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On July 27, the CFPB published a special issue brief finding that consumer applications for auto loans, new mortgages, and revolving credit cards had, for the most part, returned to pre-pandemic levels by May 2021. The brief compares the number of applications made in these categories before the pandemic to the number being made now and provides a state-by-state analysis of the change in applications. Highlights of the brief include: (i) sub-prime borrower credit applications increased in conjunction with federal stimulus payments; (ii) auto loan inquiries dropped 52 percent by the end of March 2020 but returned to their usual pre-pandemic trend by January 2021; however, the Bureau reports wide geographic variability in the demand for auto loans while changes in credit card applications were generally uniform; (iii) new mortgage credit inquiries experienced a smaller drop in March 2020 compared to other credit types but later saw a surge, with inquiries exceeding the usual, seasonally adjusted volume by 10 to 30 percent—a reflection of unusually high activity seen throughout the pandemic; (iv) revolving credit card inquiries declined by over 40 percent and took the longest to rebound, not returning to normal levels until March 2021; and (v) consumers with deep subprime credit scores represented the largest decline in auto loan inquiries compared to prior years, followed by inquiries from consumers with subprime credit scores, with both categories of consumers also showing declines in new mortgage and revolving credit card inquiries. “While consumer credit applications have generally recovered to pre-pandemic levels in the aggregate, we see important differences across consumers,” acting CFPB Director David Uejio stated. “Both borrowers with superprime and subprime credit scores are still not applying for credit as much as they were pre-pandemic. We will continue to keep a close watch on the marketplace as the economic recovery continues, to help ensure all consumers have access to financial products and services that are fair, transparent, and competitive.”
District Court says retailer not an intended third-party beneficiary of a credit card arbitration provision
On July 8, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied a retailer’s motion to compel arbitration in a consumer data sharing putative class action, ruling that the retailer was not an intended third-party beneficiary of an arbitration provision in a credit card agreement. The proposed class had filed an amended complaint accusing several national retailers of illegally sharing consumer transaction data in violation of the FCRA, the California Consumer Privacy Act, and California’s unfair competition law, among others. The motion at issue, filed by one of the retailers, addresses a named plaintiff’s opposition to compel arbitration. The retailer argued that as an “intended” third-party beneficiary of the contract, it had the right to enforce an arbitration clause contained in a credit card agreement purportedly signed by the plaintiff when she opened a retailer credit card account issued by an online bank.
The court disagreed, finding that the contract’s arbitration provisions specifically referred to the bank, and that the contract did not clearly “express an intention to confer a separate and distinct benefit on [the retailer].” Moreover, the court noted the contract at issue instructed the plaintiff to send any arbitration demand notices to the bank, adding that “[i]t seems unlikely that the parties would expect a demand for arbitration solely against the [retailer]—that does not involve [the bank]—to be sent to [the bank].”
On July 7, the Colorado governor signed SB 91, which, among other things, repeals a prior ban on surcharges for credit or debit card transactions. The bill limits the maximum surcharge amount per transaction to 2 percent of the payment amount or the actual fee. Merchants are required to display a specified notice regarding the surcharge on their premises or, for online purchases, before a customer’s completion of the transaction. The act becomes effective July 1, 2022.
On July 13, the CFPB released findings regarding trends in reported assistance on consumers’ credit records. The post—the second in a series documenting trends in consumer credit outcomes during the Covid-19 pandemic (the first covered by InfoBytes here)—examines consumer month-to-month transitions into and out of assistance from January 2020 to April 2021. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last August, the Bureau issued a report examining trends through June 2020 in delinquency rates, payment assistance, credit access, and account balance measures, which showed that generally there was an overall decrease in delinquency rates since the start of the pandemic for auto loans, first-lien mortgages, student loans, and credit cards. According to the Bureau’s recent findings, as of March 2021, auto loans and credit card accounts with assistance were slightly above pre-pandemic levels, and the share of mortgages and student loans on assistance continued to be significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels. Researchers also found that some communities have been disproportionately affected by the health and economic shocks of the pandemic: “majority Black census tracts, majority Hispanic census tracts, older borrowers and borrowers in counties hit hardest by COVID cases and layoffs were most likely to receive assistance in the early months of the pandemic.” Additionally, consumers in majority Hispanic census tracts were “more likely to exit assistance, but consumers in majority Black census tracts were somewhat less likely to exit assistance than their counterparts in majority white census tracts.”
On June 16, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted a Delaware-based debt collector’s (defendant) motions to dismiss with prejudice and compel arbitration in an FDCPA, TCPA class-action case, while denying as moot the defendant’s motion to strike or stay. The plaintiff’s unpaid credit card debt was sold to the defendant, who sought to collect the debt by calling the plaintiff’s cell phone two dozen times in a span of two weeks using an automated telephone dialing system. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit originally alleging TCPA violations. He later amended the complaint to include FDCPA violations after he claimed he never received notice as required by the FDCPA. Under the FDCPA, debt collectors are required to provide a consumer with written notice containing various required information within five days after the initial communication in connection with the collection of any debt, “unless the. . .information is contained in the initial communication or the consumer has paid the debt.” The defendant initially moved to dismiss, but after the plaintiff opposed, filed an instant motion to compel arbitration based on an arbitration provision contained in a set of terms and conditions in the plaintiff’s credit card agreement with the original creditor. The plaintiff countered, among other things, that the debt collector cannot enforce the arbitration provision because the plaintiff never signed it, and further argued that the card agreement is unconscionable.
The court disagreed, ruling that the defendant did not waive its right to arbitrate the plaintiff’s claims, pointing out that the arbitration provision between the plaintiff and the defendant is part of the card agreement, which the plaintiff accepted once he began using the credit card. According to the court, the arbitration provision “states that it covers ‘any claim, dispute or controversy between you and us arising out of or related to your [a]ccount, a previous related [a]ccount, or our relationship,’ including but not limited to those ‘based on. . .statutory or regulatory provisions, or any other sources of law.’” According to the court, the plaintiff’s dispute with the defendant relates to violations of the TCPA and FDCPA and exists between the plaintiff and the original creditor’s assignee (the defendant). Thus, because the claims relate to a creditor-debtor relationship arising out of the card agreement, the court determined that the arbitration provision “constitutes a valid agreement to arbitrate” and was unpersuaded by the plaintiff’s arguments that the arbitration provision is unconscionable. With respect to the plaintiff’s TCPA claims, the court found that it “disregards as unreasonable and implausible Plaintiff’s allegation that any calls he received related to amounts unpaid arising out of his [credit card] were unlawful in light of the [c]ard [a]greement,” which expressly authorizes the original creditor or its assignees to call the plaintiff once the plaintiff accepted the card agreement. The court found that as the plaintiff did not plead sufficient facts to show that the calls were inconsistent with the FDCPA, the defendant had every right to call him.
On June 16, the CFPB released findings on delinquency trends for auto loans, student loans, mortgages, and credit cards. The post—the first in a series that will document consumer credit trend outcomes during the Covid-19 pandemic—examines how trends have evolved since June 2020. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last August, the Bureau issued a report examining trends through June 2020 in delinquency rates, payment assistance, credit access, and account balance measures, which showed that generally there was an overall decrease in delinquency rates since the start of the pandemic among auto loans, first-lien mortgages, student loans, and credit cards. According to the Bureau’s recent findings, as of March 2021, new delinquencies remain below pre-pandemic levels, despite a slight rise since July 2020 in auto loan and credit card delinquencies. These levels, the Bureau noted, may be attributed to federal, state, and local policy interventions that provide payment assistance and income support to consumers. Researchers also found that overall trends in new delinquencies were consistent across credit score groups, although “trends were more pronounced for consumers with lower credit scores.” Additionally, the Bureau reported that while stimulus payments and increasing vaccination rates may boost economic activity and keep delinquency rates down, accounts that would have been delinquent in the absence of payment assistance may begin to be reported as delinquent as assistance programs begin to end. Later this year, the Bureau will release a post in this series discussing payment assistance trends since June 2020.
On June 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned a district court’s decision, holding that a debt collector’s offer to settle an outstanding debt did not require informing the consumer that the balance could increase as a result of interest and fees. The plaintiff allegedly incurred credit card debt, which was then placed with the defendant for collection. The defendant sent the plaintiff a collection letter offering to settle the account for less than what was owed. The plaintiff sued, alleging that the letter violated Section 1692e of the FDCPA because it did not specify that interest was accruing on the balance. The district court, relying on the 2nd Circuit’s 2016 decision in Avila v. Riexinger & Associates, held that the defendant violated the FDCPA because the letter did not indicate that the balance would increase as a result of interest and fees.
On appeal, the 2nd Circuit clarified that its Avila decision discussed two exceptions, or “safe harbors,” to the requirement for debt collectors to disclose the possibility of interest and fees accruing, which are if the collection notice: (i) “ accurately informs the consumer that the amount of the debt stated in the letter will increase over time”; or (ii) “clearly states that the holder of the debt will accept payment in the amount set forth in full satisfaction of the debt if payment is made by a specified date.” The 2nd Circuit pointed out that the “payment of an amount that the collector indicates will fully satisfy a debt excludes the possibility of further debt to pay.” The appellate court further held that “a settlement offer need not enumerate the consequences of failing to meet its deadline or rejecting it outright so long as it clearly and accurately informs a debtor that payment of a specified sum by a specified date will satisfy the debt.” Therefore, the appellate court concluded that the collection notice to the consumer did not violate FDCPA section 1692e “because it extended a settlement offer that, if accepted through payment of the specified amount(s) by the specified date(s), would have cleared [the plaintiff’s] account.”
On May 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of a putative class action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that while a merchant technically violated the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) by including 10 credit card digits on a customer’s receipt, the customer failed to allege any concrete harm sufficient to establish standing. According to the opinion, the named plaintiff filed a class action against the merchant alleging the first six and last four digits of her credit card number were printed on her receipt—a violation of FACTA’s truncation requirement, which only permits the last five digits to be printed on a receipt. The plaintiff argued that this presented “a significant risk of the exact harm that Congress intended to prevent—the display of card information that could be exploited by an identity thief,” and further claimed she did not need to allege any harm beyond the violation of the statute to establish standing. The district court disagreed, ruling that the plaintiff “lacked standing because she alleged merely a threat of future harm that was not certainly impending” and that the merchant’s technical violation demonstrated no material risk of identity theft.
In agreeing with the district court, the 6th Circuit concluded that a “violation of the statute does not automatically create a concrete injury of increased risk of real harm even if Congress designed it so.” Moreover, the appellate court reasoned that the “factual allegations in this complaint do not establish an increased risk of identity theft either because they do not show how, even if [p]laintiff’s receipt fell into the wrong hands, criminals would have a gateway to consumers’ personal and financial data.” The appellate court further concluded, “statutory-injury-for-injury’s sake does not satisfy Article III’s injury in fact requirement” and the court must exercise its constitutional duty to ensure a plaintiff has standing.
On May 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ordered a defendant hospitality company to reimburse a national bank and its payment processor (collectively, “plaintiffs”) for $20 million in assessments levied against the plaintiffs by two payment brands following a data breach announced by the defendant in 2015. An investigation into the data breach determined that the defendant failed to require two-factor authentication on its remote access software, which contributed to the data breach and violated the payment brands’ security guidelines. The bank paid roughly $20 million to the payment brands and asked the defendant to indemnify it for the assessments. The defendant refused, arguing that its agreement with the bank was not breached because the payment brands’ rules “distinguish between actual and potential data comprises.” Moreover, the defendant stressed that “[b]ecause no evidence indicates that the attackers used the cardholder information” it was not obligated to indemnify the bank. However, the plaintiffs claimed that under the agreement, the defendant agreed to indemnify the bank “if its failure to comply with the brands’ security guidelines, or the compromise of any payment instrument, results in assessments, fines, and penalties by the payment brands.” The plaintiffs filed suit and moved for partial summary judgment on a breach of contract claim. In granting the plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment, the court determined that the hospitality company is contractually obligated to cover the costs, ruling that actual data compromise is not necessary to trigger the agreement’s indemnification guidelines and that the bank does not need to show that the attackers used the payment information.
On April 29, the OCC issued Bulletin 2021-22 announcing the revision of the Credit Card Lending booklet of the Comptroller’s Handbook. The booklet rescinds OCC Bulletin 2015-14 and replaces version 1.2 of the “Credit Card Lending” booklet that was issued on January 6, 2017. Among other things, the revised booklet (i) discusses the adoption of current expected credit loss methodology and the increased use of such modeling in credit card origination and risk management; (ii) reflects changes to OCC issuances; (iii) includes refining edits regarding supervisory guidance, sound risk management practices, and legal language; and (iv) includes revisions for clarity.
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to provide “Fair lending update” at the Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association Operational and Compliance Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Justice for all: Achieving racial equity through fair lending” at CBA Live
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss “On the horizon for CRA modernization” at CBA Live
- APPROVED Webcast: Strategy & Technology: A dynamic duo for successful regulatory exams
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss “Primer on cross-border prosecutions in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico for U.S. criminal lawyers” at a New York City Bar Association webinar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “State law regulatory and enforcement trends” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Government investigations, and compliance 2021 trends” at the Corporate Counsel Women of Color Career Strategies Conference
- Max Bonici to discuss “BSA/AML trends: What to expect with the implementation of the AML Act of 2020” at the American Bar Association Banking Law Fall Meeting
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss “Modifications and exiting forbearance” at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute