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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • CFPB Releases Biennial Credit Card Report

    Consumer Finance

    On December 27, the CFPB released its biennial report on the state of the U.S. credit card market, finding that the total amount of credit lines, the total number of credit accounts, the total number of enrollments in online services, and the total amount of debt have increased since 2015. The report also found that the overall credit card cost to consumers has “proved largely stable” since 2015. Among other things, the report concludes:

    • The total amount of credit lines has increased steadily since the recession but still remains below the mid-2008 high of $4.4 trillion.
    • Over the last two years, credit card debt averages have increased by more than nine percent.
    • Credit card originations have increased by roughly 50 percent since 2010 but still remain below pre-recession volumes.
    • More than 60 percent of active credit card accounts enroll in online services.

    Consumers average fewer credit cards than before the recession, and more consumers are signing up for secured credit cards.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Credit Cards

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  • FTC Seeks Order to Stop Alleged Telemarketing Debt Relief Scam

    Consumer Finance

    On December 4, the FTC announced that it charged two debt relief companies and five individuals with violations of the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) in connection with their sale of “bogus” credit card interest rate reduction services. According to the complaint, the defendants contacted consumers using illegal robocalls and made false guarantees to “substantially and permanently” lower the consumers’ credit card interest rates and/or save the consumer thousands of dollars in interest payments. However, the scheme rarely obtained the promised results. In some instances where consumers did get lower interest rates, those rates were only temporary “teaser” rates that did not result in a permanent rate reduction. In addition, defendants failed to disclose the associated balance transfer fees that accompanied the lower teaser rates. The FTC also charged the defendants with TSR violations for (i) collecting illegal upfront fees; (ii) making illegal robocalls; (iii) contacting consumers on the National Do Not Call Registry; and (iv) not paying the required fees to the Registry. The FTC charged one additional individual defendant with substantially assisting the two debt relief operations with the allegedly illegal conduct. The FTC is seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the defendants, requesting the appointment of a receiver to control the two corporate entities, and an asset freeze to assist in potential consumer redress.

    Consumer Finance FTC Credit Cards Debt Settlement Telemarketing Sales Rule

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  • OFAC Penalizes Credit Card Issuer for Violations of Cuban Assets Control Regulations

    Financial Crimes

    On November 17, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it had reached a $204,277 settlement with a U.S. financial institution for alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). The settlement involves actions taken by an international credit card company which, at the time of the apparent violations, was a wholly owned subsidiary of an entity that was itself 50 percent owned by the U.S. financial institution. According to the announcement, between 2009 and 2014, credit cards that the company issued to over 100 corporate customers were used to make purchases in Cuba or otherwise involved Cuba. OFAC asserts that the company failed to implement controls to prevent this even though it had policies and procedures in place to review transactions for compliance with CACR.

    In determining the settlement amount, OFAC considered that (i) employees within the company had reason to know of the conduct that led to the alleged violations; (ii) none of the entities involved appeared to appreciate the risk that the credit cards might be used in Cuba; (iii) at the time they occurred, the actions resulted in harm to the US sanctions program objectives; (iv) the U.S. financial institution is a large and sophisticated financial entity; and (v) during the investigation, the entities provided “verifiably inaccurate or incomplete, including material omissions.” OFAC also considered the fact that the entities voluntarily self-disclosed the alleged violations and the U.S. financial institution took “swift and appropriate remedial action” upon discovery.

    OFAC recently announced updates to CACR, covered by InfoBytes here.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Enforcement Settlement Credit Cards Cuba

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  • Federal Reserve Releases Survey on Bank Lending Practices

    Lending

    On November 6, the Federal Reserve Board (Fed) released its October 2017 Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices. Responses came from both domestic banks and U.S. branches and agencies of foreign banks, and focused on bank loans made to businesses and households over the past three months. The October survey results indicated that over the third quarter of 2017, on balance, lenders eased their standards on commercial and industrial loans with demand for such loans decreasing. However, lenders left their standards on commercial real estate (CRE) loans unchanged and reported that demand for CRE loans weakened. As to loans to households, banks reported that standards for all categories of residential real estate (RRE) lending “either eased or remained basically unchanged,” and that the demand for RRE loans also weakened.

    The survey also included two sets of special questions addressing changes in household lending conditions.

    The first set of these special questions asked banks to specify the reasons for changing this year their credit policies on credit card and auto loans to prime and subprime borrowers. Respondents’ most reported reasons for tightening standards or terms on these types of loans were (i) “a less favorable or more uncertain economic outlook”; (ii) “a deterioration or expected deterioration in the quality of their existing loan portfolio”; and (iii) “a reduced tolerance for risk.” Auto loan reasons also focused on “less favorable or more uncertain expectations regarding collateral values.”

    The second set of these special questions asked banks for their views as to why they have experienced stronger or weaker demand for credit card and auto loans over this year. Respondents’ reported that a strengthening of demand for credit card and auto loans from prime borrowers could be attributed to customers’ confidence as well as their improved ability to manage debt service burdens. The most reported reasons for weakened demand for credit card and auto loans from prime borrowers were an increase in interest rates and a shift in customers’ borrowing “from their bank to other bank or nonbank sources.”

    For additional details see:

    Lending Federal Reserve Consumer Lending Auto Finance Credit Cards Consumer Finance

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  • Federal Reserve Board Issues Consent Order for the Alleged Deceptive Marketing of Balance Transfer Credit Cards

    Consumer Finance

    On October 26, the Federal Reserve Board (Fed) announced it had entered into a consent order with Mid America Bank & Trust Company (Mid America) over allegations that the bank engaged in deceptive practices in violation of the FTC Act involving balance transfer credit cards issued to consumers through third party independent service organizations. On the same day, the Fed announced its approval of an application by Reliable Community Bankshares, Inc. to acquire Mid America’s holding company, Mid America Banking Corporation. The allegations pertain to the adequacy of marketing materials, disclosures and other customer communications that described certain terms of the balance transfer cards such as credit reporting, available credit, and application of the statute of limitations to transferred balances. The Fed’s order requires the bank to refund certain fees, account balances and payments to its cardholders and other non-monetary actions, including compliance program enhancements. The order did not impose a civil money penalty.

    Consumer Finance Credit Cards Settlement FTC Act Federal Reserve

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  • New York AG, Credit Card Servicer Enter Into Agreement to Refund Credit Card Fees

    State Issues

    On October 30, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced an agreement with a credit card servicer and marketer to resolve allegations that the servicer failed to disclose upfront fees in its direct mail marketing materials. According to Attorney General’s office, the servicer failed to disclose a $125 “off-the-top first year fee” for a low-limit card product, which effectively reduced the card’s credit limit from $500 to $375. Under the terms of the agreement, the servicer is required to improve the disclosures in its direct mail marketing and issue refunds of the $125 fee to affected New York consumers.

    State Issues State Attorney General Consumer Finance Credit Cards

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  • CFPB’s Summer Edition of Supervisory Highlights Discloses Findings Across Many Financial Services Areas

    Consumer Finance

    On September 12, the CFPB released its summer 2017 Supervisory Highlights, which outlines its supervisory and oversight actions in areas such as auto loan servicing, credit card account management, debt collection, deposit account supervision, mortgage origination and servicing, remittances, service provider programs, short-term small-dollar lending, and fair lending. According to the Supervisory Highlights, recent supervisory resolutions have “resulted in total restitution payments of approximately $14 million to more than 104,000 consumers during the review period” between January 2017 and June 2017.

    As examples, in the area of auto loan servicing, examiners discovered vehicles were being repossessed even though the repossession should have been cancelled. Coding errors, document mishandling, and failure to timely cancel the repossession order were cited causes. Regarding fair lending examination findings, the CFPB discovered, in general, “deficiencies in oversight by board and senior management, monitoring and corrective action processes, compliance audits, and oversight of third-party service providers.” Examiners also conducted ECOA Baseline Reviews on mortgage servicers and discovered weaknesses in servicers’ fair lending compliance management systems. Findings in other areas include the following:

    • consumers were provided inaccurate information about when bank checking account service fees would be waived, and banks misrepresented overdraft protection;
    • debt collectors engaged in improper debt collection practices related to short-term, small-dollar loans, including attempts to collect debts owed by a different person or contacting third parties about consumers’ debts;
    • companies overcharged mortgage closing fees or wrongly charged application fees that are prohibited by the Bureau’s Know Before You Owe mortgage disclosure rules; and
    • borrowers were denied the opportunity to take full advantage of the mortgage loss mitigation options, and mortgage servicers failed to “exercise reasonable diligence in collecting information needed to complete the borrower’s application.”

    The Bureau also set forth new examination procedures for HMDA data collection and reporting requirements as well as student loan servicers, in addition to providing guidance for covered persons and service providers regarding pay-by-phone fee assessments.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Enforcement Auto Finance Credit Cards Debt Collection Fair Lending ECOA Compliance Mortgage Origination Mortgage Servicing HMDA Student Lending Loss Mitigation

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  • District Court Grants Preliminary Settlement Approval in SCRA Class Action Suit

    Courts

    On September 13, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina granted preliminary approval to settle a class-action suit resolving allegations that a national bank overcharged military families on interest and fees related primarily to mortgage and credit card accounts in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The order also, in the context of the proposed settlement only, preliminarily certifies the class, which is comprised of members who—after September 11, 2001—were entitled to “additional compensation related to military reduced interest rate benefits from [the bank].” The plaintiffs filed the complaint against the bank in 2015 claiming alleged violations of the SCRA, TILA, and the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. In May 2016, the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the first amended complaint, and at the end of 2016, the parties agreed to mediation. A second amended complaint—now the operative complaint—was filed just prior to the motion for preliminary approval. While the bank has not admitted any wrongdoing, it has agreed to refrain from using an “interest subsidy method for interest benefits calculations for a five-year period,” which, plaintiffs pleaded, can lead to higher costs.

    According to the terms of the memorandum in support of the motion for preliminary approval, class members will receive payments based on the strength of their individual claims, considering such factors as: (i) loan type; (ii) whether they previously received remediation from the bank, and how much; and (iii) the eligible period for interest rate refunds. The memorandum further stipulates that approximately $15.4 million of the nearly $42 million overall settlement will be provide to class members who have not received or deposited any payments from the bank. Unclaimed amounts from the first round will be pooled with the remainder of the settlement to be allocated as outlined in the distribution plan. A final approval hearing is scheduled for February of next year.

    Courts SCRA TILA Servicemembers Mortgages Credit Cards Class Action Litigation Settlement

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  • CFPB Publishes Final Rule Amending Annual Dollar Threshold in TILA Regulations

    Lending

    On August 30, the CFPB issued a final rule amending Regulation Z, which implements the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), under 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 ability-to-repay and qualified mortgage provisions (ATR/QM). The CFPB is required to make adjustments to dollar amounts in the Regulation Z provisions implementing these laws based on the annual percentage change reflected in the Consumer Price Index effective June 1, 2017. For open-end consumer credit plans under TILA, the minimum interest charge disclosure threshold will remain unchanged at $1.00 in 2018. For open-end consumer credit plans under the CARD Act amendments, the adjusted dollar amount for the safe harbor for a first violation penalty fee will remain unchanged at $27 in 2018, and the adjusted dollar amount for the safe harbor for a subsequent violation penalty fee will remain unchanged at $38 in 2018. For HOEPA loans, the adjusted total loan amount threshold for high-cost mortgages in 2018 will increase to $21,032, and the adjusted points and fees dollar trigger for high-cost mortgages in 2018 will be $1,052. To satisfy the underwriting requirements under the ATR/QM rule, the maximum thresholds for total points and fees for qualified mortgages in 2018 will be: (i) 3 percent of the total loan amount for loans greater than or equal to $105,158; (ii) $3,155 for loan amounts greater than or equal to $63,095 but less than $105,158; (iii) 5 percent of the total loan amount for loans greater than or equal to $21,032 but less than $63,095; (iv) $1,052 for loan amounts greater than or equal to $13,145 but less than $21,032; and (v) 8 percent of the total loan amount for loan amounts less than $13,145. The final rule is effective January 1, 2018.

    Lending Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB TILA Credit Cards HOEPA Ability To Repay Qualified Mortgage Federal Register Regulation Z Mortgages

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  • CFPB Consent Order to Banking Subsidiaries Resolves Discriminatory Credit Card Term Practices in Puerto Rico and U.S. Territories

    Consumer Finance

    On August 23, the CFPB announced it was taking action against two banking subsidiaries of a multi-bank holding corporation for violating the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) by allegedly offering credit card products and services to consumers in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other U.S. territories that were inferior to those offered to consumers in the 50 states and discriminating against certain consumers with Spanish-language preferences. The consent order alleges the pattern of discrimination started in January 2005 and continued through November 2015. In 2013, the subsidiaries began self-reporting to the Bureau differences between credit cards and charge cards offered to consumers in the territories versus those offered to consumers in the 50 states, including disparities in pricing, terms and conditions, underwriting, rebates, promotional offers, customer and account management services, credit score requirements, credit limits, and debt collection practices. During the course of the CFPB’s review, the subsidiaries provided monetary and non-monetary relief to more than 200,000 affected consumers, resulting in approximately $95 million of remediation broken into the following amounts paid or credited to consumers: (i) roughly $55.7 million towards pricing, rebates, and promotional offer differences; (ii) approximately $3.2 million towards disparities in underwriting; and (iii) $35.7 million towards customer service, account management, collections, debt mitigation, and line assignment differences. The order also states that the subsidiaries instituted enhancements to their policies and procedures and compliance management systems. Pursuant to the consent order, the subsidiaries must (i) pay at least a $1 million more in restitution to fully compensate affected consumers; and (ii) develop and implement a compliance plan to ensure credit and charge card provisions are handled in a non-discriminatory manner in compliance with ECOA, make any necessary changes to their compliance management systems based on an annual compliance audit program assessment of current business structure, and correct any identified deficiencies. The Bureau further notes that penalties were not assessed due to efforts undertaken by the subsidiaries to self-report deficiencies, self-initiate remediation, and cooperate with the CFPB’s investigation. Furthermore, the Bureau concluded through its review that the subsidiaries did not intentionally discriminate against the consumers, but that the differences occurred as a result of business units utilizing different card management structures in the territories versus in the states.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Credit Cards ECOA Fair Lending

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