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On November 14, the FDIC issued a request for information (RFI) seeking public comment on ways it can encourage FDIC-supervised financial institutions to offer “responsible, prudently underwritten small-dollar credit products that are economically viable and address the credit needs of bank customers.” In the RFI’s release, FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams pointed to studies showing that “[c]onsumers benefit when small-dollar credit products are available from banks” and requested “the public to use the RFI process to tell [the FDIC] how to ensure that consumers can obtain small dollar credit from banking institutions in a responsible manner.” The RFI seeks information related to the “full spectrum of issues” related to banks offering small-dollar credit, including regulatory and non-regulatory obstacles for banks, as well as actions the FDIC could take to assist banks in serving the small-dollar market. In addition to general feedback, the RFI includes a list of suggested topics and questions for commenters to address. Comments will be due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
Recently, the OCC and the CFPB have also made efforts to encourage banks to meet the small-dollar credit needs of consumers. In May, the OCC issued Bulletin 2018-14 encouraging banks to offer responsible short-term, small-dollar installment loans with typical maturities between two and 12 months (covered by InfoBytes here). In addition to applauding the OCC’s Bulletin, the CFPB announced it expects to publish proposed rules reconsidering the ability-to-repay provisions of the rule covering Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans in January 2019 (covered by InfoBytes here).
On October 26, the CFPB announced it expects to publish proposed rules reconsidering the ability-to-repay provisions of the rule covering Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans (the Rule) in January 2019. The Bureau does not intend to reconsider the payment provisions of the Rule, noting that the ability-to-repay provisions “have much greater consequences for both consumers and industry than the payment provisions.” Under the current Rule, it is an unfair and abusive practice for a lender to make a covered short-term loan or a covered longer-term balloon payment loan without reasonably determining that the consumer has the ability to repay the loan (see the Buckley Sandler Special Alert for more detailed coverage on the Rule). The Bureau also intends to address the compliance date for the Rule, which is currently set at August 19, 2019.
On October 22, the Georgia Supreme Court held that legal settlement cash advances are not “loans” under the state’s Payday Lending Act (PLA) and the Industrial Loan Act (ILA) when the obligation to repay is contingent upon the success of the underlying lawsuit. The decision results from a class action lawsuit bought by clients of a legal funding company. After being involved in automobile accidents, appellants signed financing agreements with a legal funding company, which advanced them funds while their personal injury lawsuit was pending. Per the terms of their financing agreements, appellants were required to repay the funds only if their personal injury lawsuits were successful. They were successful and the settlement company soon sought to recover funds pursuant to the terms of the agreement. The appellants objected and brought suit, alleging, among other things, that the financing agreements they executed violated the state’s PLA and ILA because they were usurious loans and a product of unlicensed activity. The state trial court concluded that the PLA applied to the agreements but that the ILA did not. The state appeals court concluded that neither statute applied, determining that because the repayment obligation was contingent on the success of the lawsuit, it was not a “loan” under either the PLA or the ILA. The state supreme court agreed, holding that “an agreement that involves . . . a contingent and limited obligation of repayment is not a ‘contract requiring repayment,’” as required by the ILA’s definition of “loan.” Similarly, the financing arrangement did not constitute an agreement pursuant to which “funds are advanced to be repaid,” which would make it a loan under the PLA. Appellants also argued that the contingent repayment obligation in the financing agreement was illusory, contending that the legal funding company agrees to such an arrangement only when the risk the lawsuit will fail is “close to null.” The court rejected this claim, however, noting that nothing in the pleadings suggested that the agreements were shams.
California Supreme Court says loans not subject to state interest rate caps may still be unconscionable
On August 13, the Supreme Court of California held that interest rates on consumer loans of $2,500 or more could be considered unconscionable under Section 22302 of California’s Financial Code, notwithstanding Section 22303’s maximum interest rate cap for loans under $2,500. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit asked the Supreme Court of California to address Section 22302’s application to higher cost consumer loans. In the class action that is before the 9th Circuit, consumers alleged that a lender violated the “unlawful” prong of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) with an unsecured $2,600 loan carrying an APR between 96 percent and 136 percent and argued the product is “unconscionable” under Section 22302. To resolve this question, the California Supreme Court held that unconscionability is a “flexible standard” that includes the larger context surrounding the contract. The court held that, although Section 22303 specifies interest rate limitations on loans under $2,500, it does not affect whether a loan in excess of $2,500 is unconscionable, and a court may consider a loan’s interest rate in determining that a loan above this threshold violates Section 22302.
On May 23, the OCC released Bulletin 2018-14, which encourages banks to meet the credit needs of consumers by offering short-term, small-dollar installment loans subject to the OCC’s core lending principles. The Bulletin acknowledges the CFPB’s final rule on Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-cost Installment Loans (Payday Rule) – which generally covers loans with maturities shorter than 45 days or longer-term loans with balloon payments – and states the OCC intends on working with the Bureau to ensure banks can “can responsibly engage in consumer lending, including lending products covered by the Payday Rule.”
Specifically, the Bulletin encourages banks to offer loans without balloon payments and with maturities greater than 45 days subject to three core lending principles: (i) the product should be consistent with safe and sound banking, treat customers fairly, and comply with all applicable laws and regulations; (ii) banks should effectively manage risks associated with the product; and (iii) the product should be underwritten based on reasonable policies and practices, such as amount and repayment terms aligning with eligibility, use internal and external data sources to assess a consumer’s creditworthiness, and loan servicing processes that assist distressed borrowers. Additionally, with regard to pricing, the Bulletin stated that the “OCC views unfavorably an entity that partners with a bank with the sole goal of evading a lower interest rate established under the law of the entity’s licensing state(s).”
Immediately after the OCC’s release, the CFPB issued a statement applauding the Bulletin because “[m]illions of Americans desperately need access to short-term, small-dollar credit.” In January, the CFPB stated it plans to reconsider the Payday Rule and the Spring 2018 rulemaking agenda indicates the Bureau expects a notice of proposed rulemaking to be issued by February 2019 (previously covered by InfoBytes here and here).
On April 19, the Illinois Attorney General announced a lawsuit against a Nevada-based installment loan company alleging the company made illegal installment loans without a license. According to the press release, the Illinois Attorney General alleges that the company markets high rate installment loans in exchange for payments from a consumer’s pension benefits in violation of Illinois law. In addition, the Attorney General claims that the company illegally advertised its loans and concealed high finance charges from consumers and, in some instances, continued to withdraw money from accounts after consumers attempted to cancel the agreement. The Attorney General is seeking the contracts to be voided, an injunction against the behavior, restitution for consumers, and civil money penalties.
On March 19, the Florida governor signed SB 386, which amends Florida’s consumer finance law to remove the requirement that installment payments must be made monthly, and updates the allowable charges for delinquencies. Specifically, SB 386 now allows equal, periodic installment loan payments to be made every two weeks, semimonthly, or monthly. This provision does not apply to lines of credit. Additionally, SB 386 provides that a delinquency charge for a payment in default may not exceed $15 for payments due monthly; $7.50 for payments due semimonthly; and $7.50 or $5.00 for payments due every two weeks, depending on the number of payments due within a calendar month. The law is effective July 1.
CFPB succession update: CFPB requests zero funding; seeks public comment regarding Bureau’s activities; & more
On January 17, in a letter to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney requested zero dollars for the Bureau’s quarterly operating funds. Each fiscal quarter, as required by law, the CFPB formally requests that the Federal Reserve transfer a specified amount of money to the Bureau so it can perform the functions outlined in its budget. In his letter, Mulvaney stated that the prior Director maintained a “reserve fund” for the CFPB, and the money in this fund is sufficient to cover the CFPB’s expenses for the second quarter. This will be the first time in the history of the CFPB that its Director has requested no additional amount to fund quarterly operations. The CFPB also announced its plan to publish a series of Requests for Information (RFIs) in the Federal Register seeking public input on the way the Bureau is performing its statutory obligations. These RFIs will request “comment on enforcement, supervision, rulemaking, market monitoring, and education activities.” The first RFI will seek information regarding the Bureau’s Civil Investigative Demand processes and procedures.
On January 18, the CFPB voluntarily dismissed its case against four online installment lenders for allegedly deceiving customers by collecting debts that were not legally owed, previously covered by InfoBytes here. The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleged, among other things, that the lenders engaged in unfair, abusive, and deceptive acts—a violation of the Dodd-Frank Act—by collecting on installment loans that are partially or wholly void under state law. In September 2017, the case was transferred to Kansas, where the Bureau’s notice of dismissal was filed. The notice does not specify a reason for the dismissal.
OMB has released the CFPB’s Fall 2017 rulemaking agenda. Although this is the first update to the agenda since Richard Cordray left the agency in November 2017, delays in the publication of rulemaking agendas are common so the updated agenda may not reflect the views of new CFPB leadership. The updated agenda does not appear on the Bureau’s website. Further:
- HMDA & ECOA Amendments: The updated agenda states that the Bureau planned to determine by December 2018 whether to make permanent adjustments to the threshold for reporting open-end lines of credit. However, as discussed in greater detail here, the CFPB stated on December 21 that it intended to engage in a broader rulemaking to (i) re-examine the criteria determining whether institutions are required to report data; (ii) adjust the requirements related to reporting certain types of transactions; and (iii) re-evaluate the required reporting of additional information beyond the data points required by the Dodd-Frank Act.
- Prepaid Cards: The updated agenda states that the CFPB expected to finalize amendments to its rule on prepaid cards in November 2017, but no final amendments have been issued. Instead, on December 21, the CFPB announced its intent to adopt final amendments “soon after the new year” and stated that it expects to extend the April 1, 2018 effective date to allow more time for implementation.
- Debt Collection: The updated agenda states that the CFPB expects to issue a proposed rule in February 2018 “concerning FDCPA collectors’ communications practices and consumer disclosures.” However, on December 14, OMB announced that the CFPB had withdrawn its planned survey regarding debt collection disclosures because “Bureau leadership would like to reconsider the information collection in connection with its review of the ongoing related rulemaking.”
See previous InfoBytes coverage on the HMDA, Prepaid, and Debt Collection rulemaking updates.
Other noteworthy aspects of the updated agenda include:
- Regulation Reviews: The updated agenda reiterates the Bureau’s intent to review the regulations inherited from other agencies and “clarify ambiguities, address developments in the marketplace, and modernize or streamline regulatory provisions.” The updated agenda lists “pre-rule activities” as continuing through February 2018, rather than September 2017 under the prior agenda.
- “Larger Participants” in Installment Lending: Consistent with the prior agenda, the CFPB states that it is preparing a proposed rule to define the “larger participants” in the personal loan market (including consumer installment loans and vehicle title loans) that will be subject to Bureau examinations. The updated agenda also states that the Bureau is still considering “whether rules to require registration of these or other non-depository lenders would facilitate supervision, as has been suggested to the Bureau by both consumer advocates and industry groups.” However, while the prior agenda indicated that a proposal was expected in September 2017, the new agenda lists May 2018.
- Overdrafts: The updated agenda states only that the CFPB is “continuing to engage in additional research and consumer testing initiatives relating to the opt-in process” for overdraft protection and that “pre-rule activities” will continue through this month. Under the prior agenda, pre-rule activities were scheduled to continue through June 2017.
- Small Business Lending: The agenda indicates that the long-delayed implementation of the small business data reporting provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act will be delayed even longer. The last agenda listed “pre-rule activities” as continuing through June 2017, stating that the CFPB “is focusing on outreach and research to develop its understanding of the players, products, and practices in the small business lending market and of the potential ways to implement section 1071.” The new agenda states that these activities will continue until May 2018, after which the Bureau “expects to begin developing proposed regulations concerning the data to be collected, potential ways to minimize burdens on lenders, and appropriate procedures and privacy protections needed for information-gathering and public disclosure.”
- TRID/Know Before You Owe Amendments: The updated agenda lists April 2018 as the expected release date for finalization of the July 2017 proposed rule addressing the “black hole” issue, which is discussed in a Buckley Sandler Special Alert. The prior agenda listed March 2018.
- Mortgage Servicing Amendments: In October 2017, the CFPB issued proposed amendments to the mortgage periodic statement requirements to further address circumstances in which servicers transition between modified and unmodified statements in connection with a consumer’s bankruptcy case. The updated agenda does not provide an expected release date for final amendments.
- Credit Card Agreement Submission: The agenda continues to state that the Bureau is considering rules to modernize its database of credit card agreements to reduce the submission burden on issuers and to make the database more useful for consumers and the general public. The agenda lists “pre-rule activities” as continuing through February 2018. Under the prior agenda, pre-rule activities were scheduled to continue through October 2017.
CFPB Initiates Complaint Against Company for Deceptive, Unfair, and Abusive Loan Collection Practices
On November 15, the CFPB announced it had filed a complaint against a Texas-based service provider, alleging that it had assisted in the collection of loans that were, in whole or in part, void under state law. The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana alleges that the service provider, which provided services to three tribal lending entities engaged in the business of extending online installment loans and lines of credit, along with two companies responsible for the collection process (collectively defendants), assisted in the collection of loans that consumers were not legally obligated to pay based on identified states’ usury laws or licensing requirements. Although the specific claims vary by defendant, the complaint alleges that the defendants engaged in deceptive, unfair, and abusive acts and practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) by:
- misrepresenting that consumers were responsible for money owed on loans that were void in whole or in part, or did not exist, because the loans were void under state licensing or usury laws (voided loans);
- demanding repayment from consumers on voided loans by issuing “demand letters,” electronically debiting funds from consumer bank accounts, and placing phone calls to consumers;
- failing to disclose to consumers that defendants had no legal right to collect on certain voided loans and that consumers were not legally obligated to repay the loans;
- causing injury to consumers by servicing and collecting on the voided loans;
- taking advantage of consumers’ “lack of understanding” regarding the voided loans; and
- providing assistance in, or administering, the origination and collection of the voided loans.
The CFPB is seeking monetary relief, civil money penalties, injunctive relief, and a prohibition of the service provider’s ability to commit future violations of the CFPA.