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CFPB Expands Complaint Collection To Include Prepaid Cards, Additional Nonbank Products And Services
On July 21, the CFPB announced that it is now accepting consumer complaints regarding (i) prepaid products, including gift cards, benefit cards, and general purpose reloadable cards; (ii) credit repair services and debt settlement services; and (iii) pawn and title loans. The CFPB’s decision to field prepaid card complaints comes as the agency prepares a proposed rule related to those products. The press release states that the CFPB is planning to initiate the prepaid card rulemaking “in the coming months.” Director Cordray recently stated the rule would be proposed at the “end of the summer.”
The CFPB provides the following options for consumers to identify the nature of their complaints:
- Prepaid Cards - (i) managing, opening, or closing your account; (ii) fees; (iii) unauthorized transactions or other transaction issues; (iv) advertising, marketing or disclosures; (v) adding money; (vi) overdraft, savings or rewards features; or (vii) fraud or scam.
- Credit Repair and Debt Settlement - (i) advertising and marketing; (ii) customer service/customer relations; (iii) disclosures; (iv) excessive fees; (v) unexpected/other fees; (vi) incorrect exchange rate; (vii) lost or stolen money order; (viii) lost or stolen check; or (ix) fraud or scam.
- Pawn and Title Loans – (i) charged fees or interest I didn't expect; (ii) can't stop lender from charging my bank account; (iii) received a loan I didn't apply for; (iv) applied for a loan, but didn't receive money; (v) lender charged my bank account on wrong day or for wrong amount; (vi) lender didn't credit payment to my account; (vii) can't contact lender; (viii) lender sold the property / repossessed or sold the vehicle; or (ix) lender damaged or destroyed property / vehicle.
As with all of the CFPB’s complaint categories, consumers also have an opportunity to describe their complaints regarding these new products and services in narrative form. Last week, the CFPB proposed a policy change under which it would publish those consumer complaint narratives, a move it hopes will increase the number of complaints the CFPB fields. At the same time the CFPB released its latest “snapshot” of consumer complaints, which provides an overview of the complaint process and summary analyses of complaints handled by the CFPB since July 21, 2011.
On July 1, the Federal Reserve Board announced a joint enforcement action with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation against a state bank that allegedly failed to properly oversee a nonbank third-party provider of financial aid refund disbursement services. The consent order states that from May 2012 to August 2013, the bank opened over 430,000 deposit accounts in connection with the vendor’s debit card product for disbursement of financial aid to students. The agencies claim that during that time, the vendor misled students about the product, including by (i) omitting material information about how students could get their financial aid refund without having to open an account; (ii) omitting material information about the fees, features, and limitations of the product; (iii) omitting material information about the locations of ATMs where students could access their account without cost and the hours of availability of those ATMs; and (iv) prominently displaying the school logo, which may have erroneously implied that the school endorsed the product. The regulators ordered the bank to pay a total of $4.1 million in civil money penalties. In addition, the Federal Reserve is seeking restitution from the vendor, and, pursuant to the order against the bank, may require the bank to pay any amounts the vendor cannot pay in restitution to eligible students up to the lesser of $30 million or the total amount of restitution based on fees the vendor collected from May 2012 through June 2014. The consent order also requires the bank to submit for Federal Reserve approval a compliance risk management program in advance of entering into an agreement with a third party to solicit, market, or service a consumer deposit product on behalf of the bank.
On June 5, the FDIC and a Delaware bank entered a consent order that prohibits the bank from entering into any new relationships with third-party prepaid card processors or prepaid card program managers until the FDIC approves a written report from the bank that details the steps taken by the bank to (i) implement new BSA compliance policies and procedures; (ii) improve staff training; (iii) implement controls sufficient to mitigate BSA and safety and soundness risk associated with prepaid card, credit card merchant acquiring, and ACH activities; and (iv) perform a BSA risk assessment. The order similarly restricts the bank’s activities related to credit card merchant acquiring and ACH merchant payment processing. The order does not prohibit the bank from issuing prepaid cards through existing distribution channels under existing contracts with third-parties, but does restrict certain activities related to existing credit card and ACH processing activities. In addition, the bank must (i) retain and designate BSA and OFAC officers; (ii) conduct a suspicious activity reporting look-back review; and (iii) submit periodic progress reports. Finally, the order requires increased board supervision of the bank’s BSA compliance program and mandates the creation of a board-level BSA committee.
On June 10, CFPB Director Richard Cordray testified before the Senate Banking Committee in connection with the CFPB’s recently released Semiannual Report to Congress. The hearing covered a broad range of topics, including, among several others, prepaid cards, student loans, small dollar loans, and arbitration clauses.
Director Cordray advised in response to an inquiry from Senator Menendez (D-NJ) that the CFPB’s prepaid card proposed rule, which the CFPB recently indicated could be released this month, likely will not come until the end of the summer. He reassured the Senator that the delay does not indicate any particular problem about the rulemaking, only that certain of the issues raised have been “hard to work through.”
Senator Menendez raised concerns about “automatic defaults” in the student loan context, an issue raised in the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman’s mid-year report on student loans. In that report, the CFPB stated, based on an unidentified number of consumer complaints, that “industry participants are automatically placing loans in default – even when a borrower is paying as agreed” – in circumstances such as when a co-signer dies or goes into bankruptcy. The Ombudsman acknowledged that financial institutions may have legitimate business purposes for exercising contractual acceleration options which demand the full balance of a loan when a borrower’s co-signer has died or filed for bankruptcy. Senator Mendendez described legislation to address the issue. Senator Brown (D-OH) also focused on student loan issues, picking up on the CFPB’s common refrain that problems in the student loans servicing market are similar to those seen in mortgage servicing. He called for the CFPB to establish student loan servicing standards. Director Cordray acknowledged that the two markets are different, but pointed to “poor customer service, problems with transfers, lack of information, and harm to consumers” as “eerie” examples of problems seen in both markets.
Small Dollar Loans
On small dollar loans, Senator Brown expressed concern that an eventual CFPB rule on traditional payday loans could lead to arbitrage and leave gaps in consumer protection related to other small dollar loans, including, for example, online loans, auto title loans, and installment loans. Director Corday described this issue as one of “extreme importance” as the CFPB addresses the small dollar loan market. He stated that implementation of the Military Lending Act has given rise to similar problems, which the CFPB is working with the Department of Defense to address. He explained that the CFPB’s process on a payday loan rule is taking longer as the Bureau attempts to deal with these issues, but believes “it's well worth a little additional time in order to make sure that what we do won't be made a mockery of by people circumventing it through just transforming their product slightly.”
Senator Warren (D-MA) turned her attention, which recently has focused on student loans, to the issue of arbitration. She stated that “arbitration stacks the deck against customers in favor of large corporations,” and that it is “no surprise that many big banks, and other big corporations, force customers to agree to arbitration clauses to get credit cards, or open checking accounts, knowing that this means that the customer will have no real remedy if things go wrong.” Director Cordray responded that in hearing from corporations and consumers on the issue of arbitration clauses, there is almost no relation between the two, which is contrary to CFPB’s experience on other issues. He explained that while the Dodd-Frank Act barred arbitration in mortgage contracts, he only directed the CFPB to study and consider interventions related to arbitration in other consumer finance contracts. He said the CFPB has pursued a very thorough process to conduct the required study, which the Director believes will be completed this year. Senator Warren pressed him to commit to new rules if the study presents evidence such rules are required. Director Cordray declined to describe any possible policy judgments or actions that could follow the study, but promised the CFPB will fulfill its obligation to engage in policymaking that appropriately reflects the conclusions of the study.
On June 3, Visa announced that it teamed with Pew Charitable Trusts to develop voluntary prepaid card standards and a designation for cards that meet those standards. To qualify for the designation, which Visa believes “will signify a new level of simplicity, protection and opportunity,” a prepaid card must have the following features: (i) flat monthly fee covering all basic activities; (ii) no additional charges for declined transactions, customer service, in-network ATM withdrawal or balance inquiries, PIN or signature transactions, cash back at point of sale, or overdrafts; (iii) “consumer friendly” communication of fees—e.g. fee box and disclosures; and (iv) “quick-use guide” for using the card at the lowest cost. In addition, issuers seeking the designation must provide the following consumer protections: (i) individual FDIC/NCUA insurance; (ii) Regulation E dispute resolution rights; (iii) coverage under Visa’s zero liability policy; and (iv) access to Visa’s Prepaid Clearinghouse Service to assist with fraud prevention.
Updated CFPB Rulemaking Agenda Adds Auto Finance Larger Participant Rule, Updates Timelines For Other Rules
The CFPB recently released its latest rulemaking agenda, which lists for the first time a larger participant rule that would define the size of nonbank auto finance companies subject to the CFPB's supervisory authority. The CFPB anticipates proposing a rule no sooner than August 2014. Stakeholders will have an opportunity to comment, and a final rule likely would not be issued until sometime in 2015. The CFPB anticipates finalizing its rule for larger participants in the international money transfer market in September 2014. In addition, the agenda pushes back the timeline for the anticipated prepaid card proposed rule from May 2014 to June 2014. The CFPB has been testing potential prepaid card disclosures.
The agenda does not provide timelines for proposed rules related to payday lending, debt collection, or overdraft products, but the CFPB states that additional prerule activities for each of those topics will continue through September 2014, December 2014, and February 2015, respectively. The CFPB substantially extended the timeline for overdraft products; it previously anticipated continuing prerule activities through July 2014. While “prerule activities” is not a defined term, it could include conducting a small business review panel for some or all of those topics. Such panels focus on the impact of anticipated regulations on small entities, but the CFPB typically makes the small business panel materials public, which provides an advance look at the potential direction for a proposed rule.
The agenda does not include a rulemaking implementing the small business fair lending data reporting requirements in the Dodd-Frank Act, though the CFPB previously has indicated it could consider those issues in connection with its HMDA rulemaking. Prerule activities related to the HMDA rule are ongoing.
On March 18, the CFPB announced that it has begun testing two potential model prepaid card disclosures. After holding field tests last month in Baltimore and this week in Los Angeles, the CFPB plans a final field test next month at a location to be determined. The model forms would provide a standard format for disclosing certain fees, including, among others, monthly, reload, per purchase, ATM withdrawal, and inactivity fees. The two models primarily differ in design—the fees included on the two test models are identical, but for a “decline” fee, which appears only on one of the models.
The field testing follows the CFPB’s May 2012 advance notice of proposed rulemaking soliciting comments to evaluate prepaid cards. The CFPB received hundreds of comments in response to that initial inquiry, and since that time, advocacy groups and members of Congress have continued to pressure the CFPB to take action on prepaid cards. For example, in the last several months, Senate Democrats introduced two prepaid card bills that would establish certain disclosure requirements, and the PEW Charitable Trusts released a paper outlining its latest position and model disclosures.
Finally, in addition to the field testing, the CFPB is seeking comments on the model disclosures through its blog, Twitter, Facebook, or email “from anyone who is interested in making prepaid card disclosures better.” Following completion of the testing, the CFPB expects to propose a rule “later this spring.” That timeline matches one laid out in the CFPB’s most recent rulemaking agenda, in which the Bureau anticipated a proposed rule in May 2014.
On February 25, the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) published the results of its survey of prepaid cards. The OCBAR examined 16 different purchasing and use-related fees for 11 randomly-selected prepaid cards, using the fee schedule from each card’s website, which the OCABR stated “were not always easy to find and were quite confusing at times.” The survey identified as the most common fees charged by the prepaid cards surveyed as (i) monthly fees, (ii) ATM withdrawal fees, and (iii) balance inquiry fees, which were each charged by nine of the 11 cards surveyed. The OCABR researchers claim to have discovered “additional types of fees associated with the products”, including fees associated with alternative card payment plans. The OCABR believes such alternative options make it more difficult for consumers to anticipate the cost of having and using a prepaid card.
CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman Questions Marketing Of Student Financial Products; GAO Recommends More Transparency
On February 13, CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman Rohit Chopra published on the CFPB's blog an update on the CFPB’s review of student financial products and raised concerns about certain marketing arrangements between financial institutions and colleges and universities, and the level of transparency associated with those agreements and the products marketed under them. He specifically questioned financial institutions that “generate a significant amount of their revenue on these products while students are currently in school.” On the same day, the GAO published a report on student debit and prepaid cards and marketing agreements, which recommends that Congress take steps to increase transparency.
CFPB Student Financial Products Update
In December, CFPB Director Richard Cordray urged financial institutions to voluntarily disclose on their websites agreements with colleges and universities to market bank accounts, prepaid and debit cards, and other products to students. Mr. Chopra states that the CFPB also collected agreements available in the public domain by checking state open records databases and other websites where such agreements are disclosed.
Although it is unclear whether this collection produced a representative sample, Mr. Chopra states that the CFPB identified “several agreements” pursuant to which financial institutions provide direct payments to schools in exchange for use of the schools’ logos. Other agreements, the CFPB claims, provide bonus payments to schools based on whether students sign up for a checking account marketed on campus. A third category of agreements provide colleges discounted or free services in exchange for allowing a financial company to market products to students.
Mr. Chopra acknowledges that many financial institutions offer good products at competitive prices, but he reinforced the CFPB’s belief that voluntarily disclosing marketing agreements “is a sign of a financial institution’s commitment to transparency” and added that “[r]esponsible financial institutions also want students to know they don’t have to choose their product if they don’t want to.”
Mr. Chopra encouraged students, schools, financial institutions, or other who wants to share information about the availability of these agreements to email the CFPB. He also encouraged students to submit complaints about student loans, checking accounts, or credit cards.
GAO Report On Student Financial Product Transparency
GAO examined the functions of college cards and the characteristics of the schools and card providers offering them, and assessed the benefits and concerns associated with student debit and credit cards. The GAO reported that as of July 2013, 11 percent of U.S. institutes of higher education are party to an agreement to provide debit or prepaid card services to students. Those schools tend to be larger than institutions that do not offer such services, and most offered students the ability to receive federal aid on a card.
The GAO identifies concerns about fees, ATM access, and neutrality. Specifically, the GAO stated that two large card providers charge a fee for card purchases that use a PIN versus a signature, and that total fees paid by students is unknown. With regard to ATM access, the GAO found that Education Department regulations regarding access to free ATMs or branches for students who receive federal aid is insufficient and should be more specific to ensure free access to federal funds on cards. Finally, the GAO believes that marketing agreements may create incentives for schools to influence student choice of financial service provider, and that increased transparency could help ensure that terms of such marketing agreements are fair and reasonable for students and do not create conflicts of interest for schools.
To achieve this increased transparency, the GAO recommends that Congress require financial firms providing debit and prepaid card services to colleges to publicly file their marketing agreements. In addition, the GAO would like the Education Department to (i) specify what constitutes convenient access to ATMs or bank branch offices for students receiving federal student aid funds and (ii) develop requirements for schools and card providers to present neutral information to students about their options for receiving federal student aid funds.
On January 28, the House Financial Services Committee held a lengthy hearing with CFPB Director Richard Cordray in connection with the CFPB’s November 2013 Semi-Annual Report to Congress, which covers the period April 1, 2013 through September 30, 2013. The hearing came a day after the Committee launched a CFPB-like “Tell Your Story” feature through which it is seeking information from consumers and business owners about how the CFPB has impacted them or their customers. The Committee has provided an online submission form and also will take stories by telephone. Mr. Cordray’s prepared statement provided a general recap of the CFPB’s recent activities and focused on the mortgage rules and their implementation. It also specifically highlighted the CFPB’s concerns with the student loan servicing market.
The question and answer session centered on the implementation and impact of the CFPB’s mortgage rules, as well as the CFPB’s activities with regard to auto finance, HMDA, credit reporting, student lending, and other topics. Committee members also questioned Mr. Cordray on the CFPB’s collection and use of consumer data, particularly credit card account data, and the costs of the CFPB’s building construction/rehabilitation.
Mortgage Rule Implementation / Impact
Generally, Director Cordray pushed back against charges that the mortgage rules, in particular the ATR/QM rule, are inflexible and will limit credit availability. He urged members to wait for data before judging the impacts, and he suggested that much of the concerns being raised are “unreasoned and irrational,” resulting from smaller institutions that are unaware of the CFPB’s adjustments to the QM rule. He stated that he has personally called many small banks and has learned they are just not aware of the rule’s flexibility. He repeatedly stated that the rules can be amended, and that the CFPB will be closely monitoring market data.
The impact of the mortgage rules on the availability of credit for manufactured homes was a major topic throughout the hearing, On the substance of the issue, which was raised by Reps. Pearce (R-NM), Fincher (R-TN), Clay (D-MO), Sewell (D-AL), and others, Director Cordray explained that in his understanding, the concerns from the manufactured housing industry began with earlier changes in the HOEPA rule that resulted in a retreat from manufacture home lending. He stated that industry overreacted and now lenders are coming back into the market. Mr. Cordray has met personally with many lenders on this issue and will continue to do so while monitoring the market for actual impacts, as opposed to the “doomsday scenarios that are easy to speculate on in a room like this.” Still, he committed to work on this issue with manufacturers and lenders, as well as committee members.
Several committee members, including Reps. Sherman (D-CA), and Huizenga (R-MI) raised the issue of the requirement that title insurance from affiliated companies must be counted in the QM three percent cap. Mr. Cordray repeated that the CFPB believes Congress made a determination to include affiliate title protections in numerous places in the Dodd-Frank Act. That said, the CFPB is looking at the data on the impacts and meeting with stakeholders. Rep. Huizenga was most forceful, stating that while the CFPB has sought to limit the impact of the three percent cap, it is not enough. He raised again his bill, HR 1077, Rep. Meeks’ HR 3211, and ongoing work with Senators Vitter (R-LA) and Manchin (D-WV). He cited a survey conducted by the Real Estate Settlement Providers Council that found the inclusion of title charges causes 60 percent of loans under $60,000 to fail as qualified mortgages, and such loans actually become high-cost HOEPA loans. The survey also found that 45 percent of affiliated loans between $60,000 and $125,000 failed to qualify as qualified mortgages, and that 97 percent of the loans that failed as QMs were under $200,000 simply due to the inclusion of title insurance. Director Cordray did not have time to respond in full, but indicated the CFPB is waiting to see data on the actual impact.
Rep. Capito focused on the QM rule impact on Habitat for Humanity and other 501(c)(3) entities. Director Cordray stated that he spoke with the Habitat CEO prior to the hearing and believes the CFPB can address all of that organization’s concerns through rule amendments. He added that the CFPB already amended the rule to address Habitat’s first set of concerns, and that its latest concerns are new.
HMDA Rule Amendments & Small Business Fair Lending Rule
As she has done several times in the past, Rep. Velazquez (D-NY) raised the status of rulemaking required by Dodd-Frank Act section 1071 regarding small and minority/women-owned business lending. As he has in the past, Director Cordray explained that the CFPB is having difficulty addressing this rule given it is the only area in which the CFPB is required to address business lending. He added that the CFPB has determined that as it moves forward with the rule to amend HMDA data collection, which is underway now, the Bureau will attempt to fold the small business lending element into that process. He stated that the CFPB is working with the Federal Reserve Board on “overhauling that whole [HMDA] database” and “it feels to me that the right spot for this, and we've talked to a number of folks both from industry and consumer side on this, is to make [the small business lending requirements] part of the later stages of that, so it's coming, but not immediate.”
Rep. Bachus (R-AL) asked Director Cordray to specify appropriate dealer compensation alternatives. Mr. Cordray responded that the CFPB does not know all the mechanisms yet that would be satisfactory. It is “open to auto lenders and others bringing those to [the CFPB’s] attention, but [the CFPB] did say flat fees are one possibility. A flat percentage of the loan might be a possibility. Some combination of that with different durations of the loan, different levels, and potentially other things that [the CFPB has not] thought of but others in the industry may think of and bring to [its] attention. So [the CFPB is] open-minded on that.”
Reps. Scott (D-GA) and Barr (R-KY) also were critical of the CFPB’s auto finance guidance and suggested the CFPB should have met with industry stakeholders in advance or should have conducted a rulemaking. Mr. Scott asserted that auto credit is tighter and more expensive now. Mr. Cordray defended the guidance, as he has in the past, as a restatement of existing law. He does not believe the guidance has impacted or will impact the health of the auto market.
Rep. Beatty (D-OH) raised a recent proposal from the National Association of Auto Dealers on alternative dealer compensation models. Mr. Cordray acknowledged having seen it, and said that as long as all parties agree that the CFPB is respecting its jurisdictional lines in the auto context, the Bureau is willing to sit down with dealers and others to work on a “broader solution.”
Rep. Velazquez (D-NY) asked for an update on the CFPB’s efforts to regulate consumer credit reporting agencies. Director Cordray described the CFPB’s efforts to, for the first time, provide federal supervision of the major credit reporting agencies. He stated that those agencies are not used to such supervision and that, in his view, it has been an adjustment for them. The CFPB has had examination teams into each of the three largest credit reporting agencies and is discussing “various issues” with them and areas of concern. He informed the committee that as a result of the CFPB’s efforts the credit reporting agencies, for the first time, are forwarding the documentation that consumers send them about problems and potential errors in their credit reports to the furnishers to be evaluated. The CFPB still is concerned about errors and error resolution.
Prepaid & Overdraft
In response to an inquiry from Rep. Maloney (D-NY), Mr. Cordray stated that the CFPB is continuing to work on the prepaid card proposed rule to address “a hole in the fabric” of consumer protection. He said the rule likely will address disclosures and add new protections. On overdraft, he acknowledged the CFPB is not as far along—the agency is still studying the market.
Payday & Internet Lending
Rep. Luetkemeyer (R-MO) stated the FDIC and DOJ have admitted to working to shut down online lending. He confirmed that the Oversight Committee is considering investigating DOJ on Operation Choke Point (its payment processor investigations). He asked Director Cordray to support, perhaps with a letter of some sort, legitimate online lending businesses and processors. Mr. Cordray agreed that there is plenty of appropriate online lending, but declined to offer specific help absent further context.
Rep. Murphy (D-FL) later suggested that the CFPB look at the “good regulation and great enforcement” in Florida. Director Cordray responded that the CFPB is looking at “a number of states that have developed different provisions on short-term, small-dollar payday lending” including Florida, Colorado, and Washington.
Rep. Heck (D-WA) inquired as to the status of proposed Military Lending Act regulations. Director Cordray explained that the CFPB has been “actively engaged” on writing new rules with the Department of Defense, the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, the OCC, Treasury Department, and the FTC. It stated that it has been difficult to get multiple agencies to work together, and asked Congress to “keep our feet to the fire and make it clear that you want to see that quickly.”
Mobile Payments & Emerging Products/Providers
Rep. Ellison (D-MN) asked about the CFPB’s views on emerging financial service providers, citing recent reports about T-Mobile’s efforts. Mr. Cordray stated that the CFPB is watching very closely and trying to keep up with the rapidly changing products and markets. He stated that it will present challenges to the current regulatory structure, particularly when phone companies are involved, and that the CFPB will need to coordinate with other regulators and probably will need legislation from Congress. Rep. Heck asked the CFPB to conduct a front-end in-depth analysis of consumer protection issues across various emerging mobile payments platforms. Mr. Cordray did not commit.
Rep. Peters (D-MI) raised his FAIR Student Credit Act bill, HR 2561. The bill, which is co-sponsored by Reps. Bachus (R-AL), Capito (R-WV), and seven other Republicans and 11 Democrats, would amend FCRA with respect to the responsibilities of furnishers of information to consumer reporting agencies. It would provide for the removal of a previously reported default regarding a qualified education loan from a consumer report if the consumer of the loan meets the requirements of a loan rehabilitation program, where the number of consecutive on-time monthly payments are equal to the number of payments specified in a default reduction program under the Higher Education Act of 1965. The bill would limit such rehabilitation benefits to once per loan. Rep. Peters indicated the Committee will consider the legislation, and that he has met with lenders who stated they could start offering rehabilitation immediately after the bill is enacted. Director Cordray stated that without having read the bill, it sounded promising, and that he would ask Rohit Chopra to work with the Congressman.