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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • CFPB reports on credit card line decreases

    Federal Issues

    On June 29, the CFPB issued a report analyzing the impact of credit card line decreases (CLD) on consumers. The report is a part of a CFPB series that examines consumer credit trends using a longitudinal sample of approximately five million de-identified credit records maintained by one of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies. The report described how credit card companies increasingly used credit line decreases during both the Great Recession and at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Bureau, in issuing the report it “sought to examine the importance and impact of these decisions by credit card companies” because of the “critical role credit plays in financial resiliency, especially during a downturn.” Key findings of the report include, among other things, that: (i) 67 percent of consumers who had CLDs did not show evidence of a recent delinquency on any credit card, and 83 percent had no delinquency on the card that received the CLD; (ii) the median amount of credit decreased by approximately 75 percent for consumers across different credit score tiers; (iii) the median deep subprime, subprime, near-prime, and prime account utilization reached 94 percent when the CLD was applied; and (iv) the median credit scores for consumers with a recent card delinquency on any card decreased between 33 and 87 points.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Credit Cards Credit Report Consumer Reporting Agency

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  • CFPB to look at late fees on cards

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On June 22, the CFPB issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) soliciting information from credit card issuers, consumer groups, and the public regarding credit card late fees and late payments, and card issuers’ revenue and expenses. Under the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act) rules inherited by the CFPB from the Federal Reserve, credit card late fees must be “reasonable and proportional” to the costs incurred by the issuer as a result of a late payment. However, the rules provide for a safe harbor limit that allows banks to charge certain fees, adjusted for inflation, regardless of the costs incurred. Calling the current credit card late fees “excessive,” the Bureau stated it intends to review the “immunity provision” to understand how banks that rely on this safe harbor set their fees and to examine whether banks are escaping enforcement scrutiny “if they set fees at a particular level, even if the fees were not necessary to deter a late payment and generated excess profits.”

    In 2010, the Federal Reserve Board approved implementing regulations for the CARD Act that allowed credit card issuers to charge a maximum late fee, plus an additional fee for each late payment within the next six billing cycles (subject to an annual inflation adjustment). As the CFPB reported, the safe harbor limits are currently set at $30 and $41 respectively. The CFPB pointed out that in 2020, credit card companies charged $12 billion in late fee penalties. “Credit card late fees are big revenue generators for card issuers. We want to know how the card issuers determine these fees and whether existing rules are undermining the reforms enacted by Congress over a decade ago,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said. Chopra issued a separate statement on the same day discussing the current credit card market, questioning whether it is appropriate for card issuers to receive enforcement immunity if they hike the cost of credit card late fees each year by the rate of inflation. “Do the costs to process late payments really increase with inflation? Or is it more reasonable to expect that costs are going down with further advancements in technology every year?” he asked.

    Among other things, the ANPRM requests information relevant to certain CARD Act and Regulation Z provisions related to credit card late fees to “determine whether adjustments are needed.” The CFPB’s areas of inquiry include: (i) factors used by card issuers to determine late fee amounts and how the fee relates to the statement balance; (ii) whether revenue goals play a role in card issuers’ determination of late fees; (iii) what the costs and losses associated with late payments are for card issuers; (iv) the deterrent effects of late fees and whether other consequences are imposed when payments are late; (v) methods used by card issuers to facilitate or encourage timely payments such as autopay and notifications; (vi) how late are most cardholders’ late payments; and (vii) card issuers’ annual revenue and expenses related to their domestic consumer credit card operations. The Bureau stated that public input will inform revisions to Regulation Z, which implements the CARD Act and TILA. Comments on the ANPRM are due July 22.

    The ANPRM follows a June 17 Bureau blog post announcing the agency’s intention to review a “host of rules” inherited from other agencies such as the FTC and the Federal Reserve, including the CARD Act. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues Bank Regulatory CFPB Consumer Finance Federal Reserve CARD Act Regulation Z Fees Credit Cards

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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 questions CEOs on credit card payment reporting

    Federal Issues

    On May 25, the CFPB announced that it sent letters to the CEOs of the nation’s largest credit card companies asking them to explain how they furnish data to credit reporting agencies regarding the exact monthly payment amounts made by borrowers. The letters noted that in 2020, the Bureau released a consumer credit trends report on the prevalence of actual payment information in consumer credit reporting, concluding that actual payment furnishing for installment loan products had increased steadily between 2012 and 2020 while actual payment furnishing for credit card and retail revolving accounts had declined significantly (covered previously by InfoBytes here). The Bureau stated in the letters that, based on “easily accessible credit report information,” the CFPB understands that the addressed companies do not currently “regularly or consistently” report actual payment amount information to the nationwide credit reporting agencies. The Bureau asserted, that without this information, lenders may have more difficulty pricing credit and offering consumers “the best valued credit offers and loans for their money.” Additionally, the letter stated that, “[c]onsumers reasonably expect that they will receive competitively priced credit based on their ability to manage and repay their credit obligations, but this is impaired if actual payment amount information is being suppressed by major credit card companies.” The letters present a series of questions that ask the CEOs to explain their companies’ credit card data furnishing practices, which include, among other things, if there are any “material barriers that would prevent including the actual payment field in the account information your company already furnishes,” and if there are “plans to start furnishing actual payment amount information.” The Bureau noted the letter does not serve as a supervisory request, and answering these questions is not mandatory, but submission of answers is due in writing within thirty days of the receipt of this letter.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Credit Report Credit Cards Credit Furnishing Information Furnisher

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  • FTC orders credit card payment ISO to comply with heightened monitoring practices

    Federal Issues

    On May 24, the FTC finalized an order against an independent sales organization and its owners (collectively, “respondents”) to settle allegations that they violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule by helping scammers launder millions of dollars of consumers’ credit card payments from 2012 to 2013 and ignored warning signs that the merchants were fake. According to the FTC’s administrative complaint, the respondents, among other things, created 43 different merchant accounts for fictitious companies and provided advice to the organizers of the scam on how to spread out the transactions among different accounts to evade detection (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Under the terms of the final order, the respondents are required to make several substantial changes to their processes, and are prohibited from engaging in credit card laundering, as well as any other actions to evade fraud and risk monitoring programs. Additionally, the respondents are banned from providing payment processing services to any merchant that is, or is likely to be, engaged in deceptive or unfair conduct, and to any merchant that is flagged as high-risk by the credit card industry monitoring programs. Furthermore, the respondents are required to screen potential merchants who are engaged in certain activities that could harm consumers, and monitor and designate as necessary current merchants who may require additional screening. The FTC noted that it is unable to obtain a monetary judgment in this action due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AMG Capital Management v. FTC, which held that the FTC does not have statutory authority to obtain equitable monetary relief under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement Payments Credit Cards Consumer Finance FTC Act TSR

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  • Washington Court of Appeals affirms dismissal of suit accusing bank of collecting debt under a different name


    On May 3, the Washington Court of Appeals, Division Three, affirmed the dismissal of an action accusing a defendant bank of violating the FDCPA by attempting to collect a debt in a name that differed from its own. The plaintiff obtained a credit card from the bank in 2006. Following a merger between the bank holding company (a separate legal entity at the time) and a card services company, the defendant bank merged with and under the charter of the card services company and notified credit card customers that the new issuer and administrator of their accounts would be the card services company. In 2014, the card services company merged into and under the charter of the national bank of the same name, who subsequently became issuer and administrator of the credit card portfolio and the named creditor of the plaintiff’s account. By 2012, the plaintiff had stopped making payments on his credit card and was sued by the card services company. While this action was pending, the 2014 merger occurred but the collection action was not updated to reflect this development. Eventually, the collection action was dismissed without prejudice, and the plaintiff sued the defendant in Washington state court, claiming the defendant violated the FDCPA because it continued its collection suit under the name of the card services company after the merger had taken place. The state court dismissed the case, and the plaintiff appealed. At issue was whether the national bank “falls under the FDCPA despite its status as a creditor because it used a name other than its own ‘which would indicate that a third person is collecting or attempting to collect’ the debt owed by” the plaintiff.

    The Court of Appeals disagreed and held that even a least sophisticated consumer would not be confused and think that the debt had been transferred to a third-party collection agency. “Instead, a least sophisticated consumer (and even average-level consumer) might be led to believe that nothing had changed and [the card services company] was still collecting its credit card debt in its own right,” the Court of Appeals wrote. “There is no reason to think a least sophisticated consumer would be led to believe that [the bank] had acquired [the card services company’s] debt and then contracted with [it] to collect the debt.”

    Courts State Issues Washington Appellate Debt Collection FDCPA Credit Cards Consumer Finance

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  • CFPB issues spring supervisory highlights

    Federal Issues

    On May 2, the CFPB released its spring 2022 Supervisory Highlights, which details its supervisory and enforcement actions in the areas of auto servicing, consumer reporting, credit card account management, debt collection, deposits, mortgage origination, prepaid accounts, remittances, and student loan servicing. The report’s findings cover examinations completed between July and December 2021. Highlights of the examination findings include:

    • Auto Servicing. Bureau examiners identified instances of servicers engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices connected to wrongful repossessions, misleading final loan payment amounts, and overcharges for add-on products.
    • Consumer Reporting. The Bureau found deficiencies in credit reporting companies’ (CRCs) compliance with FCRA dispute investigation requirements and furnishers’ compliance with FCRA and Regulation V accuracy and dispute investigation requirements. Examples include (i) both CRCs and furnishers failed to provide written notice to consumers providing the results of reinvestigations and direct dispute investigations; (ii) furnishers failed to send updated information to CRCs following a determination that the information reported was not complete or accurate; and (iii) furnishers’ policies and procedures contained deficiencies related to the accuracy and integrity of furnished information.
    • Credit Card Account Management. Bureau examiners identified violations of Regulation Z related to billing error resolution, including instances where creditors failed to (i) resolve disputes within two complete billing cycles after receiving a billing error notice; (ii) reimburse consumers after determining a billing error had occurred; (iii) conduct reasonable investigations into billing error notices due to human errors and system weaknesses; and (iv) provide consumers with the evidence relied upon to determine a billing error had not occurred. Examiners also identified Regulation Z violations connected to creditors’ acquisitions of pre-existing credit card accounts from other creditors, and identified deceptive acts or practices related to credit card issuers’ advertising practices.
    • Debt Collection. The Bureau found instances of FDCPA and CFPA violations where debt collectors used false or misleading representations in connection with identity theft debt collection. Report findings also discussed instances where debt collectors engaged in unfair practices by failing to timely refund overpayments or credit balances.
    • Deposits. The Bureau discussed violations related to Regulation E, which implements the EFTA, including occurrences where institutions (i) placed duplicate holds on certain mobile check deposits that were deemed suspicious instead of a single hold as intended; (ii) failed to honor a timely stop payment request; (iii) failed to complete error investigations following a consumer’s notice of error because the consumer did not submit an affidavit; and (iv) failed to provide consumers with notices of revocation of provisional credit connected with error investigations regarding check deposits at ATMs.
    • Mortgage Origination. Bureau examiners identified Regulation Z violations concerning occurrences where loan originators were compensated differently based on the terms of the transaction. Under the Bureau’s 2013 Loan Originator Final Rule, “it is not permissible to differentiate compensation based on credit product type, since products are simply a bundle of particular terms.” Examiners also found that certain lenders failed to retain sufficient documentation to establish the validity for revisions made to credit terms.
    • Prepaid Accounts. The Bureau found violations of Regulation E and EFTA related to institutions’ failure to submit prepaid account agreements to the Bureau within the required time frame. Examiners also identified instances where institutions failed to honor oral stop payment requests related to payments originating through certain bill pay systems. The report cited additional findings where institutions failed to properly conduct error investigations.
    • Remittances. Bureau examiners identified violations of the EFTA, Regulation E, and deceptive acts and practices. Remittance transfer providers allegedly made false and misleading representations concerning the speed of transfers, and in multiple instances, entered into service agreements with consumers that violated the “prohibition on waivers of rights conferred or causes of action created by EFTA.” Examiners also identified several issues related to the Remittance Rule’s disclosure, timing, and recordkeeping requirements.
    • Student Loan Servicing. Bureau examiners identified several unfair acts or practices connected to private student loan servicing, including that servicers failed to make advertised incentive payments (which caused consumers to not receive payments to which they were entitled), and failed to issue timely refund payments in accordance with loan modification payment schedules.

    The report also highlights recent supervisory program developments and enforcement actions, including the Bureau’s recent decision to invoke a dormant authority to examine nonbanks (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Federal Issues CFPB Supervision Examination UDAAP Auto Lending CFPA Consumer Finance Consumer Reporting Credit Report FCRA Regulation V Credit Furnishing Credit Cards Regulation Z Regulation E EFTA Debt Collection Mortgages Deposits Prepaid Accounts Remittance Student Loan Servicer

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  • Chopra testifies at congressional hearings

    Federal Issues

    On April 26, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra testified at a hearing held by the Senate Banking Committee on the CFPB’s most recent semi-annual report to Congress (covered by InfoBytes here). Chopra’s opening remarks focused on key efforts the agency is taking to meet objectives established by Congress, including (i) shifting enforcement resources away from investigating small firms and focusing instead on repeat offenders and large players engaged in large-scale harm; (ii) increasing transparency through the issuance of guidance documents, such as advisory opinions, compliance bulletins, policy statements, and other publications to help entities comply with federal consumer financial laws; (iii) rethinking its approach to regulations, including its work to develop several rules authorized in the CFPA, and placing “a higher premium on simplicity and ‘bright lines’ whenever possible”; (iv) engaging with the business community and meeting with state-based associations to speak directly with community banks and credit unions and engaging with a broad range of other businesses and associations that may be affected by the laws the Bureau administers; (v) promoting greater competition by “lowering barriers to entry and increasing the pool of firms competing for customers based on quality, price, and service”; and (vi) researching issues related to big tech’s influence on consumer payments.

    In his opening statement, Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown (D-OH) praised Chopra’s recent efforts related to “junk fees” such as overdraft fees and non-sufficient fund fees, discrimination and bias in the appraisal process, reporting of medical collection debt by the credit reporting agencies, examination authority over non-banks and fintech companies, and crack-down on repeat offenders. However, Ranking Member Patrick Toomey (R-PA) criticized Chopra’s actions and alleged “overreach.” Among other things, Toomey characterized the Bureau’s attempts “to supervise for disparate impact not only in lending, but in all consumer financial services and products” as “unauthorized stealth rulemaking” that “will create tremendous uncertainty among regulated entities.” Toomey also took issue with recent changes to the Bureau’s rules of adjudication, claiming it will “make it easier to engage in regulation by enforcement.”

    During the hearing, committee members discussed topics related to collecting small business lending data, rural banking access, student loan servicing, and whether the Bureau should be subject to the congressional appropriations process. Republican committee members raised concerns over several issues, including significant revisions recently made to the Bureau’s unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices (UDAAP) examination manual that state that any type of discrimination in connection with a consumer financial product or service could be an “unfair” practice (i.e., the CFPB can now bring “unfair” discrimination claims related to non-credit financial products). (Covered by a Buckley Special Alert.) Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) characterized the new policy as a “wholesale rewrite” of the examination manual that will improperly expand the reach of disparate impact liability and challenged the lack of notice-and-comment for the changes to the UDAAP manual. 

    Conversely, Democratic committee members praised Chopra’s actions and encouraged him to continue pressuring banks to cut excessive overdraft fees and other “junk fees,” as well as strengthen enforcement against repeat offenders. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) stressed that imposing fines that are less than the profits made from the misconduct will not be enough to persuade large banks to follow the law and asked Chopra to think about other steps regulators might consider to hold large repeat offenders accountable. She referenced her bill, the Corporate Executive Accountability Act, which is designed to hold big bank executives personally liable for the bank’s repeat violations of the law.

    Chopra reiterated the Bureau’s priorities in his April 27 testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. At the hearing, House committee members questioned Chopra on the Bureau’s plans to collect data on small business loans pursuant to Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act, crack down on “junk fees,” and address fair lending concerns with automated valuation models and fraud in payment networks. During the hearing, Chopra told committee members that the Bureau plans to revisit and update older regulations such as the CARD Act to lower credit card fees. “We want to make sure that credit cards are a competitive market . . . [so] I am asking the staff to look at whether we should reopen the Card Act rules that were promulgated by the Federal Reserve Board over 10 years ago . . . to be able to look at some of these older rules we inherited, to determine whether there needs to be any changes,” Chopra said, adding that “late fees are an area that I expect to be one of the questions we solicit input on.”

    Federal Issues CFPB Senate Banking Committee House Financial Services Committee Consumer Finance Dodd-Frank CFPA Credit Cards Overdraft Fees Repeat Offender

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  • CFPB releases report on credit card late fees

    Federal Issues

    On March 29, the CFPB released a report analyzing credit card late fees. Using three data sources to study the consumer impact of and industry reliance on late fees, the report found that credit card issuers charged approximately $12 billion in 2020. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act) requires that late fees be “reasonable and proportional,” and its implementing regulation (Regulation Z) sets a “safe harbor” for certain fee amounts, which are adjusted by the CFPB annually for inflation. The report described that these limits have increased to $30 for the first late payment and $41 for a subsequent late payment within 6 billing cycles. The Bureau noted that Congress transferred provisional authority to the CFPB, who “expects many major card issuers to hike fees further, based on inflation, given the existing reliance on the immunity provisions in the marketplace.” Other significant findings of the report include, among other things, that: (i) the average deep subprime account was charged $138 in late fees in 2019, compared with $11 for the average superprime account; (ii) credit card accounts held by consumers living in the United States’ poorest neighborhoods paid approximately twice as much on average in total late fees than those living in the richest areas in 2019; (iii) late fee volume decreased when stimulus checks arrived in 2020 and 2021, particularly in households with lower credit scores; and (iv) “[l]ate fees account for a greater share of charges for issuers who service a higher percentage of subprime accounts at almost 20 percent of total interest and fees.”

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Credit Cards CARD Act Fees

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  • FTC sues sales organization in business opportunity scam

    Federal Issues

    On March 15, the FTC filed an administrative complaint against an independent sales organization and its owners (collectively, “respondents”) for allegedly opening merchant accounts for fictitious companies on behalf of a business opportunity scam previously sued by the FTC in 2013. According to the complaint, the scammers promoted business opportunities to consumers that falsely promised they would earn thousands of dollars. From its previous 2013 lawsuit, the FTC obtained judgments and settlements of over $7.3 million (covered by InfoBytes here). The complaint alleged that respondents violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule by helping the scammers launder millions of dollars of consumers’ credit card payments from 2012 to 2013 and ignoring warning signs that the merchants were fake. The FTC claimed that the respondents, among other things, (i) opened merchant accounts based on “vague” business descriptions; (ii) ignored the fact that for most of the merchants, the principals or business owners had poor credit ratings, which should have raised questions about the financial health of the merchants; (iii) neglected to obtain merchants’ marketing materials or follow up on signs that the merchants were engaged in telemarketing; and (iv) ignored inconsistencies related to the bank accounts listed on several of the merchants’ applications. The FTC further claimed that the respondents created 43 different merchant accounts for fictitious companies on behalf of the scam and even provided advice to the organizers of the scam on how to spread out the transactions among different accounts to evade detection.

    Under the terms of the proposed consent order (which is subject to public comment and final FTC approval), the respondents would be prohibited from engaging in credit card laundering, as well as any other tactics to evade fraud and risk monitoring programs. The respondents would also be banned from providing payment processing services to any merchant that is, or is likely to be, engaged in deceptive or unfair conduct, and to any merchant that is flagged as high-risk by credit-card industry monitoring programs. Furthermore, the respondents would be required to screen potential merchants and monitor the sales activity and marketing practices of current merchants engaged in certain activities that could harm consumers. The FTC noted that it is unable to obtain a monetary judgment due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AMG Capital Management v. FTC, which held that the FTC does not have statutory authority to obtain equitable monetary relief under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement Payments Credit Cards Fraud FTC Act Telemarketing Sales Rule UDAP

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