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On October 25, the CFPB released its latest monthly report of consumer complaint trends. This month’s report highlights prepaid complaints, noting that since July 21, 2011, the CFPB has received approximately 6,000 prepaid complaints. According to the report, the “most common issues identified by consumers are problems with managing, opening or closing an account (32 percent) and unauthorized transactions or other transaction issues (30 percent).” Additional prepaid complaints highlighted in the report include: (i) consumers experiencing delays in receiving a replacement card after having notified a company of fraudulent or unauthorized charges to their prepaid cards; (ii) difficulty using a prepaid card after having purchased one; (iii) assessing dormancy fees that depleted the card’s balance; and (iv) balance discrepancies. Consistent with past reports, this month’s issue lists the top ten most-complained-about companies across all financial products, as well as the top seven most-complained about companies for prepaid-related issues. Finally, the report identifies North Carolina as its geographical spotlight, observing that, as of October 1, 2016, the CFPB has received about 27,600 complaints from North Carolina consumers.
I. Overview of the CFPB's Final Prepaid Rule
On October 5, 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau) issued a final rule (Prepaid Rule) amending Regulations E and Z to extend consumer protections to prepaid card accounts. The new protections include pre-acquisition disclosures, error resolution rights, and periodic statements. In addition, prepaid card accounts that include a separate credit feature are subject to some of Regulation Z’s credit card provisions, including an ability-to-repay requirement. Prepaid card issuers are also required to submit to the Bureau and to post to their websites any new and revised prepaid card account agreements. In this alert we summarize key provisions of the Prepaid Rule except those provisions that apply only to payroll and government benefits prepaid cards, which will be covered in a separate alert.
II. Effective Date
The Prepaid Rule’s effective date is October 1, 2017, however, the effective date for posting prepaid card account agreements is October 1, 2018. Heeding concerns about burden, the Bureau stated that the Prepaid Rule does not require financial institutions to pull and replace prepaid account access devices or packaging materials that were manufactured, printed, or otherwise produced in the normal course of business prior to October 1, 2017. Instead, financial institutions must provide consumers with notice of certain changes in terms and updated initial disclosures, in certain circumstances.
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Questions regarding the matters discussed in this Alert may be directed to any of our lawyers listed below, or to any other BuckleySandler attorney with whom you have consulted in the past.
- Manley Williams, (202) 349-8060
On October 20, the FDIC released a report on the use of the traditional banking system in the United States. According to the FDIC’s executive summary of the report, the percentage of U.S. households in which no one had a checking or savings account (the “unbanked”) dropped to 7.0 in 2015. This is the lowest unbanked percentage since 2009, the year the FDIC began conducting an annual survey of unbanked and underbanked households. The FDIC cited several reasons why some households remain unbanked, the most common of which was the cost of maintaining an account, with an estimated 57.4% of respondents citing it as a factor in their decision not to maintain an account, and 37.8% of respondents citing it as the main reason underlying their decision not to maintain an account. Consistent with past survey results, the report notes that unbanked and underbanked rates are higher among lower-income households, less-educated households, younger households, minority households, and working-age disabled households. Additional findings highlighted in the report include: (i) a 1.9% increase from 2013-2015 in the use of prepaid cards; (ii) rapid growth (31.9% of users in 2015 compared to 23.2% in 2013) in the use of mobile and online banking, reflecting “promising opportunities to use the mobile platform to increase economic inclusion”; and (iii) an opportunity for banks to meet the credit needs of some households with an “unmet demand” for credit by “promoting the importance of building credit history, incorporating nontraditional data into underwriting, and increasing households’ awareness of personal credit products.”
CFPB Releases Final Rule on Prepaid Financial Products; Chamber of Digital Commerce Comments on Scope of the Rule
On October 5, the CFPB released its final rule on prepaid financial products, including traditional prepaid cards, mobile wallets, person-to-person payment products, and other electronic accounts with the ability to store funds. The rule is intended to provide consumers with additional federal protections under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act analogous to the protections checking account consumers receive. The following federal protections are included in the new rule: (i) financial institutions will be required to provide certain account information for free via telephone, online, and in writing upon request, unless periodic statements are provided; (ii) financial institutions must work with consumers who find errors on their accounts, including unauthorized or fraudulent charges, timely investigate and resolve these incidents, and restore missing funds when appropriate; and (iii) consumers will be protected against unauthorized transactions, such as withdrawals or purchases, if their prepaid cards are lost or stolen. The rule contains new “Know Before You Owe” prepaid disclosures similar to those used for mortgages and student financial aid offers. In addition to requiring two (one short, the other long) disclosure forms, the new rule requires that prepaid account issuers post agreement offers made available to the general public on their websites, submit all agreements to the CFPB, and make agreements that are not required to be posted on their website available to relevant consumers. The new rule also includes credit protections stemming primarily from the Truth in Lending Act and the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, including providing consumers with monthly credit billing statements, giving consumers reasonable time – at least 21 days – to repay their debt before incurring late fees, ensuring that consumers are able to repay the debt before making a credit offer, and limiting the fee and interest charges to 25% of the total credit limit during the first year an account is open. The rule, which has not yet been published in the Federal Register, has a general compliance date of October 1, 2017, but includes certain accommodations, one of which is an October 2018 effective date for the requirement that agreements be submitted to the CFPB.
The Chamber of Digital Commerce submitted comments to the CFPB in December advocating that virtual currency products and services should fall outside the scope of the prepaid rule. Pursuant to the final rule, the CFPB found that “application of Regulation E and this final rule to such products and services is outside the scope of this rulemaking.”
FinCEN, Banking Agencies Release Guidance on Applying Customer Identification Program Requirements to Holders of Prepaid Cards
On March 21, the Federal Reserve, FDIC, NCUA, OCC, and FinCEN published guidance to issuing banks (i.e., banks that authorize the use of prepaid cards) intended to clarify the application of customer identification program (CIP) requirements to prepaid cards. The guidance clarifies that when the issuance of a prepaid card creates an “account” as defined in CIP regulations, CIP requirements apply. The guidance indicates that a prepaid card should be treated as an account if it has attributes of a typical deposit product, including prepaid cards that provide the ability to reload funds or provide access to credit or overdraft features. Once an account has been opened, CIP regulations require identification of the “customer.” The guidance explains that the cardholder should be treated as the customer, even if the cardholder is not the named accountholder, but has obtained the card from a third party program manager who uses a pooled account with the bank to issue prepaid cards. Finally, the guidance stresses that third party program managers should be treated as agents, not customers, and that “[t]he issuing bank should enter into well-constructed, enforceable contracts with third-party program managers that clearly define the expectations, duties, rights, and obligations of each party in a manner consistent with [the] guidance.”
On March 1, the CFPB released its most recent complaint report focusing on prepaid products. According to the report, as of February 1, 2016, consumers have submitted approximately 4,300 complaints specific to prepaid products. Findings related to prepaid products highlighted in the report include: (i) consumers are not able to access funds loaded to prepaid cards for extended periods of time; (ii) companies are refusing to re-issue cards with remaining balances to consumers before the originally issued card expires; (iii) consumers are facing various extra charges, such as replacement, monthly, inactivity, and PIN number change fees; and (iv) companies are freezing entire balances when a consumer files a claim to dispute an unexpected charge, making funds unavailable until the claim process is complete. The report also notes that “[c]onsumers who were victims of frauds or scams frequently complained that scammers instructed them to purchase prepaid cards in order to transfer funds to the fraud perpetrators.”
In addition to its focus on prepaid product based complaints, the report identifies the Houston, Texas metropolitan area as its geographical spotlight, noting that as of February 1, 2016, the CFPB has received approximately 63,200 industry-wide complaints from Texas consumers, with about 15,700 coming from Houston consumers alone. A review of the Texas complaints resulted in a highlight of the most-complained-about companies and the most-complained-about consumer financial products and services. Debt collection, mortgage, and credit reporting accounted for the top three most-complained about products in both the Texas sampling and for all consumer complaints submitted to the CFPB’s Consumer Complaint Database.
On May 21, the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Postal Service (OIG) issued a report titled, “The Road Ahead for Postal Financial Services.” The report follows a January 2014 white paper issued by the OIG, which explored how the U.S. Postal Service could expand its provision of financial products to underserved Americans. The report summarizes five potential approaches for increasing the Postal Service’s financial services offerings, including: (i) expand current product offerings, which include paper money orders, international remittances, gift cards, and limited check cashing, as well as adjacent services (e.g., bill pay, ATMs); (ii) develop one key partner to provide financial services offerings, including possible expansion to general purpose reloadable prepaid cards, small loans, and/or deposit accounts; (iii) develop different partners for each product; (iv) make the Postal Service a “marketplace” for distribution of financial products of an array of providers; and/or (v) license the Postal Service as a financial institution focused on the financially underserved (although the OIG is not recommending this approach). Factors to consider when determining which approach to take, if any, include the legal and regulatory landscape; the effectiveness of cash management systems; dedication of the internal team, and public awareness of existing and potential services offered.
On November 13, the CFPB held a field hearing in Delaware to discuss its proposed rule regarding prepaid products. The proposal, which would amend Regulation E and Regulation Z, requires prepaid companies to provide certain protections under federal law.
In his opening remarks, Director Cordray noted that the many prepaid card consumers are some of the most economically vulnerable among us and that such cards have few, if any, protections under federal consumer financial law. Cordray outlined the reasons the Bureau’s proposed rule would “fill key gaps” for consumers. First, the proposed rule would provide consumers free and easy access to account information. Second, the proposed rule would mandate that financial institutions work with consumers to investigate any errors on registered cards. Third, the proposed rule would protect consumers against fraud and theft. Fourth, the rule includes “Know Before You Owe” prepaid disclosures, which would highlight key costs associated with the cards. Fifth, where prepaid card providers also extend credit to consumers such offers would be treated the same as credit cards under the law.
On August 6, the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman, Rohit Chopra, published a blog post addressing the financial arrangements between financial institutions and institutions of higher education that market financial products to students. Last year, the CFPB urged banks to disclose any agreements with colleges and universities to market debit, prepaid, and other products to students and warned that “[t]he CFPB prioritizes its supervisory examinations based on the risks posed to consumers” and “[failing to make] college financial product arrangements transparent to students and their families . . . increase[s] such risks.” In this latest review, the CFPB assessed the Big Ten schools and found that at least 11 have established banking partners to market financial products to students. Of those 11, the CFPB found only four contracts on the bank websites, and it characterized three of those four contracts as “partial”—i.e. in the CFPB’s view, the disclosed agreements “did not contain important information, such as how much they pay schools to gain access to students in order to market and sell them financial products and services.” Concurrent with the blog post, the CFPB sent letters to schools asserting that “their bank partner has not yet committed to transparency when it comes to student financial products.”
Recently, the Federal Reserve Board released two payments-related reports: (i) a report to Congress on government-administered general use prepaid cards; and (ii) a detailed report on the Federal Reserve’s 2013 payments study. The report on government-administered prepaid cards analyzes the $502 million in fee revenue collected by issuers in 2013, a majority of which was attributable to interchange fees. For consumer-related fees, the report indicates such fees derived primarily from ATM-related charges. The second report details findings from the 2013 Federal Reserve Payments Study, the fifth in a series of triennial studies conducted by the Federal Reserve System to comprehensively estimate and study aggregate trends in noncash payments in the United States. The paper expands on the 2013 summary findings originally published last December, and includes, among many other things, the following new findings: (i) credit cards are more prevalent than other general-purpose card types; (ii) among general-purpose cards with purchase activity in 2012, consumers preferred debit cards, with an average use of 23 payments per month, compared with an average of 11 payments per month for general-purpose credit cards and 10 payments per month for general-purpose prepaid cards; (iii) although the number of ATM cash withdrawals using debit cards and general-purpose prepaid cards dropped slightly, growth in the value of ATM withdrawals continued to exceed inflation; (iv) the number of online bill payments reported by major processors, which included those initiated through online banking websites and directly through billers and settled over ACH, exceeded three billion in 2012; and (v) there were more than 250 million mobile payments made using a mobile wallet application, and at least 205 million person-to-person or money transfer payments.