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Auto lender pays $11.8 million to resolve investigation into add-on product and loan extension program
On November 20, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Texas-based auto lender to resolve allegations that the lender violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act by deceptively marketing an auto-loan guaranteed asset protection (GAP) add-on product and misrepresenting the impact on consumers of obtaining a loan extension. Regarding the GAP add-on product, which was intended to cover a “gap” between the consumer’s primary auto insurance payout and the consumer’s outstanding loan balance in the event of a total vehicle loss, the CFPB alleged that the lender failed to disclose to consumers that if their loan-to-value was greater than 125 percent, they would not receive the “true full coverage” advertised with the GAP add-on product. Regarding extensions of auto loans, the CFPB alleged, among other things, that the lender failed to “clearly and prominently” disclose that interest accrued during a loan extension would be paid before principal when the consumer resumed making payments on the extended loan. Under the order, the lender must, among other things, (i) pay $9.29 million in consumer restitution; (ii) clearly and prominently disclose the terms of the GAP add-on product and loan extension; and (iii) pay $2.5 million in a civil money penalty.
7th Circuit affirms summary judgment for repossession company, holds property-retrieval fee is not subject to FDCPA
On October 31, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment for a third-party repossession company and an auto lender, holding that a fee that the repossession company required to process personal items left in a repossessed car did not constitute an impermissible demand for repayment under the FDCPA. According to the opinion, after a consumer fell behind on her auto payments, the third-party company repossessed her vehicle on behalf of the auto lender. The repossession company, according to the consumer, demanded a $100 payment in order to retrieve personal property she had left in the car. The consumer sued the company and the lender arguing that the retrieval fee was an impermissible debt collection in violation of the FDCPA. In response, the repossession company and the lender moved for summary judgment, arguing that the fee was an administrative handling fee that the lender had agreed to pay to the repossession company—not a fee assessed to the consumer. The lower court agreed.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit determined that the documentary evidence showed that the $100 fee was an administrative fee that the lender agreed to pay to the repossession company, stating “[t]here is no way on this record to view the handling fee as some sort of masked demand for principal payment to [the lender].” The appellate court concluded the consumer did not establish a genuine issue of fact as to whether the repossession company demanded the $100 payment on behalf of the lender and, therefore, affirmed summary judgment in favor of the repossession company and the lender.
On November 2, the DOJ announced a $95,000 settlement with a credit union resolving allegations that the credit union violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by repossessing vehicles owned by servicemembers without first obtaining the required court orders. According to the complaint, which was filed on the same day the settlement was announced, the DOJ launched an investigation into the credit union’s repossession practices after learning of two private complaints filed against the credit union for alleged SCRA violations. Through the investigation, the DOJ discovered additional violations and that the credit union did not have policies and procedures that addressed non-judicial auto repossessions against servicemembers until August 2014. Under the terms of the settlement, the credit union is required to pay $65,000 to compensate affected servicemembers and a civil money penalty of $30,000. In addition, the company must submit its employee SCRA training materials for approval and complete reporting, record-keeping, and monitoring requirements.
On October 9, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division reversed a trial court’s decision to revive a proposed class action that challenged, among other things, interest rates of over 30 percent on car title loans. According to the appellate court, the trial court dismissed the case because Delaware, not New Jersey, had a more substantial relationship with the parties’ dispute. While the plaintiff’s contract with the Delaware-based title loan company stipulated that Delaware law applied even though she resided in New Jersey, the appellate court said that under the second exception of the test established by Instructional Systems Inc. v. Computer Curriculum Corp., New Jersey courts will uphold the contractual choice unless the “application of the law of the chosen state would be contrary to the fundamental policy of the state which has a materially greater interest than the chosen state in the determination of the particular issue and which . . . would be the state of the applicable law in the absence of an effective choice of law by the parties.”
“In her certification, plaintiff asserted that she applied for the title loan from her home in New Jersey and that defendant advised her that the loan had been approved by calling and advising her that all she had to do to pick up the money was to come to Delaware and sign the contract.” The appellate court stated that these additional facts may be sufficient to satisfy the second exception’s prerequisites, and that from a procedural standpoint, the trial court should have either converted the title loan company’s motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment in order to consider the new information or granted the plaintiff’s motion to file a second amended complaint.
On October 2, the New York governor signed SB 2484, which prohibits auto lenders from remotely disabling a vehicle without first providing notice of the disabling to the debtor. The act amends the state’s uniform commercial code and the general business law, in significant part, by: (i) defining a “payment assurance device” (“any device installed in a vehicle that can be used to remotely disable the vehicle”); (ii) requiring written notice of the possible remote disabling of a vehicle “in the method and timetable” agreed in the initial contract between the parties; (iii) identifying permissible methods of notice transmittal; and, (iv) specifying the permitted period between the postmarking of the notice and the date on which the auto lender or its agent obtains the right to disable the vehicle. The act takes effect immediately.
On September 19, the California governor signed AB 3212 that provides several benefits and protections to servicemembers under the state’s Military and Veterans Code. The legislation’s protections apply to members of the National Guard, State Military Reserve, and the Naval Militia called to full-time active state service or full-time active federal service, as well as other individuals called to full-time active duty for a period in excess of seven days in any 14-day period. Highlights of the amendments include:
- Extension of Interest Rate Protection. The legislation extends the prohibition on charging an interest rate in excess of six percent on any obligations bearing interest to 120 days after military service. The legislation also extends the six percent interest rate protection for student loans to one year after military service, which previously only applied to mortgage obligations.
- Written response for Good Faith Requests for Relief. The legislation requires that any person who receives a good faith request from a servicemember for relief and believes the servicemember is not entitled to the relief to provide, within 30 days of the request, a written response acknowledging the request. The written response must include (i) the basis for asserting that the request was incomplete or that the servicemember is not entitled to the relief; (ii) information/materials that are missing, if the servicemember’s request was deemed incomplete; and (iii) contact information. If the written response is not provided, the person waives any objection to the request, and the servicemember shall be entitled to the relief requested.
- Extension of the Default Judgment Protection. At any stage in any action or proceeding in which a servicemember is involved, the court may stay an action or proceeding during the period of military service or 120 days thereafter (previously 60 days).
- Inclusion of Motor Vehicles in the Lease Termination Protection. Existing state law allows for the termination of leases of premises that are occupied for dwelling, professional, business, agricultural, or similar purposes by the servicemember, upon entry into military service. The legislation now mirrors the federal Servicemember Civil Relief Act protections for motor vehicle lease termination. Specifically, it provides that a servicemember may terminate a motor vehicle lease after the servicemember’s entry into military service for a period of not less than 180 days. Additionally, it provides for cancelation of leases executed while in a period of military service if the servicemember receives military orders for a change of permanent station from a location in the continental U.S. to a location outside the continental U.S., or from a location in a state outside the continental U.S. to any location outside that state, or to deploy for a period not less than 180 days.
On September 11, the Washington state Attorney General announced the filing of a lawsuit against a towing company for allegedly auctioning off a servicemember’s car while he was deployed, in violation of the Washington Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (WSCRA). The complaint argues that the towing company impounded and unlawfully sold a deployed servicemember’s car without first determining the military status of the car’s owner and without obtaining a court order, as required by the WSCRA. The complaint rejects the towing company’s arguments that the responsibility fell on the servicemember’s creditor to redeem the vehicle as the legal owner because the law places the duty for determining military status on the party enforcing the lien. The complaint seeks restitution for the servicemember and a permanent injunction. Additionally, the complaint seeks civil penalties of up to $55,000 for a first offense and up to $110,000 for subsequent offenses, as allowed by the WSCRA.
On September 6, the CFPB released its summer 2018 Supervisory Highlights, which outlines its supervisory and oversight actions in the areas of auto loan servicing, credit card account management, debt collection, mortgage servicing, payday lending, and small business lending. The findings of the report cover examinations that generally were completed between December 2017 and May 2018. Highlights of the examination findings include:
- Auto loan servicing. The Bureau determined that billing statements showing “paid-ahead” status after insurance proceeds from a total vehicle loss were applied, where consumers were treated as late if they failed to pay the next month, were deceptive. The Bureau also found that servicers unfairly repossessed vehicles after the repossession should have been canceled because the account was not coded correctly, or because an agreement with consumer was reached.
- Credit card account management. The Bureau found that companies failed to reevaluate accounts for eligibility for a rate reduction under Regulation Z or failed to appropriately reduce annual percentage rates.
- Debt collection. The Bureau found that debt collectors failed to mail debt verifications to consumers before engaging in continued debt collection, activities as required by the FDCPA.
- Mortgage servicing. The Bureau found that mortgage servicers delayed processing permanent modifications after consumers successfully completed their trial modifications, resulting in accrued interest and fees that would not otherwise have accrued, which the Bureau determined was an unfair act or practice.
- Payday lending. The Bureau found that companies threatened to repossess consumer vehicles, notwithstanding that they generally did not actually do so or have a business relationship with an entity capable of doing so, which the Bureau determined was a deceptive practice. The Bureau also found that companies did not obtain valid preauthorized EFT authorizations for debits initiated using debit card numbers or ACH credentials provided for other purposes, in violation of Regulation E.
- Small business lending. The Bureau found that some institutions collect and maintain only limited data on small business lending decisions, which it determined could impede the institution’s ability to monitor ECOA risk. The Bureau noted positive exam findings including, (i) active oversight of an entity’s CMS framework; (ii) maintaining records of policy and procedure updates; and (iii) self-conducted semi-annual ECOA risk assessments, which included small business lending.
The report notes that in response to most examination findings, the companies have already remediated or have plans to remediate affected consumers and implement corrective actions, such as new policies in procedures.
Finally, the report highlights, among other things, (i) two recent enforcement actions that were a result of supervisory activity (covered by InfoBytes here and here); (ii) recent updates to the mortgage servicing rule and TILA-RESPA integrated disclosure rule (covered by InfoBytes here and here); and (iii) HMDA implementation updates (covered by InfoBytes here).
On August 23, the New York Department of Finance Services (NYDFS) released updated guidance reminding institutions engaged in indirect auto lending through third parties that they must comply with the state’s Fair Lending Law, despite the May repeal of the CFPB’s Bulletin 2013-02 on indirect auto lending and compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). (The repeal was previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The updated guidance “consolidates, streamlines and reinforces previous guidance issued by [NYDFS]’s predecessor, the New York State Banking Department,” which applies to supervised financial institutions and their subsidiaries and affiliates (lenders). The guidance provides a list of actions lenders should take to develop a fair lending compliance program for indirect auto lending, including (i) submitting all applications for loans that are rejected or withdrawn to an automatic review by a higher-level supervisor; (ii) implementing a fair lending training program for both new hires and current employees; (iii) obtaining written agreements from all dealers that certify that the dealer acknowledges its responsibility to comply with fair lending laws and the policies and procedures contained in the fair lending plan; and (iv) extending fair lending plan principles to refinancing and collection practices.
FTC announces charges against auto dealerships for falsifying consumer information on auto financing documents
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.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Trends in regulatory enforcement" at the American Bar Association Banking Law Committee Meeting
- Jessica L. Pollet to discuss "Your career is impacting your life..." at the Ark Group Women Legal Conference
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Successors in interest updates" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Keeping your head above water in flood insurance compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo