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DFPI clarifies licensing provisions for several state laws
The California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) recently filed a notice of proposed rulemaking with the Office of Administrative Law, seeking to add several sections to Title 10, Chapter 3 of the California Code of Regulations relating to the California Consumer Financial Protection Law (CCFPL), the California Financing Law (CFL), the California Deferred Deposit Transaction Law (CDDTL), and the California Student Loan Servicing Act (SLSA). (See also DFPI initial state of reasons here.) Among other things, the proposed regulations provide specific registration requirements for covered persons under the CCFPL and outline requirements for exemption from registration under the CCFPL for licensees under the CFL, CDDTL, and SLSA.
According to DFPI’s notice, the CCFPL grants the Department authority to require covered persons engaged in the business of offering and providing a consumer financial product or service to be registered but does not specify requirements for registration. The proposed regulations clarify these requirements, which include establishing an application process, outlining fees, and specifying persons and conditions for exemption. The proposed regulations also establish annual reporting requirements for filing reports with DFPI. The Department explained that “[e]xisting law exempts from CCFPL registration certain licensees who provide consumer financial products or services ‘within the scope of’ their licenses issued under other Department laws.” The proposed regulations clarify the meaning of “within the scope of” and specify that licensees under the CFL and the CDDTL are exempt from registering under the CCFPL. “[E]xempt licensees who provide products or services that would otherwise be subject to registration under the CCFPL [are required] to submit supplemental information on these activities in their annual reports required under their license,” DFPI explained.
With respect to the SLSA, DFPI noted that “[a]lthough an SLSA license does not confer upon a licensee the authority to originate financing within the scope of their license, the regulations exempt SLSA licensees from registration requirements for education financing when they meet specified requirements.”
The proposed regulations also clarify the applicability of the CFL to certain activities, by, among other things, providing that “an advance of funds to be repaid from a consumer’s future earned or unearned pay is a loan subject to the CFL” and that “providers of income-based advances and education financing who are registered under the CCFPL and whose charges do not exceed the charges permitted under the CFL” are exempt from licensure under the CFL. The proposed regulations also clarify provisions relating to collecting loan payments, monthly subscription fees, and loan contracts.
Comments on the proposed regulations are due May 2.
DFPI issues more proposed changes to Student Loan Servicing Act
On March 6, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued a notice of second modifications to proposed regulations under the Student Loan Servicing Act (Act), which provides for the licensure, regulation, and oversight of student loan servicers by DFPI (covered by InfoBytes here). Last September, DFPI issued proposed rules to clarify, among other things, that income share agreements (ISAs) and installment contracts, which use terminology and documentation distinct from traditional loans, serve the same purpose as traditional loans (i.e., “help pay the cost of a student’s higher education”), and are therefore student loans subject to the Act. As such, servicers of these products must be licensed and comply with all applicable laws, DFPI said. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In January, DFPI issued modified proposed regulations, outlining additional changes to definitions, time zone requirements, borrower protections, and examinations, books, and records requirements. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
Following its consideration of public comments on the modified proposed regulations, DFPI is proposing the following additional changes:
- Amendments to definitions. Among other changes, the proposed changes amend “education financing products” to include private student loans which are not traditional loans. This change reverts the definition back to the word used in the original proposed rules. DFPI explained that this change “is necessary because the term ‘private student loan’ is defined later in the rules . . . but the term ‘private education loan’ is not separately defined.” The proposed changes also clarify “that the payment cap, which is the maximum amount payable under an income share agreement, may be expressed as an APR or an amount or a multiple of the amount advanced, covered, credited, deferred, or funded, excluding charges related to default.” Additionally, the changes revise the definition of “qualifying payment” to explain that “qualifying payments count toward maximum payments and the payment cap but not also the payment term.”
- Borrower protections. The first round of changes revised the time zone in which a payment must be received to be considered on-time to Pacific Time, in order to protect California borrowers. However, in further modifying the timing requirement, DFPI explained in its notice that “[r]equiring cut off times different than those posted on the servicer’s website just for California borrowers would deviate from standard current practices, would require system changes and enhancements that would be very expensive to implement and could cause confusion and operational risk to both servicers and borrowers. Limiting the exception to only those situations where the servicer has not posted the cut off time aligns with servicers’ operational capabilities and national banking standards.”
- Qualified written requests. The proposed changes clarify requirements for sending acknowledgments of receipt and responses to qualified written requests.
The second modifications also clarify provisions related to education financing servicing report requirements, and provide that upon notice, a student loan servicer must make available for inspection its books, records, and accounts at a licensed location designated by the DFPI or electronically.
Comments on the second modifications are due March 23.
DFPI settles with student loan debt relief company
On February 28, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) announced a settlement with an unlicensed student debt relief company and its owner. The announcement is part of the DFPI’s continued crackdown on student loan debt relief companies found to have violated the California Consumer Financial Protection Law (CCFPL), the Student Loan Servicing Act (SLSA), and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). According to the settlement, a DFPI inquiry into the company’s practices found that since at least 2018, the company placed unsolicited phone calls to consumers advertising its student loan forgiveness and modification services. The company allegedly gave borrowers the impression that it was a part of, or affiliated with, an official government agency, and would act “as an intermediary between borrowers and the borrowers’ lenders or loan servicers with the goal of helping those consumers lower or eliminate their student loan debts.” The DFPI found that since 2018 at least 790 California consumers enrolled in the company’s debt relief program, whereby the company collected at least $713,000 through up-front servicing fees ranging from $116 to $2,449 from California consumers. By allegedly engaging in unlicensed student loan servicing activities, engaging in unlawful, unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices with respect to consumer financial products or services, and by charging advance fees for debt relief services, the DFPI claimed the company violated the SLSA, CCFPL, and TSR.
Under the terms of the consent order, the company and owner must desist and refrain from engaging in the alleged conduct, rescind all debt relief, debt management, or debt consulting service agreements, and issue refunds to California consumers. The owner is also ordered to “desist and refrain from owning, managing, operating, or controlling any entity that services student loans, or which offers or provides any consumer financial products or services as defined by the CCFPL, unless and until he or the entity has the applicable approvals from the DFPI and is in compliance with the SLSA, CCFPL, TSR, and the Federal Trade Commission Act.”
DFPI modifies Student Loan Servicing Act proposal
On January 6, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation issued modified proposed regulations under the Student Loan Servicing Act (Act), which provides for the licensure, regulation, and oversight of student loan servicers by DFPI (covered by InfoBytes here). Last September, DFPI issued proposed rules to clarify, among other things, that income share agreements (ISAs) and installment contracts, which use terminology and documentation distinct from traditional loans, serve the same purpose as traditional loans (i.e., “help pay the cost of a student’s higher education”), and are therefore student loans subject to the Act. As such, servicers of these products must be licensed and comply with all applicable laws, DFPI said. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The initial proposed rules also (i) defined the term “education financing products” (which now fall under the purview of the Act) along with other related terms; (ii) amended various license application requirements, including financial requirements for startup applicants; (iii) outlined provisions related to non-licensee filing requirements (e.g., requirements for servicers that do not require a license but that are subject to the Student Loans: Borrower Rights Law, which was enacted in 2020 (effective January 1, 2021)); (iv) specified that servicers of all education financing products must submit annual aggregate student loan servicing reports to DFPI; and (v) outlined new clarifications to the Student Loans: Borrower Rights Law to provide new requirements for student loan servicers (covered by InfoBytes here).
Following its consideration of public comments on the initial proposed rulemaking, DFPI is proposing the following changes:
- Amendments to definitions. The modified regulations revise the definition of “education financing products” by changing “private loans” to “private education loans,” which are not traditional loans. DFPI explained that changing the term to what is used in TILA will provide consistency for servicers and eliminate operational burdens. While the definition of “education financing products” also no longer includes “income share agreements and installment contracts” in order to align it with TILA, both of these terms were separately defined in the initial proposed rulemaking. The definition of “traditional student loan” has also been revised to distinguish which private student loans are traditional loans and which are education financing products (in order to help servicers determine the applicable aggregate reporting and records maintenance rules). The modifications also revise the definitions of “federal student loan,” “income,” “income share agreement,” “installment contract,” “payment cap,” “payment term,” and “qualifying payments,” remove unnecessary alternative terms for “income share,” and add “maximum payments” as a new defined term.
- Time zone requirement revisions. The modified regulations revise the time zone in which a payment must be received to be considered on-time to Pacific Time in order to protect California borrowers.
- Additional borrower protections. The modified regulations specify that servicers are required to send written acknowledgement of receipt and responses to qualified written requests via a borrower’s preferred method of communication. For borrowers who do not specify a preferred method, servicers must send acknowledgments and responses through both postal mail to the last known address and to all email addresses on record.
- Examinations, books, and records requirement updates. The modified regulations revise the information that servicers must provide in their aggregate reports for traditional student loans, including with respect to: (i) loan balance and status; (ii) cumulative balances and amounts paid; and (iii) aggregate information specific to ISAs, installment contracts, and other education financing products. Additionally, DFPI clarified that while the amount a borrower will be required to pay to an ISA provider in the future is unknown, many ISAs contain an “early completion” provision to allow a borrower to extinguish future obligations, and ISA providers must give this information to borrowers. DFPI further clarified that while servicers may choose to maintain records electronically, they must also be able to produce paper records for inspection at a DFPI-designated servicer location to allow an examination to be conducted in one place.
Comments on the modified regulations are due January 26.
DFPI proposal would consider ISAs as student loans
On September 9, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to adopt new regulations and amend current regulations implementing the Student Loan Servicing Act (Act), which provides for the licensure, regulation, and oversight of student loan servicers by DFPI (formerly the Department of Business Oversight) (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The proposed rulemaking also outlines new clarifications to the Student Loans: Borrower Rights Law, which was enacted in 2020 (effective January 1, 2021) to provide new requirements for student loan servicers (previously covered by InfoBytes here).
In its initial statement of reasons for the new regulations, DFPI noted that since the Act took effect five years ago, additional private student loan financing products have emerged, such as income share agreements and installment contracts, which use terminology and documentation distinct from traditional loans. DFPI commented that while lenders and servicers of these products have asserted that their products do not fall within the definition of a student loan and are not subject to the statute’s requirements, these education financing products serve the same purpose as traditional loans—“help pay the cost of a student’s higher education"—and are therefore student loans subject to the Act, and servicers of these products must be licensed and comply with all applicable laws. The proposed rulemaking, among other things, (i) defines the term “education financing products,” which now fall under the purview of the Act, along with other related terms; (ii) amends various license application requirements, including amended financial requirements for startup applicants; (iii) outlines provisions related to non-licensee (e.g., servicers that do not require a license but that are subject to the Student Loans: Borrower Rights Law) filing requirements; and (iv) specifies that servicers of all education financing products must submit annual aggregate student loan servicing reports to DFPI. The proposed rulemaking also removes certain unnecessary requirements based on DFPI’s experience in administering the Act to reduce the regulatory burden.
Comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking are due October 28.
- Keisha Whitehall Wolfe to discuss “Tips for successfully engaging your state regulator” at the MBA's State and Local Workshop
- Max Bonici to discuss “Enforcement risk and trends for crypto and digital assets (Part 2)” at ABA’s 2023 Business Law Section Hybrid Spring Meeting
- Jedd R. Bellman to present “An insider’s look at handling regulatory investigations” at the Maryland State Bar Association Legal Summit