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As previously covered in InfoBytes, the CFPB issued a notice and request for information seeking public comments regarding the consumer credit card market. The request, which closed for public comment on June 8, received 32 public comments from consumer education groups as well as retail industry groups.
The Financial Services Roundtable and the Consumer Bankers Association (the Associations). On June 8, the Associations—one representing integrated financial services companies, and the other representing retail banking and personal banking services—submitted a joint comment letter addressing a number of the issues in the CFPB’s request. The Associations put forth the following recommendations, among others, for consideration:
- “With respect to deferred interest products, we encourage the Bureau to rely on the existing, robust regulatory regime and to not take further action on these products”;
- “hold third-party comparison sites making representations about credit cards responsible for their interactions with consumers”;
- “streamline processes for consumers to elect to receive electronic disclosures”;
- “credit card rewards programs have successfully developed under an effective self-regulatory construct, and that consumers with variable interest rate products are generally aware of the current interest rate environment, negating the need for additional regulations in both regards”; and
- “strong debt collection rules are important for consumers and issuers alike, and burdensome restrictions on communications should be avoided”.
Consumer Action (CA). Also on June 8, the CA—advocating for underrepresented consumers—submitted a comment letter to the CFPB request for information suggesting that the Card Act has been mostly effective “to keep credit card issuers in check” but that “some practices . . . have worsened over time.” Specifically, among other things, the CA provided the following recommendations:
- “retailers and cards that offer deferred interest not be allowed to apply interest until the end of the deferral period, and that retroactive interest be prohibited, and that the interest charged when a deferred interest period ends be on a going forward basis only”;
- “the clause alerting applicants that the terms, rates, and fees ‘are subject to change at any time for any reason’ remains in some card notices . . . While technically legal, this one-sided contract that penalizes consumers who [do] not perfectly abide by account terms and conditions yet gives card issuers a pass on committing to its end of the contract remains an unfair business practice and should be prohibited by the Bureau “;
- “consider requiring more prominent disclosure of a financial link between comparison sites and card issuers”;
- “true secured cards are remarkably risk-free. One danger is when the issuer does not report payment history to credit bureaus. Most consumers want a secured card to build credit and failure on the part of the issuer to report to credit bureaus means the customer is captive to the secured issuer. Users should be educated beforehand as to the proper use of a secured card so they can see it as a tool to help them graduate to an unsecured card eventually. For example, they should be aware that cash advances carry very high interest rates and start accruing interest on transactions immediately”; and
- “we also strongly support the Bureau’s planned prohibition on class-action bans in arbitration clauses and hope to see the Bureau release a final rule shortly.”
CFPB Encourages Alternatives to Deferred Interest Promotional Offers to Provide Transparency to Consumers
On June 8, the CFPB reported that it sent letters encouraging top retail credit card companies to consider consumer financing promotions that are more transparent than the often-used deferred-interest credit card. These deferred-interest cards offer no interest on the promotional balance, but only if it is paid off by the end of the promotional period. If any promotional balance remains when the promotional period ends, consumers are charged retroactive interest on the entire promotional balance from the time of purchase.
The CFPB suggests that a zero percent introductory interest rate is a better option for consumers who are sometimes confused by the retroactive interest in the deferred-interest products. Unlike with deferred interest, under 0% interest promotions, consumers are not assessed interest retroactively if the promotional balance is not paid in full by the end of the promotional period. As previously reported in InfoBytes, some consumers may have difficulty understanding the different credit terms when comparing deferred-interest promotions to zero interest promotions. According to the letters, because deferred-interest programs may be more difficult to understand than zero interest promotions, they require credit card companies to have robust compliance management systems and third party oversight measures to ensure consumers are fully informed of the true costs of the promotional financing.
In a blog post from June 8, the CFPB explains the differences between zero interest promotions and deferred-interest promotions, and offers examples of each promotion.
Connecticut Law Expands Credit Card Fraud Statutes, Addresses Penalties for Rent Collections on Foreclosed Property
On June 6, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed into law Public Act No. 17-26, which expands the statutes on credit card fraud to cover crimes involving debit cards—including payroll and ATM cards—and outlines larceny penalties for collecting rent on foreclosed property. Paper and electronic checks or drafts are excluded from the definition of debit card under revised measure. Additionally, the law specifies changes pertaining to how “notice of a card’s revocation must be sent for purposes of these crimes and expands certain credit card crimes to cover falsely loading payment cards (credit or debit cards) into digital wallets.” Regarding larceny penalties, the law provides that a “previous mortgagor of real property against whom a final judgment of foreclosure has been entered” cannot continue to collect rent after the final judgment if there is no lawful right to do so. Penalties vary from a class C misdemeanor to a class B felony depending on the amount involved. The law takes effect October 1.
On May 27, Texas passed legislation that bans surcharges on credit card transactions. Existing Texas law prohibits businesses from increasing the price charged for goods or services for buyers who pay with a debit card or stored value card. With the passage of S.B. 560 , the prohibition on such surcharges will now extend to credit card transactions as well. The law takes effect September 1, 2017. Any person who violates the law can incur a civil penalty of up to $500 for each incident.
On June 8, a U.S. District Court Judge sentenced a Filipino national to over five years in prison and two years of supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud last year. The defendant operated a $9 million international cybercrime operation that utilized stolen credit and debit accounts to process unauthorized financial transactions, according to an investigation led by the District of New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office. To obtain credit and debit card account information, the defendant engaged in computer hacking and ATM skimming, whereby millions of dollars were “monetized” through a “global network of ‘cashers’” who encoded the data onto counterfeit cards and then used the cards to withdraw money and make purchases.
On May 31, the CFPB released Vol. 23 of its Monthly Complaint Report. This month’s report highlights complaints from “older consumers” defined as those who voluntarily report their age as 62 or older. Since it began accepting complaints, the Bureau has received over 1 million complaints—more than 100,000 from older consumers. The report focuses on these complaints, with some of the most common in 2017 including:
- Reverse mortgage servicing issues, which are unique to this group of consumers. Many of the complaints surround older consumers attempting to stay in their home after the death of the borrowing spouse, occasionally ending in foreclosure;
- Financial scams and identity theft issues are often difficult to recover from—especially for consumers on fixed-incomes;
- Credit card issues such as introductory offers may cause confusion for older consumers in understanding credit terms and conditions or the difference between zero interest and deferred interest. Additionally, many older consumers struggle with billing disputes, unwanted subscription services and credit monitoring; and
- Escrow issues, especially when the consumer is trying to benefit from tax relief programs.
The graph shown in a blog on the Bureau’s website compares complaints from consumers 62 and older with complaints from consumers under 62. Although both groups of consumers reported complaints for many of the same products, the graph shows that mortgages, debt collection and credit cards, in that order, are the top three products for those 62 and older—whereas debt collection, mortgages and credit reporting are the top three for those under 62. Additionally, the report reveals that almost a quarter of all complaints from older consumers came from residents of California, Texas, and Florida.
On April 3, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in a case challenging a Texas law that bars retailers from imposing credit card surcharges, and remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit in light of its ruling last week in Expressions Hair Design, that a similar statute in New York regulated merchants’ First Amendment rights. In Rowell, a landscaping business, a computer networking company, a self-storage facility, and an event design and production company sought to challenge a Texas law allowing merchants to charge different prices to customers who pay with cash and customers who pay with a credit card, but barring merchants from describing the price difference as a surcharge for credit cards, leaving them to describe it instead as a discount for using cash. The Fifth Circuit held that the Texas law did not violate the retailers’ free speech rights, aligning it with the Second Circuit in its September 2015 ruling in the Expressions Hair Design litigation against New York State.
As previously reported on InfoBytes, the Supreme Court last week in the Expressions case unanimously rejected the Second Circuit’s conclusion that the New York credit card law regulates conduct alone, rather than speech. As explained in the Supreme Court’s opinion, the law at issue “is not like a typical price regulation,” which regulates a seller’s conduct by dictating how much to charge for an item. Rather, the Court explained, the law regulates “how sellers may communicate their prices.” (emphasis added). The Supreme Court, however, did not address the question of whether the law unconstitutionally restricts speech.
On March 29, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated and remanded a lawsuit challenging a New York law—N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 518—which provides that no seller “may impose a surcharge on a holder who elects to use a credit card” instead of a cash payments. (See Expressions Hair Design, et al. v Schneiderman.) Plaintiffs, a group of New York merchants, argued that the law violates the First Amendment by regulating how they communicate their prices. Plaintiffs further alleged that the law is unconstitutionally vague. In its defense, the State of New York asserted that the law merely prevents unfair profiteering, consumer anger, and deceptive sales tactics. After the district court ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated the judgment with instructions to dismiss. The Second Circuit appellate panel reasoned that the law is a “price regulation” that regulates conduct rather than speech and, as such, is immune from scrutiny under the First Amendment.
Writing for the Supreme Court—which was unanimous in the judgment—Chief Justice John G. Roberts disagreed with the Second Circuit panel’s conclusion that the law regulates conduct alone. Specifically, Justice Roberts notes in his opinion that Section 518 “is not like a typical price regulation,” which regulates a seller’s conduct by dictating how much to charge for an item. Rather, the Chief Justice explained, the law regulates “how sellers may communicate their prices.” Notably, the majority opinion declined to delve into the First Amendment issues raised by the parties, including whether the law is a valid commercial speech regulation, citing its status as “a court of review, not of first view.”
Justice Stephen G. Breyer filed a concurring opinion in which he noted that because the law’s interpretation is unclear, on remand, the Second Circuit should ask New York's highest court to clarify it, as this “is a matter of state law.” Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor, joined by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., also filed a concurring opinion in which she called the majority's ruling a “quarter-loaf outcome,” because the holding failed to address whether the law unconstitutionally restricts speech. The Second Circuit erred by not certifying the question of the statute's interpretation to the N.Y. Court of Appeals “and this Court errs by not correcting it,” Sotomayor reasoned. The Justice indicated that she would have “vacate[d] the judgment below and remand with instructions to” certify the question for a definitive interpretation.
On March 10, in accordance with the rules of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act), that mandates the CFPB prepare a report every two years examining developments in the consumer credit card marketplace, the Bureau submitted a Request for Information to solicit feedback from the public. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the first review occurred in October 2013 and the second review in December 2015. In preparation for the next report, the Bureau is focusing on several aspects of the consumer credit card market, as follows:
- The terms of credit card agreements and the practices of credit card issuers
- The effectiveness of disclosure of terms, fees, and other expenses of credit card plans
- The adequacy of protections against unfair or deceptive acts or practices or unlawful discrimination relating to credit card plans
- The cost and availability of consumer credit cards, the use of risk-based pricing for consumer credit cards, and consumer credit card product innovation
- Deferred interest products
- Subprime specialist products
- Third-party comparison sites
- Secured credit cards
- Online and mobile account servicing
- Rewards products
- Variable interest rates
- Debt collection.
Comments are due by June 8, 2017.
On December 19, the CFPB announced the release of “Consumer Credit Trends,” a beta version of its new web-based tool to help the public monitor developments in the mortgage, credit card, auto loan, and student loan markets. According to the Bureau, the data used by Consumer Credit Trends “draws from a nationally representative sample of credit records maintained by one of the top three U.S. credit repositories.” The CFPB plans to update this information regularly, and will offer analyses on notable findings as warranted. It also clarifies that “before being provided to the Bureau,” the credit records are “stripped of any information that might reveal consumers’ identities, such as names, addresses, and Social Security numbers.” The ability to “chart the state of consumer markets,” says CFPB Director Richard Cordray, “will help us identify and act on trends that warn of another crisis or that show credit is too constricted.”
- Buckley Webcast: The next consumer litigation frontier? Assessing the consumer privacy litigation and enforcement landscape in 2019 and beyond
- Buckley Webcast: The CFPB’s proposed debt collection rule
- Buckley Webcast: Trends in e-discovery technology and case law
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "What the flood? Don’t get washed away by a flood of changes" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mitigating the risks of banking high risk customers" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano, Kari K. Hall, Brandy A. Hood, and H Joshua Kotin to discuss "Regulations that matter in a deregulatory environment" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference Power Hour
- Buckley Webcast: Data breach litigation and biometric legislation
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Navigating the challenges of the latest data protection regulations and proven protocols for breach prevention and response" at the ACI National Forum on Consumer Finance Class Actions and Government Enforcement
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Assessing the CDD final rule: A year of transitions" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Douglas F. Gansler to discuss "Role of state AGs in consumer protection" at a George Mason University Law & Economics Center symposium