payday Lending Mortgage Origination Internet Lending

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  • Tribes Seek to Halt New York Internet Lending Investigation; Meet with DOJ on Parallel Investigation

    Consumer Finance

    On August 21, two Native American tribes and related entities announced a lawsuit against the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) in response to its recent effort to halt the offering of online payday loans to New York borrowers. On August 6, the DFS, among other related actions, sent letters to 35 online lenders, including lenders affiliated with Native American tribes, demanding that they cease and desist offering allegedly illegal payday loans to New York borrowers. The tribes argue that the DFS actions are “intimidation tactics” that will deny the tribes’ rights as sovereign entities and will result in irreparable injury to the tribes absent injunctive relief. The tribes claim that the investigation already has led to “significant harm” to tribes’ business relationships, which impacts the funding of tribal government operations. The suing tribes also met with the DOJ on August 21 regarding its Internet lending enforcement activities. The tribes sent a follow up letter quoting DOJ officials who reportedly stated they are concerned only with financial fraud, and that the DOJ’s actions are not aimed at tribal short-term lending businesses. The letter also indicates that tribal governments will join the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force’s Consumer Protection Working Group.

    DOJ Internet Lending

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  • August Beach Read Series: Increasing Scrutiny of Short-Term, Small-Dollar Credit Products

    Consumer Finance

    The interest of regulators and enforcement authorities in short-term, small-dollar credit products - including payday loans, advance deposit products, installment loans, and more – has intensified in 2013. State and federal authorities have taken numerous actions to enforce existing law and to develop new rules for these products.

    Earlier this year we reported on the DOJ’s prioritization of this area of consumer finance, and we have since reported on many other state and federal developments, including those related to state enforcement of licensing and usury laws against online lenders, federal regulators' scrutiny of advance deposit products and payday loans, congressional interest in small dollar loans (here and here), and the Department of Defense’s potential expansion of the Military Lending Act.

    With regard to this last issue, BuckleySandler Partner Valerie Hletko recently examined the DOD’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking related to installment loans used by members of the armed forces and their families. The authors point out that the DOD’s interest in installment loans is emblematic of the scrutiny of short-term, small-dollar credit products, which appear to be increasingly vexing to regulators who recognize widespread demand for them but are concerned that such products may create a high-cost borrowing cycle.

    In a 2012 article Partners John Kromer and Valerie Hletko previewed the CFPB’s interest in these products and identified some best practices for short-term, small-dollar lenders.

    CFPB Payday Lending DOJ Military Lending Act Internet Lending Deposit Advance Online Lending

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