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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • CFPB revising its rulemaking approach

    Federal Issues

    On June 17, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra announced in a blog post that the agency plans to move away from overly complicated and tailored rules. “Complexity creates unintended loopholes, but it also gives companies the ability to claim there is a loophole with creative lawyering,” Chopra said. The Bureau’s plan to implement simple, durable bright-line guidance and rules will better communicate the agency’s expectations and will provide numerous other benefits, he added.

    With regards to traditional rulemaking, the Bureau outlined several priorities, which include focusing on implementing longstanding Congressional directives related to consumer access to financial records, increased transparency in the small business lending marketplace, and quality control standards for automated valuation models under Sections 1033, 1071, and 1473(q) of the Dodd-Frank Act. Additionally, the Bureau stated it will assess whether it should use Congressional authority to register certain nonbank financial companies to identify potential violators of federal consumer financial laws.

    Chopra also announced that the Bureau is reviewing a “host of rules” that it inherited from other agencies such as the FTC and the Federal Reserve. “Many of these rules have now been tested in the marketplace for many years and are in need of a fresh look,” Chopra said. Specifically, the Bureau will (i) review rules originated by the Fed under the 2009 Credit CARD Act (including areas related to “enforcement immunity and inflation provisions when imposing penalties on customers”); (ii) review rules inherited from the FTC for implementing the FCRA to identify possible enhancements and changes in business practices; and (iii) review its own Qualified Mortgage Rules to assess aspects of the “seasoning provisions” (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) and explore ways “to spur streamlined modification and refinancing in the mortgage market.”

    The Bureau noted that it also plans to increase its interpretation of existing laws through its Advisory Opinion program and will continue to issue Consumer Financial Protection Circulars to provide additional clarity and encourage consistent enforcement of consumer financial laws among government agencies (covered by InfoBytes here and here).

    Federal Issues Bank Regulatory CFPB Consumer Finance FTC Federal Reserve Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CARD Act Consumer Reporting Agency Qualified Mortgage Dodd-Frank Nonbank FCRA AVMs Mortgages Credit Cards

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  • CFPB examining impact of overdraft programs

    Federal Issues

    On June 16, the CFPB published a blog post outlining recent efforts taken by the agency to collect key metrics concerning the consumer impact of certain supervised institutions’ overdraft and non-sufficient fund (NSF) practices. The Bureau asked more than 20 institutions to provide data on several “consumer-impact metrics,” including: (i) the “[t]otal annual dollar amount consumers receive in overdraft coverage compared to the amount of fees charged”; (ii) the annual amount of overdraft fees charged for each active checking account; (iii) the annual amount of NSF fees charged per active checking account; (iv) “the share of active checking accounts with more than 6 and more than 12 overdraft and/or NSF fees per year”; and (v) the “[s]hare of active checking accounts that are opted into overdraft programs for ATM and one-time debit transactions.” The Bureau stated that it plans to “use this information for further examination and review” and to provide feedback to each institution. The Bureau also plans to “share this information with other regulators,” but will not make the supervisory information public. Additionally, the Bureau noted that while it is “encouraged that some banks and credit unions are competing for consumers’ business by changing their overdraft and NSF programs,” many banks still need to improve their practices.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Overdraft NSF Fees Supervision

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  • FFIEC releases 2021 HMDA data

    Federal Issues

    On June 16, the Federal Financial Institutions Examinations Council (FFIEC) released the 2021 HMDA data on mortgage lending transactions at 4,338 covered institutions (a decline from the 4,475 reporting institutions in 2020). Available data products include: (i) the Snapshot National Loan-Level Dataset, which contains national HMDA datasets as of May 1, 2022; (ii) the HMDA Dynamic National Loan-Level Dataset, which is updated on a weekly basis to reflect late submissions and resubmissions; (iii) the Aggregate and Disclosure Reports, which provide summaries on individual institutions and geographies; (vi) the HMDA Data Browser where users can customize tables and download datasets for further analysis; and (v) the Modified Loan/Application Register for filers of 2021 HMDA data.

    The 2021 data includes information on 23.3 million home loan applications, of which 21.1 million were closed-end and 1.8 million were open-end. The Snapshot revealed that an additional 350,000 records were from financial institutions making use of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act’s partial exemptions that did not designate whether the records were closed-end or open-end. Observations from the data relative to the prior year include: (i) the percentage of mortgages originated by non-depository, independent mortgage companies increased, accounting for “63.9 percent of first lien, one- to four-family, site-built, owner-occupied home-purchase loans, up from 60.7 percent in 2020”; (ii) the percentage of closed-end home purchase loans for first lien, one- to four-family, site-built, owner-occupied properties made to Black or African American borrowers increased from 7.3 percent in 2020 to 7.9 percent in 2021, while the share of these loans made to Hispanic-White borrowers increased slightly from 9.1 percent to 9.2 percent and the share made to Asian borrowers jumped from 5.5 percent to 7.1 percent; and (iii) “Black or African American and Hispanic-White applicants experienced denial rates for first lien, one- to four-family, site-built, owner-occupied conventional, closed-end home purchase loans of 15.7 percent and 9.8 percent respectively, while the denial rates for Asian and non-Hispanic-White applicants were 7.5 percent and 5.6 percent respectively.”

    Federal Issues Bank Regulatory CFPB Mortgages HMDA Consumer Finance FFIEC EGRRCPA

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  • 11th Circuit says “Custodian” is a signatory and account owner; must arbitrate claims

    Courts

    On June 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that an individual claiming to have acted as a custodian of an account and not in her personal capacity must arbitrate claims brought against a national bank (defendant). The plaintiff and her mother co-owned an investment account that was eventually transferred to the defendant. The plaintiff’s mother notified the bank that the plaintiff would remain co-owner of the account and signed a brokerage account application containing an arbitration clause. Several years later, after the plaintiff noticed that numerous withdrawals were being made from the account by another family member, she obtained legal guardianship of her mother and applied for another brokerage account in order to move the funds to a new account she could access and oversee. The application included a brokerage agreement (which listed her mother as the account owner and was signed by the plaintiff as a joint account owner/custodian and as the primary applicant). The agreement contained a clause requiring arbitration of “[a]ll controversies that may arise between you, us and [the broker] concerning any subject matter, issue or circumstance whatsoever (including, but not limited to, controversies concerning any Account, order or transaction, or the continuation, performance, interpretation or breach of this or any other agreement between you, us and [the broker], whether entered into or arising before, on or after the date this Account is opened).”

    The plaintiff eventually sued the bank alleging theft, aiding and abetting theft and fraud, and negligence, among other claims. The plaintiff contended that she was not bound by the arbitration agreement because she signed the agreement “not in her personal capacity, but as her mother’s guardian,” and that there is no arbitrable issue because her personal claims did not arise from the agreement. The district court granted the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration after determining the plaintiff had not alleged that the defendant fraudulently obtained her signature.

    On appeal, the 11th Circuit interpreted the word “you” in the arbitration clause as referring to the plaintiff “as the person who applied for the account and signed the application.” In determining that the plaintiff is a signatory to the defendant’s agreement, the appellate court concluded that the plaintiff “has not alleged that her signature was nonvoluntary or otherwise fraudulently obtained[,]” and thus is bound by the arbitration clause. Moreover, the 11th Circuit rejected the plaintiff’s argument that her claims are not covered by the arbitration clause, writing that the “clause explicitly contemplates disputes arising from other issues or agreements ‘whether entered into or arising before, on or after the date this Account is opened.’”

    Courts Appellate Eleventh Circuit Arbitration Consumer Finance

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  • CFPB says BNPL needs standardized credit reporting

    Federal Issues

    On June 15, the CFPB published a blog post calling on the Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) industry to establish standardized codes and formats for furnishing information to credit reporting agencies that take into account the unique characteristics of these short-term, no-interest consumer credit products. Citing to the rapid growth within the BNPL industry, the Bureau stressed the need for standardization in how BNPL debts are reported on consumers’ credit reports. According to the Bureau, the three major credit reporting agencies have different policies for handing positive and negative reports on BNPL transactions in consumers’ core credit files. Moving to a more standardized approach would “facilitate the consistent and accurate furnishing of BNPL payment information” the Bureau said, noting that the agency “believes that when BNPL payments are furnished it is important that lenders furnish both positive and negative data.” Consumers who pay on time and may be seeking to build credit should receive the benefits of making timely payments on their BNPL debts, the Bureau said, explaining that this may also impact lenders seeking to understand how much debt a consumer is carrying.

    The Bureau stressed it will continue to monitor the progress of BNPL lenders, credit reporting agencies, and credit scoring companies, and said it plans to “revisit this issue as part of a broader report on the industry stemming from our market monitoring order and responses to a public request for comments.” The Bureau is currently conducting an industry review, which includes a series of orders sent last December to five companies seeking information on the risks and benefits of the BNPL credit model (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Buy Now Pay Later Credit Reporting Agency Credit Scores

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  • 3rd Circuit affirms decision that creditors can collect after issuing 1099-C notice

    Courts

    On June 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a class action alleging a national bank (defendant) violated state laws in New Jersey by attempting to collect on a debt after it had issued a 1099-C notice to the plaintiff to cover the debt that was discharged. According to the opinion, the defendant obtained a judgment against the plaintiff and his wife for an unpaid debt, which the plaintiff did not satisfy. The defendant issued an IRS 1099-C form to the plaintiffs, indicating that $199,427.80 of the $244,248.49 was discharged. After issuing the 1099-C, the defendant notified the plaintiff that such filing had not caused the defendant to release the judgment and that the plaintiff needed to either pay the judgment or reach a settlement. The plaintiff sued, alleging the defendant violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and other state laws based on defendant’s issuance of a 1099-C IRS Form for cancellation of debt. The district court granted a motion to dismiss filed by the defendant, which the plaintiff appealed.

    On appeal, the plaintiff argued the creditors should not send 1099-C notices unless the debt has actually been canceled, and that sending such a notice while still intending to collect on the debt constitutes an “unlawful practice.” The 3rd Circuit disagreed, holding that the text of the governing IRS regulation, 26 C.F.R. § 1.650P-1(a)(1), indicates that “the filing of a Form 1099-C is a reporting requirement that does not depend on whether the debt has been ‘actually discharged,’ or the debtor has actually been released from his obligations on the underlying debt.” The appellate court further noted that “[t]he satisfaction of this reporting requirement, additionally, does not operate to forgive or extinguish a debtor’s obligations to repay the debt at issue.”

    Courts Appellate Third Circuit IRS Consumer Finance State Issues New Jersey

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  • NYDFS proposes check-cashing fee regulations

    State Issues

    On June 15, NYDFS issued a proposed check cashing regulation following an emergency regulation announced in February that halted annual increases on check-cashing fees and locked the current maximum fee set last February at 2.27 percent (covered by InfoBytes here). The proposed regulation establishes a new fee methodology which evaluates the needs of licensees and consumers who use check cashing services. Two tiers of fees for licensed check cashers are recommended: (i) the maximum fee that a check casher may charge for a public assistance check issued by a federal or state government agency (including checks for Social Security, unemployment, retirement, veteran’s benefits, emergency relief, housing assistance, or tax refunds) is set at 1.5 percent; and (ii) the maximum fee a check casher is permitted to charge for all other checks, drafts, or money orders is $1 or 2.2 percent, whichever is greater. NYDFS added that starting January 31, 2027 (and annually every five years thereafter), licensed check cashers may request an increase in the maximum fees established. Comments on the proposed regulation will be accepted for 60 days.

    State Issues Bank Regulatory State Regulators NYDFS Consumer Finance New York Check Cashing Fees

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  • District Court issues judgment against student debt relief operation

    Courts

    On June 10, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order against an individual defendant who participated in a deceptive debt-relief operation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2019, the Bureau, along with the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney (together, the “states”), announced an action against the student loan debt relief operation for allegedly deceiving thousands of student-loan borrowers and charging more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. In the third amended complaint, the Bureau and the states alleged that since at least 2015, the debt relief operation violated the CFPA, TSR, FDCPA, 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. In addition, the Bureau and the states claimed that the debt relief operation engaged in deceptive practices by, among other things, misrepresenting: (i) the purpose and application of fees they charged; (ii) their ability to obtain loan forgiveness for borrowers; and (iii) their ability to actually lower borrowers’ monthly payments. Moreover, the debt relief operation allegedly failed to inform borrowers that it was their practice to request that the loans be placed in forbearance and also submitted false information to student loan servicers to qualify borrowers for lower payments.

    Under the terms of the final judgment, in addition to various forms of injunctive relief, the individual defendant must pay a $1 civil money penalty to the Bureau and $5,000 each to Minnesota, North Carolina, and California. The individual defendant is also “liable, jointly and severally, in the amount of $95,057,757, for the purpose of providing redress to Affected Consumers,” although his obligation to pay this amount is “suspended based on [his] inability to pay.”

    Courts CFPB Enforcement Consumer Finance Settlement Debt Relief TSR CFPA FDCPA State Issues State Attorney General

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  • CFPB looking at relationship banking at large institutions

    Federal Issues

    On June 14, the CFPB issued a request for information (RFI) seeking public comments “related to relationship banking and how consumers can assert the right to obtain timely responses to requests for information about their accounts from banks and credit unions with more than $10 billion in assets, as well as from their affiliates.” Section 1034(c) of the CFPA gives consumers the right to access information, including supporting written documentation, in a timely manner about their accounts from these large financial institutions. The Bureau noted in its announcement that to date, the agency “has not enforced or issued additional policy guidance under this legal provision.”

    The Bureau pointed out that many large financial institutions are shifting toward algorithmic banking and moving away from relationship banking. As a result of this decline, some consumers are unable to receive customized advice, basic information, or have their problems addressed in a timely fashion, the Bureau said. The RFI seeks input on, among other things, (i) the types of information requested by consumers, how they are using this information, and what information they are unable to obtain from their banks; (ii) differences in accessing information when consumers visit in person, call, or access information online; (iii) customer service representative compensation and incentives; (iv) customer service obstacles that may adversely impact consumers’ ability to bank; (v) obstacles consumers face that adversely affect their ability to bank; (vi) unique obstacles facing immigrants, rural communities, and older consumers; (vii) call center practices; and (viii) changes in customer engagement due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

    In addition to examining consumers’ relationships with their depository institutions, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra stated that the Bureau intends to closely examine methods to improve the bank merger process to ensure mergers are meeting the convenience and needs of communities.

    Comments on the RFI are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Register CFPA

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  • 9th Circuit to rehear en banc whether tribal lenders can arbitrate RICO claims

    Courts

    On June 6, a majority of nonrecused active judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated a previously issued opinion that said tribal lenders could arbitrate Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) class action claims, saying it will rehear the case en banc. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last September the 9th Circuit panel majority concluded that “an agreement delegating to an arbitrator the gateway question of whether the underlying arbitration agreement is enforceable must be upheld unless that specific delegation provision is itself unenforceable.” The panel reviewed whether California residents who received loans from an online lender were allowed to pursue class RICO claims based on allegations that they were charged interest rates exceeding state limits from lenders claiming tribal immunity. The district court granted class certification and ruled that the entire arbitration agreement, including provisions containing a class action waiver, was unenforceable. On appeal, the panel majority cited to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, which determined, among other things, that when a party challenges an entire agreement—not just an arbitration provision—deciding “gateway” issues such as enforceability must be delegated to an arbitrator. “[W]hen there is a clear delegation provision, that question is . . . for the arbitrator to decide so long as the delegation provision itself does not eliminate parties’ rights to purse their federal remedies,” the majority wrote. The dissenting judge held, however, that the panel majority “misunderstood the effect of the choice-of-law provisions in the agreements,” arguing that the provisions curtail an arbitrator’s authority by allowing application of “only tribal law and a small and irrelevant subset of federal law,” thus preventing an arbitrator “from applying the law necessary to determine whether the delegation provisions and the arbitration agreements are valid.” He further contended that the panel majority’s decision diverged from decisions reached by several sister circuits, which “have consistently condemned the arbitration agreements embedded in tribal internet payday loan agreements, including those used by the very same lenders as in this case.”

    Courts Appellate Ninth Circuit Class Action Arbitration Interest Rate Usury RICO Consumer Finance

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