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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • DOJ initiates SCRA action over auto auctions and dispositions

    Federal Issues

    On March 3, the DOJ filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina against a North Carolina-based towing company for allegedly auctioning off, selling, or disposing of vehicles owned by servicemembers through the use of court judgments obtained without filing proper military affidavits. Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), plaintiffs seeking a default judgment must “file an accurate military affidavit stating whether or not the defendant is in military service, or that the plaintiff is unable to determine the defendant’s military service status.” Towing companies are also required by the statute to make a good faith effort to determine if a defendant is in military service. A court may not enter a default judgment in favor of a plaintiff until after a servicemember has been appointed an attorney.

    According to the complaint, the towing company disposed of servicemembers’ vehicles without complying with these requirements from at least 2017. The DOJ further claims that several factors should have alerted the towing company to the fact that the vehicles belonged to a servicemember, including that many of the vehicles were originally towed from locations on or near a military installation and many of the vehicles “had military decals, patches, and decorations, were financed through lenders geared towards members of the military, and contained military uniforms and paperwork, including orders.” The DOJ seeks damages for the affected servicemembers and civil penalties, as well as a court order enjoining the towing company from engaging in the illegal conduct.

    Federal Issues Courts DOJ Enforcement SCRA Servicemembers Consumer Finance

  • CFPB reports on servicemember identity theft

    Federal Issues

    On January 12, the CFPB released an Issue Spotlight discussing identity theft affecting servicemembers. According to the report, servicemembers, veterans, and military family members are more likely to report identity theft than civilians, with military consumers reporting almost 50,000 cases of identity theft to the FTC in 2021. The Bureau also noted that a steady income could make servicemembers a target for identity thieves looking to create fraudulent credit accounts or tap into bank accounts, and warned that frequent relocation may also increase servicemembers’ risk of identity theft. 

    Many servicemembers and all officers are required to pass a national security clearance check that includes a review of their credit history and ability to meet their financial obligations. The report found that security clearances are “continuously evaluated” with credit checks being part of the process. If a review reveals a history of failing to meet financial obligations, being in excessive debt, or having a high debt-to-income ratio, a servicemember’s security clearance may be revoked. Bad credit can also lead to rejected or higher-cost rental or mortgage applications, limiting housing options the Bureau said.

    The report also found that unrecognized debt is often the first sign of identity theft. Between 2014 and 2022, military consumer complaints to the CFPB about debts that resulted from identity theft increased nearly fivefold, from more than 200 annually in 2014, to more than 1,000 in 2022. The Bureau noted that addressing credit report inaccuracies related to identity theft can be “a particularly complicated process.” The report also provided recommendations for servicemembers on how to protect their credit, such as reviewing credit reports regularly and disputing inaccurate information and taking advantage of free credit monitoring services.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Servicemembers Identity Theft

  • CFPB concerned National Guard and reservists pay extra interest on loans

    Federal Issues

    On December 7, the CFPB released a report examining the use of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act's (SCRA) interest rate reduction benefit. Among other things, the CFPB raised concerns that servicemembers pay extra interest each year as a result of not taking advantage of interest rate reductions to which they are entitled under the SCRA. The SCRA provides certain legal and financial protections to active duty servicemembers, such as the ability to reduce the interest rate on certain pre-service obligations or liabilities to a maximum of 6 percent. According to the Bureau, members of the National Guard and Reserves are likely to have financial obligations that predate a subsequent period of service. As a result, the interest rate reduction benefit could provide considerable financial value. However, the Bureau found that only a small fraction of activated Guard and Reserve servicemembers receive interest rate reductions. Specifically, the Bureau noted that: (i)  between 2007 and 2018, less than 10 percent of eligible auto loans and six percent of personal loans received a reduced interest rate; (ii) in addition to the $100 million of foregone benefits on auto and personal loans, members of the reserve component infrequently benefit from interest rate reductions for credit cards and mortgage loans; and (iii) for longer periods of activation, the utilization rate is low. The Bureau recommended that creditors apply SCRA interest rate reductions for all accounts held at an institution if a servicemember invokes their rights for a single account, and stressed that creditors should automatically apply SCRA rights. The Bureau also noted that more frequent information on SCRA rate reduction utilization would help inform and evaluate future efforts to expand servicemembers’ financial rights and protections.

    Federal Issues CFPB SCRA Servicemembers Consumer Finance Interest Rate

  • FTC, CFPB weigh in on servicemembers’ right to sue under the MLA


    On November 22, the FTC and CFPB (agencies) announced the filing of a joint amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit seeking the reversal of a district court’s decision that denied servicemembers the right to sue to invalidate a contract that allegedly violated the Military Lending Act (MLA). (See corresponding CFPB blog post here.) The agencies countered that the plain text of the MLA allows servicemembers to enforce their rights in court. Specifically, the agencies argued that Congress made it clear that when a lender extends a loan to a servicemember that fails to comply with the MLA, the loan is rendered void in its entirety. Moreover, Congress amended the MLA to unambiguously provide servicemembers certain legal rights, including an express private right of action and “the right to rescind and seek restitution on a contract void under the criteria of the statute.”

    The case involves an active-duty servicemember and his spouse who financed the purchase of a timeshare from the defendants. Plaintiffs entered into an agreement with the defendants, made a down payment, and agreed to pay the remaining balance in monthly installments carrying an interest rate of 16.99 percent, in addition to annual assessments and club dues. None of the loan documents provided to the plaintiffs discussed the military annual percentage rate, nor did the defendants make any supplemental oral disclosures. Additionally, the agreement contained a mandatory arbitration clause (the MLA prohibits creditors from requiring servicemembers to submit to arbitration) and purportedly waived plaintiffs’ right to pursue a class action and their right to a jury trial. Plaintiffs filed a putative class action lawsuit alleging the agreement violated the MLA on several grounds, and sought an order declaring the agreement void. Plaintiffs also sought recission of the agreement, restitution, statutory, actual, and punitive damages, and an injunction requiring defendants to comply with the MLA going forward.

    Defendants moved to dismiss, countering “that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they had not suffered any concrete injury and, even if they had, whatever injury they suffered was not traceable to the alleged MLA violations.” Defendants also argued that the loan was exempt under the MLA’s exemption for residential mortgages, and claimed that the MLA does not authorize statutory damages, nor did the plaintiffs state a claim for declaratory or injunctive relief. Further, defendants stated the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. The district court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing, agreeing with the magistrate judge that, among other things, plaintiffs “failed to allege ‘that the inclusion of the arbitration provision impacted [their] decision to accept the contract,’ and that they could not ‘seek[] relief based on a mere technicality that has not impacted them in any way.’”

    Disagreeing with the district court’s ruling, the agencies argued that plaintiffs have a legal right to challenge the contract in court because (i) they made a down payment on an illegal and void loan; (ii) the injuries are traceable to the challenged conduct since “their monetary losses are the product of the illegal and void loan"; and (iii) their injuries “are redressable by an order of the court awarding restitution for the amounts that plaintiffs have already paid on the loan, and by a declaration confirming that the loan is void and that the plaintiffs have no obligation to make additional payments going forward.” The agencies asserted that courts have recognized that economic injury is exactly the sort of injury that courts have the power to redress. 

    Moreover, the agencies pointed out that the district court’s ruling “risks substantially curtailing private enforcement of the MLA and limiting servicemembers’ ability to vindicate their rights under the statute. It does so by reading the MLA’s voiding provision out of the statute and reading into the statute an atextual materiality requirement. But it may be very difficult, if not impossible, for servicemembers to demonstrate that certain MLA violations had a direct effect on their decision to procure a financial product or caused them to pay money they would not otherwise have paid.”

    Courts FTC CFPB Servicemembers Military Lending Act Appellate Eleventh Circuit Consumer Finance Disclosures Arbitration

  • DOE expands support for veterans/servicemembers and incarcerated individuals

    Federal Issues

    On October 27, the Department of Education (DOE) announced final rules cracking down on deceptive practices affecting veterans and servicemembers and expanding college access to incarcerated students. (See DOE fact sheet here.) The final rules, among other things, (i) implement a change to the “90/10 rule” made by the American Rescue Plan in 2021, which closed a loophole in the Higher Education Act that previously incentivized some for-profit colleges to aggressively recruit veterans and servicemembers in order to receive more DOE funding (going forward, these institutions may no longer count money from veteran and service member benefits toward a 10 percent revenue requirement); (ii) expand access to DOE’s Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative to allow incarcerated individuals in nearly all states to participate; (iii) provide incarcerated individuals with access to the FSA’s Fresh Start initiative, which will help borrowers with defaulted loans access income-driven low monthly payments as well as with access to Pell Grants; and (iv) clarify requirements and processes for post-secondary institutions when changing ownership, which may require institutions to provide additional financial protection or impose other conditions to protect against risks arising from the transaction.

    Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Department of Education Student Lending Servicemembers Consumer Finance

  • California amends protections for servicemembers and veterans

    State Issues

    On September 27, the California governor signed SB 1311 to enact the Military and Veteran Consumer Protection Act of 2022. The Act updates several provisions related to servicemembers and veterans, including amending existing law to provide that a person will be liable for an additional civil penalty of up to $2,500 for each violation if the person engages in “unfair competition, including any unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent business act or practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue, or misleading advertising,” against one or more servicemembers or veterans. Additionally, the Act amends certain provisions related to enforcement of the federal Military Lending Act (MLA). Specifically, the bill makes “any security interest in personal property other than a motor vehicle, off-highway vehicle, trailer, or aircraft void if it would cause a loan procured by specified service members in the course of purchasing the personal property to be exempt from the [MLA].” The Act also makes “any security interest in a motor vehicle void if it would cause a loan procured by specified service members in the course of purchasing the motor vehicle to be exempt from the [MLA] and the loan also funds the purchase of a credit insurance product or credit-related ancillary product.” The Act takes effect January 1, 2023.

    State Issues State Legislation California Military Lending Act Servicemembers Consumer Finance

  • DOJ amends SCRA settlement with auto loan provider

    Federal Issues

    On September 28, the DOJ announced an amended settlement with an auto loan provider resolving allegations that it failed to fully provide qualified servicemembers with interest rate benefits afforded to them under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). According to the DOJ, while monitoring the auto lender’s compliance with the original DOJ settlement, the DOJ found that the auto loan provider was failing to apply interest rate benefits back to the date orders were issued calling the servicemember to active duty, and that it had improperly delayed the approval of interest rate benefits to some servicemembers. Under this amended settlement agreement, the auto loan provider agreed to pay an additional $185,460 to 250 servicemembers who did not receive proper interest rate benefits. The DOJ also noted that each servicemember who did not receive interest rate benefits back to the date their orders were issued will receive a refund of any excess interest they paid, as well as an additional payment of three times the overpayment or $100, whichever is higher. The auto loan provider is required to pay an additional $40,000 civil penalty to the U.S. and must revise its SCRA policies and training regarding interest rate benefits for servicemembers.

    Federal Issues DOJ SCRA Servicemembers Enforcement Auto Finance

  • CFPB sues online lender to servicemembers

    Federal Issues

    On September 29, the CFPB filed a complaint against a New York-based online lender and 38 of its subsidiaries for allegedly violating the Military Lending Act (MLA) and the Consumer Financial Protection Act by imposing excessive charges on loans to servicemembers and their dependents. The Bureau alleges that the defendants required consumers to join its membership program and pay monthly membership fees ranging from $19.99 to $29 to access certain “low-APR” installment loans. The complaint says that when the membership fees are combined with loan-interest-rate charges, the total fees exceed the MLA’s allowable rate cap, contending that the MLA serves to protect active duty servicemembers and their dependents by limiting the APR applicable to extensions of credit to 36 percent. The Bureau further claims that the defendants deceived consumers by representing that they owed loan payments and fees that were actually void under the MLA. In addition, the Bureau claims that the defendants refused to allow customers to cancel their memberships and stop paying monthly fees until their loans were paid, despite leading many consumers to believe they could cancel their memberships for any reason at any time, thereby “avoid[ing] such automatic renewals and associated membership fees.” In certain cases, the defendants refused to cancel memberships if a consumer had unpaid membership fees even if the loan was paid off, the Bureau says. The Bureau is seeking permanent injunctive relief, damages, restitution, disgorgement, civil money penalties, and other relief.

    Federal Issues CFPB Enforcement Online Lending Servicemembers Consumer Finance Fees Military Lending Act CFPA Fintech

  • DOJ resolves SCRA violations with landlords

    Federal Issues

    On August 8, the DOJ announced a settlement with two landlords resolving allegations that they violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by obtaining unlawful court judgments against military tenants. The DOJ explained that, under the SCRA, if a landlord files a civil lawsuit against a tenant and the tenant does not appear in court, the landlord must file an affidavit with the court stating whether the tenant is in the military before seeking a judgment. The DOJ further noted that if the affidavit states that the tenant is in military service, the court cannot enter judgment until an attorney is appointed to represent the servicemember. The court must also postpone the case for at least 90 days. According to the DOJ’s complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the property owners allegedly filed false affidavits stating that the servicemembers were “not in military service” and failed to file affidavits of military service, as required by the SCRA, prior to obtaining default judgments against numerous servicemembers. The DOJ further alleged that the property owners had information in their files that would have allowed them to easily verify their tenants’ military status.

    The consent decree requires the property owners to pay $162,971 to affected servicemembers and a $62,029 civil penalty to the U.S. The order also requires the property owners to, among other things, vacate the eviction judgments, repair the servicemembers’ credit, and provide SCRA training to their employees. The property owners must also reimburse affected servicemembers for any amounts collected pursuant to an unlawful judgment.

    Federal Issues DOJ SCRA Courts Servicemembers Consumer Finance Enforcement

  • CFPB, DOJ issue letter to auto companies on SCRA provisions

    Federal Issues

    On July 29, the CFPB and DOJ issued a joint letter reminding auto finance companies of legal protections for military families under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Among other things, the letter outlines several SCRA provisions that apply to vehicle financing, including: (i) prohibiting vehicle repossession without a court order during the borrower’s military service if a borrower financed or leased the vehicle prior to entering military service; (ii) permitting servicemembers and joint lessee dependents to terminate motor vehicle leases early, and without penalty, after entering military service or receiving qualifying military orders during active duty; and (iii) capping the amount of interest on loans incurred prior to military service to 6 percent per year.

    Federal Issues CFPB Servicemembers DOJ SCRA Auto Finance