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On October 8, the CFPB released its annual report to Congress on college credit card agreements. The report was prepared pursuant to the CARD Act, which requires credit card issuers to submit to the Bureau the terms and conditions of any agreements they make with colleges, as well as certain organizations affiliated with colleges. The Bureau cited data from 2019 showing that (i) the number of college credit card agreements, as well as the number of open accounts under these agreements, “continues a general trajectory of decline,” which is anticipated to continue into 2020; (ii) payments by issuers to the educational or affiliated entities remain stable overall; and (iii) agreements with alumni associations continue to dominate the market based on most metrics. The report also highlighted a statement issued by the Bureau in March, which was intended to temporarily provide more flexibility and reduce administrative burdens on credit card issuers (covered by InfoBytes here). The complete set of credit card agreement data collected by the Bureau can be accessed here.
On September 28, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed a putative class action alleging a national bank’s subsidiaries and trustee (collectively, “defendants”) violated New York usury and banking laws by charging and receiving payments at interest rates above the state’s 16 percent limits. The defendants moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the claims are preempted by the National Bank Act (NBA) because the national bank parent company, which is located in a state that does not impose interest rate limits so long as the rate is disclosed to the borrower, owned the credit card accounts underlying the securitization, and would therefore not be subject to New York’s limitations. The court agreed with the defendants, concluding that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in Madden v. Midland Funding LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) supported the premise that the NBA preempts the usury claims. Specifically, the court noted that the case is distinguishable from Madden in that the national bank retained ownership of the credit card accounts throughout securitization and thus, “maintains a continuous relationship with the customer accounts that goes beyond its designation as originator of those accounts.” The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claim, because it was duplicative of the usury claim and therefore was also preempted. Thus, the court dismissed the action in its entirety with prejudice, noting that “any pleading amendment would be futile.”
On September 21, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York dismissed allegations against two entities affiliated with a national bank, and a trust acting as trustee of one of the entities, ruling that a plaintiff’s “state-law usury claims are expressly preempted by the [National Banking Act].” The court noted that, “[e]ven before the OCC issued its rule clarifying that interest permissible before a transfer remains permissible after the transfer, [the plaintiff’s] claims would have been preempted” because the national bank “continues to possess an ‘interest in the account.’” The plaintiff contended he was charged usurious interest rates that exceeded New York’s interest rate cap on unsecured credit card loans originated by the national bank. According to the opinion, one of the entities contracted with the bank to service the credit card loans, with the bank retaining ownership of the accounts. The plaintiff argued that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in Madden v. Midland Funding LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) supported his claims against the affiliated entities, but the court disagreed, ruling that the national bank retained interest in the loans, which included the right to “change various terms and conditions” as well as interest rates.
On September 22, the FTC and the Ohio attorney general announced several proposed stipulated final orders against a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service provider, along with an affiliated company, the VoIP service provider’s former CEO and president, and a number of other subsidiaries and individuals, to settle allegations concerning their facilitation of a credit card interest rate reduction scheme. This marks the FTC’s first consumer protection case against a VoIP service provider. According to the FTC and the AG, the VoIP service provider provided one of the defendants with the ability to place illegal robocalls in order to market “phony credit card interest rate reduction services.” Both of these defendants were controlled by the VoIP service provider’s former CEO who was also named in the lawsuit. In addition, the defendant that placed the illegal calls, along with four additional defendants, are accused of managing the overseas call centers and other components used in the credit card interest rate reduction scheme.
One of the settlements will prohibit the former CEO, along with two corporations under his control, from (i) participating in any telemarketing in the U.S.; (ii) marketing any debt relief products or services; and (iii) making misrepresentations when selling or marketing any products or services. These defendants will collectively be subject to a $7.5 million judgment, which is mostly suspended due to their inability to pay.
The settlement with the VoIP service provider and the affiliated company will require a payment of $1.95 million. The VoIP service provider and its U.S.-based subsidiaries will also be prohibited from hiring the former CEO or any of his immediate family members, as well as from hiring two of the other defendants. These defendants will also be required to follow client screening and monitoring provisions, and are prohibited from providing VoIP and related services to clients who pay with stored value cards or cryptocurrency, or to clients who do not maintain public-facing websites or a social media presence. Additionally, the defendants will be required to block calls that may appear to come from certain suspicious phone numbers, block calls that use spoofing technology, and terminate certain high-risk relationships.
The settlements (see here, here, and here) reached with the defendant that placed the illegal calls and four additional defendants include prohibitions similar to those issued against the former CEO, and will require the payment of a total combined judgment of $10.3 million, which will be largely suspended due to their inability to pay.
All settlements are subject to court approval.
On July 17, the CFPB released the final rule revising the dollar amounts for provisions implementing the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and amendments to TILA, including the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act), the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act of 1994 (HOEPA), and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’s ability-to-repay and qualified mortgage (ATR/QM) provisions. The CFPB is required to make annual adjustments to dollar amounts in certain provisions in Regulation Z, and has based the adjustments on the annual percentage change reflected in the Consumer Price Index in effect on June 1, 2020. The following thresholds will be effective on January 1, 2021:
- For open-end consumer credit plans under TILA, the threshold for disclosing an interest charge will remain unchanged at $1.00;
- For open-end consumer credit plans under the CARD Act, the adjusted dollar amount for the safe harbor for a first violation penalty fee will remain unchanged at $29, and the adjusted dollar amount for the safe harbor for a subsequent violation penalty fee will also remain unchanged at $40;
- For HOEPA loans, the adjusted total loan amount threshold for high-cost mortgages will be $22,052, and the adjusted points and fees dollar trigger for high-cost mortgages will be $1,103; and
- The maximum thresholds for total points and fees for qualified mortgages under the ATR/QM rule will be: (i) three percent of the total loan amount for loans greater than or equal to $110,260; (ii) $3,308 for loan amounts greater than or equal to $66,156 but less than $110,260; (iii) five percent of the total loan amount for loans greater than or equal to $22,052 but less than $66,156; (iv) $1,103 for loan amounts greater than or equal to $13,783 but less than $22,052; and (v) eight percent of the total loan amount for loan amounts less than $13,783.
On July 16, the CFPB released a newly updated consumer complaint bulletin analyzing complaints the Bureau has received during the Covid-19 pandemic. The bulletin analyzes complaints mentioning coronavirus-related key words (such as Covid, coronavirus, pandemic, CARES Act, and stimulus) that were received as of May 31. Complaints related to Covid-19 accounted for 8,357 of the more than 187,000 complaints the Bureau has received in 2020. Highlights of the bulletin include: (i) mortgage and credit cards are the top complaint categories for Covid-19 complaints; (ii) after the emergency declaration, the weekly average complaint volume for prepaid cards grew 105 percent, while the volume for student loans decreased by 24 percent; and (iii) 10 percent of complaints submitted by servicemembers were Covid-19 related compared to six percent of non-servicemember complaints. As previous covered by InfoBytes, in May, the Bureau issued the first complaint bulletin analyzing approximately 4,500 Covid-19-related complaints received at that time.
Additionally, the CFPB announced new capabilities for the public Consumer Complaint Database, including the ability to (i) view complaints over time to review for trends; (ii) refine visualizations based on user selected criteria; and (iii) aggregate complaints by various categories, such as issues and products.
On June 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of a retailer and a national bank (collectively, “defendants”), holding that the proposed class failed to assert their claims for implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and unjust enrichment. The class, comprised of customers who applied for private-label credit cards offered and serviced by the retailer, argued they were prompted to purchase a debt-cancellation product, which would “cancel the balance on the customer’s account up to $10,000 when a covered person experienced a qualifying involuntary unemployment, disability, hospitalization, or loss of life.” The class’s first claim—that the debt cancellation product provided “‘little or no value,” and that they did not voluntarily enroll in the product because the retailer allegedly unilaterally enrolled card holders in the product—was no longer viable after discovery showed that customers voluntarily enrolled. The class posed a second claim asserting breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, arguing, among other things, that any legal authorization they gave was to the retailer and to the original issuing bank who sold the cards to the defendant bank. However, the district court rejected this second theory and granted summary judgement in favor of the defendants, ruling that the debt cancellation product was assigned to the defendant bank and stating the class failed to show that the retailer did not honor the terms of the debt cancellation product because they received exactly what was described in their contracts. Nor were the defendants unjustly enriched “because their collection of  fees was ‘legally justified.’”
On appeal, the 3rd Circuit, among other things, reviewed and rejected a third theory presented by the class, which blamed the district court for fundamentally misinterpreting their claims and asserted that the retailer failed to notify customers that it had stopped enforcing certain terms of the debt cancellation product and implemented a new refund policy, holding that this theory was not grounds for reversal because it was not argued in court. Moreover, the appellate court agreed with the district court that the retailer stopped enforcing its rights under amendments made to the debt cancellation product, but did not change the formal terms.
On May 21, the CFPB issued a consumer complaint bulletin analyzing complaints the Bureau has received during the Covid-19 pandemic. The bulletin analyzes complaints mentioning “COVID, coronavirus, pandemic, or CARES Act” that were received as of May 11. Of the over 143,000 complaints the Bureau has received in 2020, 4,541 complaints were related to Covid-19. Highlights of the bulletin include: (i) overall, the Bureau had the highest complaint volumes in its history in March and April at 36,700 and 42,500, respectively; (ii) mortgage and credit cards are the top complaint categories for Covid-19 complaints; (iii) eight percent of complaints submitted by servicemembers were Covid-19 related compared to five percent of non-servicemembers; and (iv) after the emergency declaration, the weekly average complaint volume for prepaid cards grew 84 percent, while the volume for student loans decreased by 19 percent. Among other things, the bulletin includes breakdowns of complaint volumes by consumer financial products and examples of common issues from complaint narratives that mention a Covid-19 keyword.
On May 19, the FTC filed a complaint against a large payment processing company and its former executive for allegedly participating in deceptive or unfair acts or practices in violation of the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by processing payments and laundering, or assisting in the laundering of, credit card transactions targeting hundreds of thousands of consumers. The FTC’s complaint alleges, among other things, that the payment processing company received and ignored repeated “warnings and direct evidence” dating back to 2012 showing that the former executive was using his company to open hundreds of fake merchant accounts and shell companies, and allowed him to continue to open merchant accounts until 2014. According to the FTC, the “schemes included, but were not limited to, a debt relief scam that used deceptive telemarketing, business opportunity scams that used deceptive websites, and a criminal enterprise that used stolen credit card data to bill consumers without their consent” in which the both defendants received fees for processing the scheme’s payments. The FTC also claims that the payment processing company violated its own anti-fraud policies by failing to adequately underwrite, monitor, or review its sales agents and their risk management processes, and failed to timely terminate the merchant accounts involved in the scheme.
The payment processing company’s proposed settlement imposes a $40 million monetary judgment and prohibits the company from assisting or facilitating TSR and FTC Act violations related to payment processing. Additionally, the company will be required to (i) screen and monitor prospective restricted clients; (ii) establish and implement a written oversight program to monitor its wholesale independent sales organizations (ISO); and (iii) hire an independent assessor to monitor the company’s compliance with the settlement’s ISO oversight program.
The former executive’s proposed settlement imposes a $270,373.70 monetary judgment, and bans him from payment processing or acting as an ISO for certain categories of high-risk merchants. He is also prohibited from credit card laundering activities, making or assisting others in making false or misleading statements, and assisting or facilitating violations of the FTC Act or TSR.
Neither defendant admitted or denied the allegations, except as specifically stated within the proposed settlements.
On May 13, the CFPB released a policy statement and two FAQ documents outlining the responsibilities of financial firms during the Covid-19 pandemic. The policy statement covers Regulation Z’s billing error resolution timeframe in light of the operational disruptions faced by many merchants and small businesses, causing delays in responses to creditors’ inquiries and thus making it difficult for creditors to accurately and timely resolve consumers’ billing error notices. The statement emphasizes that the CFPB will be flexible with its supervisory and enforcement approach during the pandemic as it relates to billing error resolution set forth in §1026.13(c)(2), stating “the Bureau intends to consider the creditor’s circumstances and does not intend to cite a violation in an examination or bring an enforcement action against a creditor that takes longer than required by [Regulation Z] to resolve a billing error notice, so long as the creditor has made good faith efforts to obtain the necessary information and make a determination as quickly as possible, and complies with all other requirements pending resolution of the error.” The Bureau notes that creditors are still expected to fully comply with the other requirements of billing error disputes in Regulation Z.
The Bureau also released payment and deposit rule FAQs related to the Covid-19 pandemic, which state that financial or depository intuitions may change account terms due to the pandemic so long as they provide appropriate notice to consumers. However, if a change is favorable to the consumer, it can be implemented immediately without advance notice. Additionally, the Bureau released open-end (not home-secured) rule FAQs related to the Covid-19 pandemic, which state that creditors may change account terms in response to the pandemic but most changes will require advance notice. However, changes that may help a consumer in need—such as reducing a finance charge—do not require advance notice.
- Thomas A. Sporkin to discuss "Managing internal investigations and advanced government defense" at the Securities Enforcement Forum
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "2021 - A new beginning/what's to come" at the QuestSoft Lending Compliance & Risk Management Virtual Conference
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss "Mortgage servicing in a recession: Early intervention, loss mitigation and more" at the NAFCU Virtual Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "Independent monitoring in the United States" at the World Compliance Association Peru Chapter IV International Conference on Compliance and the Fight Against Corruption
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Cyber security, incident response, crisis management" at the Legal & Diversity Summit
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "The future of fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Pandemic fallout – Navigating practical operational challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "BSA/AML - Covid impact and regulatory/guidance roundup" at an NAFCU webinar