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  • FTC announces charges against auto dealerships for falsifying consumer information on auto financing documents

    Lending

    On August 1, the FTC announced charges against a group of four auto dealers (defendants) with locations in Arizona and New Mexico near the Navajo Nation’s border alleging, among other things, that the defendants advertised misleading discounts and incentives through their vehicle advertisements, and falsely inflated consumers’ income and down payment information on certain financing applications. The charges brought against the defendants allege violations of the FTC Act, the Truth in Lending Act, and the Consumer Leasing Act. According to the complaint, by allegedly falsifying the customers’ income and down payments, the defendants “inaccurately made consumers appear more creditworthy” on the false financing applications. Moreover, the FTC claims the defendants often prevented consumers from reviewing the falsified information provide in the financing applications prior to signing. As a result, credit was extended to consumers—many of whom are members of the Navajo Nation—who then subsequently “defaulted at a higher rate than properly qualified buyers.” Furthermore, the complaint asserts that the defendants’ deceptive advertising practices concealed the true nature and terms of the financing or leasing offers, and were in violation of federal law for failing to disclose the required terms. The complaint seeks, among other remedies, a permanent injunction to prevent future violations, restitution, and disgorgement.

    Lending Consumer Finance FTC Auto Finance FTC Act TILA Consumer Leasing Act

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  • CFPB announces settlement with Alabama-based operation for allegedly failing to properly disclose finance charges

    Consumer Finance

    On July 19, the CFPB announced a settlement with a small-dollar lending operation that allegedly failed to properly disclose finance charges and annual percentage rates associated with auto title loans in violation of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and the prohibition on deceptive practices in the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). According to the consent order, the Alabama-based operation, which owned and operated approximately 100 retail lending outlets in Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina under several names, materially misrepresented the finance charges consumers would incur for Mississippi auto title loans by disclosing a finance charge based on a 30-day term while having consumers sign a 10-month payment schedule. The Bureau asserts that “[c]onsumers acting reasonably likely would not understand that the finance charge disclosed in the loan agreement does not actually correspond to their loan payment term.” Furthermore, the Bureau contends that the operation also failed to disclose the annual percentage rate on in-store advertisements as required under TILA. The order requires the operation to pay redress in the amount of $1,522,298, which represents the total undisclosed finance charges made directly or indirectly by affected consumers on their loans. However, based on defendants’ inability to pay this amount, full payment is suspended subject to the operation’s paying $500,000 to affected consumers. In addition to the penalties, the operation is prohibited from continuing the illegal behavior and the operation’s board must ensure full compliance with the consent order.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Settlement CFPA TILA Auto Finance Disclosures

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  • New York Attorney General announces settlement with auto dealership over deceptive practices targeting non-English speakers

    State Issues

    On July 5, the New York Attorney General announced a settlement with an auto dealership to resolve allegations that it engaged in deceptive practices targeted towards non-English speakers. The auto dealership allegedly misled consumers about the actual cost of their purchases and offered false refinancing promises. According to the announcement, the dealership allegedly (i) provided English documents to non-English speaking consumers containing loan terms and aftermarket items different from those discussed during the actual sale, including “supplemental service contracts, gap insurance policies, or special protections for tires, fabric, glass, or paint that added thousands of dollars to the auto sale or lease contracts”; and (ii) told consumers it would refinance their loans at a lower rate after receiving complaints of overcharges and unwanted aftermarket items. However, the Attorney General asserts that the dealership failed to honor the refinancing promises. Under the terms of the settlement, the dealership is required to reform its business practices, refrain from engaging in the alleged deceptive business practices, modify its employee training and complaint handling process, and produce sales and lending documents in languages for non-English speakers prior to the signing of any documentation in English. The dealership must also pay over $423,000 to cover restitution, penalties, fees, and costs to the state.

    State Issues State Attorney General Fair Lending Settlement Auto Finance

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  • Court dismisses “convenience fee” action against bank for lack of damages

    Courts

    On June 25, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland dismissed a proposed class action alleging a national bank violated the Maryland Credit Grantor Closed End Credit (CLEC) law by charging “convenience fees” in connection with secured vehicle financing. According to the opinion, after the consumer defaulted on vehicle payments, the bank repossessed the consumer’s vehicle and demanded the consumer pay the deficiency balance. In August 2017, the consumer, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, filed a class action against the bank for allegedly charging convenience fees in connection with over 500 retail installment sales contracts for vehicles governed under the CLEC. Upon removal to federal court, the consumer sought to amend her complaint to replace the CLEC claim with a breach of contract claim based on the same violation in her original complaint and the bank sought dismissal of the claim. The court granted the bank’s motion to dismiss, concluding that even if the bank did charge a convenience fee in violation of the CLEC, the bank (i) did not collect payments in excess of the original principle amount of the loan; and (ii) did not seek a deficiency judgment against the consumer. Additionally, the consumer did not seek injunctive or declaratory relief. Therefore, the court held that the consumer is not entitled to damages under CLEC and her corollary breach of contract claim is “futile and must be dismissed.”

    Courts Class Action Fees Auto Finance Damages

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  • Auto finance company agrees to $19.7 million preliminary class action settlement over extra lease fees

    Courts

    On June 15, the lead plaintiff filed a motion in the U.S. District for the Southern District of Florida for preliminary approval of an approximately $19.7 million class action settlement between a group of consumers and an auto finance company over allegations that extra fees were charged beyond the set purchase option price disclosed in certain vehicle lease contracts. According to the motion, the lead plaintiff alleged that after he chose to purchase his vehicle at the end of his lease term and he was charged extra third-party fees not included in his original lease contract. The class action complaint alleges violations of the Consumer Leasing Act and breach of contract. The settlement class consists of consumers nationwide who entered into certain lease contracts with the company, purchased their leased vehicle after June 4, 2009, and that were required to pay a documentary or dealer fee not disclosed in the lease contract, which allegedly averages about $238 per consumer. The settlement would allow prospective opt-in members to submit a claim for repayment of 100% of the extra fees charged. The $19.7 million settlement figure was determined using a statistically significant sample of the transactional records available and includes up to $2.95 million in attorneys costs and fees. The settlement is awaiting the court’s approval.

    Courts Class Action Auto Finance Consumer Leasing Act

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  • FTC reports on certain 2017 enforcement activities to the CFPB

    Federal Issues

    On May 17, in response to a request from the CFPB, the FTC transmitted a letter summarizing its 2017 enforcement activities related to Regulation Z (TILA), Regulation M (Consumer Leasing Act), and Regulation E (Electronic Fund Transfer Act) for the CFPB’s use in preparing its 2017 Annual Report to Congress. The FTC highlighted numerous activities related to the enforcement of the pertinent regulations, including:

    • Payday Lending. The FTC acknowledged the continued litigation against two Kansas-based operations and their owner for allegedly selling lists of counterfeit payday loan debt portfolios to debt collectors in violation of the FTC Act, previously covered by InfoBytes here.
    • Military Protection. The FTC identified the July 2017 military consumer financial workshop and the launch of the new Military Task Force (previously covered by InfoBytes here and here) among the activities the agency engaged in related to protecting the finances of current and former members of the military. The FTC also noted continued participation in the interagency group working with the Department of Defense on amendments to its rule implementing the Military Lending Act.
    • “Negative Option.” For actions under the Regulation E/EFTA, the FTC highlighted numerous “negative option” enforcement actions, in which the consumer agrees to receive goods or services from a company for a free trial option, but if the consumer does not cancel before the trial period ends, the consumer will incur recurring charges for continued goods or services. Among the actions highlighted is a case in which the FTC imposed a $179 million judgment (suspended upon the payment of $6.4 million) settling allegations that the online marketers’ offers of “free” and “risk free” monthly programs for certain weight loss and other products were deceptive.
    • Auto Loans. The letter highlighted, among others, the FTC action against a Southern California-based group of auto dealerships that allegedly violated a prior consent order with the FTC by misrepresenting the cost to finance or lease a vehicle, previously covered by InfoBytes here.

    Federal Issues FTC Act Payday Lending FTC Auto Finance Enforcement Military Lending Act Department of Defense CFPB TILA Consumer Leasing Act EFTA Congress

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  • Trump signs legislation repealing CFPB auto guidance, Mulvaney praises action; CFPB to reexamine ECOA requirements

    Federal Issues

    On May 21, President Trump signed resolution S.J. Res. 57, which repeals CFPB Bulletin 2013-02 on indirect auto lending and compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). The president’s signature completes the disapproval process under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which began after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a letter in December 2017 to Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa) stating that “the Bulletin is a general statement of policy and a rule” that is subject to override under the CRA. The Senate passed the disapproval measure in April and the House approved it in the beginning of May. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)

    The repeal responds to concerns that the bulletin improperly attempted to regulate auto dealers, which the Dodd-Frank Act excluded from the Bureau’s authority. In a statement after the president’s signing, CFPB acting Director Mick Mulvaney praised the action and thanked the president and Congress for “reaffirming that the Bureau lacks the power to act outside of federal statutes.” He also stated that the repeal “clarifies that a number of Bureau guidance documents may be considered rules for purposes of the CRA, and therefore the Bureau must submit them for review by Congress. The Bureau welcomes such review, and will confer with Congressional staff and federal agency partners to identify appropriate documents for submission.”

    Additionally, acting Director Mulvaney announced plans to reexamine the requirements of ECOA, “[g]iven a recent Supreme Court decision distinguishing between antidiscrimination statutes that refer to the consequences of actions and those that refer only to the intent of the actor.” Although the decision is not identified, it is likely the June 2015 Supreme Court decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., which concluded that disparate impact claims are permitted under the Fair Housing Act but acknowledged some limitations on its application. (Covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert.) 

    Federal Issues CFPB CFPB Succession Congressional Review Act U.S. Senate U.S. House ECOA Auto Finance Dodd-Frank Fair Lending

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  • DOJ, CFPB agree to early termination of consent order with indirect auto lender

    Lending

    On May 15, the auto lending branch of an international automobile company (indirect auto lender) reported in an 8-K filing that the DOJ and CFPB had reached an agreement that the indirect auto lender has met the requirements for early termination of a consent order entered into in 2016 over allegations of unfair lending practices. As previously covered in InfoBytes, a joint agency investigation under ECOA found that the indirect auto lender’s policies allowed for dealers to mark up a consumer’s interest rate on the retail installment contract above the established risk-based buy rate. The parties currently await final court approval of a joint stipulation and proposed order for early termination of the consent order from three years to two years in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

    Lending Fair Lending DOJ CFPB ECOA Auto Finance Consumer Finance

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  • House approves repeal of CFPB’s 2013 indirect auto guidance

    Federal Issues

    On May 8, the House voted to repeal, under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), CFPB Bulletin 2013-02 (Bulletin) on indirect auto lending and compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Senate approved the resolution on April 18 and the White House issued a Statement of Administrative Policy supporting the Senate resolution; it is expected that President Trump will sign the measure soon.

    If the measure is successful, this would be the first time that Congress has used the CRA to repeal a regulatory issuance outside the statute’s general 60-day period. In December 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a letter to Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa) stating that “the Bulletin is a general statement of policy and a rule” that is subject to override under the CRA, which allowed for the Senate to introduce the resolution measure years after the CFPB released the Bulletin.

     

    Federal Issues Congressional Review Act Agency Rule-Making & Guidance GAO U.S. Senate U.S. House CFPB Succession CFPB Auto Finance

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  • Florida District Court of Appeal holds contract for used car not covered by state usury law

    Courts

    On April 25, a Florida District Court of Appeal held that a Florida usury law did not apply to the purchase of a used car because the contract for purchase was a retail installment sales contract covered under the Florida Motor Vehicle Retail Sales Finance Act (the Finance Act). According to the opinion, a consumer filed a lawsuit against a used car seller and a lender claiming violations of Florida’s general usury law, which prohibits interest of more than 18 percent per year, because the contract for purchase of a used car had a 27.81 percent interest rate. In affirming the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment for the car seller and lender, the appeals court found that the contract for purchase met the state’s definition of a retail installment sales contract and,  therefore, was governed by the Finance Act (which both the seller and lender were licensed under) rather than the general usury statute. Additionally, because the car was financed over a four-year period, the appeals court found that the finance charge per year was permissible under the Finance Act at $16.48 for every $100. The court also held that the general usury law did not apply to a contract to secure the price of personal property sold, as opposed to a contract for the “loan of money.”

    Courts State Issues Auto Finance Interest Rate Usury Consumer Finance

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