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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • New Mexico Enacts New Laws Affecting Payday Lenders, Check Cashing Service Providers, and the Enforcement of Service Contracts / Warranties

    State Issues

    On April 6, New Mexico enacted H.B. 347, a bill amending the New Mexico Small Loan Act of 1955 (NMSLA) and Bank Installment Loan Act of 1959 (NMILA) to effectively eliminate “payday loans” in the state by requiring that loans of $5,000 or less be made pursuant to the NMSLA or NMILA. Specifically, the new law caps the annual percentage rate of such loans at 175% and requires lenders operating in New Mexico to provide loan terms of at least 120 days, and a minimum repayment schedule of four installments of substantially equal amounts. The new law also limits the fees and charges a lender may assess in connection with loans made under the NMSLA or NMILA as well as the number of times a lender may present a check or other debit for payment. Furthermore, lenders are prohibited from extending loans under the NMSLA or NMILA if the consumer has not repaid any loans previously obtained under these acts, and all lenders must report the terms of these loans to consumer reporting agencies. Notably, these new requirements do not apply to federally insured depository institutions. Moreover, H.B. 347—which takes effect on January 1, 2018—will be enforced exclusively by the state. Counties, municipalities, and other political subdivisions of the state are preempted from any regulation of terms and conditions regarding these loans whether by ordinance, resolution, or otherwise. A violation of either the NMSLA or the NMILA will constitute an unfair or deceptive trade practice under New Mexico’s Unfair Practices Act.

    Also on April 6, Governor Susana Martinez signed into law S.B. 220, a bill that amends the Service Contract Regulation Act by adding and amending definitions; providing for surety through insurance policies; and providing specific information to be included into contracts and warranties. Specifically, the amendments—which are scheduled to take effect on June 16—allow providers to obtain a reimbursement insurance policy in lieu of maintaining a deposit with the Superintendent of Insurance.

    That same day, Governor Martinez also enacted H.B. 276, a bill that increased from $500 to $2,500 the revenue threshold within a 30-day period that triggers New Mexico’s Uniform Money Services Act licensing requirement for check cashing businesses. H.B. 276 is scheduled to take effect July 1.

    State Issues Payday Lending Check Cashing Insurance

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  • CFPB Orders Payday Lender to Pay Over $500k in Civil Monetary Penalty and Restitution to Customers

    Federal Issues

    On December 16, the CFPB announced that it had entered a stipulation and consent order assessing a $250,000 civil monetary penalty and other remediation against a financial-services company that offers payday loans and check-cashing services based on allegations that it misled consumers through deceptive online advertisements and collections letters and made unauthorized electronic transfers from consumers’ bank accounts. Among other things, the Bureau took particular issue with the fact that Bureau examiners had previously identified “significant compliance-management-system weaknesses that heightened the risk that violations w[ould] occur,” and that “[a]t the times the violations described in this order, the company had not adequately addressed these issues.”

    According to the terms of the consent order, the company is required to: (i) end its deceptive practices and obtain authorization for any electronic-fund transfers; (ii) pay approximately $255,000 to redress harm caused to affected consumers; and (iii) pay a civil monetary penalty of $250,000. As explained by CFPB Director Richard Cordray, “consumers were making decisions based on false and deceptive information, and today’s action will give the company’s customers the redress they are owed.”

    Federal Issues Consumer Finance CFPB Payday Lending Electronic Fund Transfer Check Cashing

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  • CFPB Monthly Complaint Snapshot Spotlights Debt Settlement, Check Cashing, and Other Financial Services Complaints

    Federal Issues

    On November 29, the CFPB released Volume 17 of its monthly complaint snapshot reports on consumer complaints stemming from financial services that fall outside of the Bureau’s major complaint categories. The “other financial services” covered in the report include debt settlement, check cashing, money orders, and credit repair. To date, the CFPB has handled approximately 1,035,200 complaints nationally across all products. As reported in the current snapshot: (i) Debt collection was the most-complained-about financial product or service in October; (ii) Student loan complaints showed the greatest increase—108 percent—of any product or service over the three-month period of August to October; and (iii) Alaska, New Mexico, and Missouri experienced the greatest year-to-year complaint volume increases from August to October 2016 period versus the same time period 12 months before. The current report also highlighted a trend in complaints coming from Oklahoma and the Oklahoma City metro area.

    Federal Issues Consumer Finance CFPB Student Lending Debt Collection Check Cashing

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  • California Department of Business Oversight Issues Opinion Letter Declaring Foreign Check Clearing Services Not Subject to State's Money Transmission Act

    State Issues

    On August 24, the California Department of Business Oversight issued a redacted opinion letter clarifying that foreign check clearing services are not considered money transmission subject to the Money Transmission Act. In order to fall under the state’s Financial Code’s definition of money transmission, a financial institution must receive money or monetary value for transmission within the United States. Emphasizing the domestic prerequisite outlined in the code, the DBO’s opinion indicates that if a bank establishes an exchange rate for an American financial institution that has received a check for deposit written against a foreign bank, the exchange rate service provided by the bank is considered a foreign check clearing service and not “receiving money or monetary value in the United States.” Accordingly, such check clearing activity does not fall under the California Financial Code’s definition of money transmission.

    Check Cashing Money Service / Money Transmitters Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

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  • FinCEN Issues Geographic Targeting Order to Combat Stolen Identity Tax Refund Fraud in South Florida

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On July 13, FinCEN issued a Geographic Targeting Order (GTO) requiring check cashers in two South Florida counties to strengthen identification requirements for customers cashing certain Federal tax refund checks. According to FinCEN, Miami-Dade and Broward Counties have become a haven for criminals who, using stolen identities, file fraudulent Federal tax returns and then cash the refund checks at a local check casher. Effective August 3 through January 30, 2016, the GTO will require check cashers located in those counties to obtain additional identifying information from customers seeking to cash Federal tax refund checks (including refund anticipation loan checks from third parties) that exceed $1,000. Issued in coordination with the IRS and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, the GTO will require customers to provide the following: (i) a valid government-issued identification; (ii) a digital photograph at the time of the transaction; (iii) a valid phone number; and (iv) a thumbprint. The GTO is intended to put a “roadblock in the path of those who would steal another person’s identity,” making it more difficult for the criminals to evade anti-money laundering controls and “reap the rewards of their actions.”

    FinCEN Check Cashing

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  • OIG for U.S. Postal Service Probes Expansion Into Financial Services

    Consumer Finance

    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.

    Gift Cards Prepaid Cards ATM Remittance Check Cashing Deposit Products

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  • Eleventh Circuit Holds Federal Law Preempts Florida's Check-Cashing Fee Restriction For Out-Of-State Banks

    Consumer Finance

    On May 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that with regard to out-of-state state banks, federal law preempts Florida’s prohibition on financial institutions settling checks for less than par value. Pereira v. Regions Bank, No. 13-10458, 2014 WL 2219166 (11th Cir. May 30, 2014). The ruling broadens a prior ruling that federal law preempts the same restriction with regard to national banks. Plaintiffs in this case filed suit on behalf of a putative class after the bank charged them a fee for cashing a check, claiming they received less than par value because of the bank’s fee. Florida law prohibits a financial institution from settling “any check drawn on it otherwise than at par.” The court explained that 12 U.S.C. 1831a(j) provides that the laws of a host state apply to any branch in the host state of an out-of-state state bank to the  same extent as such state laws apply to a branch in the host state of an out-of-state national bank. The court held that, based on 12 U.S.C. 1831a(j) and the court’s prior ruling regarding national bank preemption, the plaintiffs’ claims were clearly preempted. The court explained that assuming the relevant Florida law would prohibit Florida branches of out-of-state state banks from charging a fee to cash a check presented in person, that law would apply “to the same extent” that it applies to out-of-state national banks, and as such, is preempted.

    Preemption Check Cashing Deposit Products

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  • House Committee Members Express Concerns About Operation Choke Point

    FinTech

    On April 8 the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing with the general counsels of the federal banking agencies regarding, among other things, Operation Choke Point, the federal enforcement operation reportedly intended to cut off from the banking system certain lenders and merchants allegedly engaged in unlawful activities. Numerous committee members from both sides of the aisle raised concerns about Operation Choke Point, as well as the federal government’s broader pressure on banks over their relationships with nonbank financial service providers, including money service businesses, nonbank lenders, and check cashers. Committee members asserted that the operation is impacting lawful nonbank financial service providers, who are losing access to the banking system and, in turn, are unable to offer needed services to the members’ constituents. The FDIC’s Richard Osterman repeatedly stated that Operation Choke Point is a DOJ operation and the FDIC’s participation is limited to providing certain information and resources upon request. Mr. Osterman also asserted that the FDIC is not attempting to, and does not intend to, prohibit banks from offering products or services to nonbank financial service providers operating within the law, and that the FDIC’s guidance is clear that banks are neither prohibited from nor encouraged to provide services to certain businesses, provided they properly manage their risk. Similarly, the OCC's Amy Friend stated that the OCC wants to ensure that banks conduct due diligence and implement appropriate controls, but that the OCC is not prohibiting banks from offering services to lawful businesses. She stated the OCC has found that some banks have made a business decision to terminate relationships with some nonbank providers rather than implement additional controls.

    FDIC Payday Lending OCC Check Cashing U.S. House Payment Processors

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  • Washington Amends Provisions Impacting Non-Depository Institutions

    Consumer Finance

    Recently, the state of Washington enacted SB 6134, which amends numerous provisions related to the supervision of non-depository institutions. The bill clarifies the statute of limitations applicable to certain violations by non-depository institutions by providing that enforcement actions for violations of the Escrow Act, the Mortgage Broker Practices Act, the Uniform Money Services Act (UMSA), the Consumer Loan Act, and the Check Cashers and Check Sellers Act (CCSA) are subject to a five-year statute of limitations. In addition, the bill provides that licensees under the CCSA and the UMSA that conduct business in multiple states and register through the NMLS must submit call reports to the Department of Financial Institutions. The changes take effect June 12, 2014.

    Mortgage Origination Consumer Lending Enforcement Check Cashing Money Service / Money Transmitters

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  • Check Cashing Company, Executives Plead Guilty To AML Charges

    Financial Crimes

    On November 5, the DOJ announced that a New York check cashing company and its owner pleaded guilty to violating the Bank Secrecy Act in connection with more than $19 million in check-cashing transactions by willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program. The plea agreement requires the company to forfeit over $3 million and the owner to pay nearly $1 million in restitution for related tax violations; neither party has yet been sentenced. The DOJ alleges that over a two-year period the company cashed checks written on accounts of shell corporations. The shell corporations and the corresponding bank accounts on which the checks were written were established in the names of foreign nationals, many of whom were no longer in the United States. The check cashing company and its owner allegedly failed to obtain any identification documents or information from the individuals presenting the checks, filed false currency transaction reports (CTRs) that stated the checks were cashed by the foreign nationals who set up the shell corporations, and in certain CTRs, failed to indicate the full amount of cash provided to the individuals. Related charges remain pending against additional defendants. These cases are being prosecuted by, among others, the DOJ’s Money Laundering and Bank Integrity Unit, which investigates and prosecutes complex, multi-district and international criminal cases involving financial institutions and individuals who violate the money laundering statutes, the Bank Secrecy Act and other related statutes.

    Anti-Money Laundering Bank Secrecy Act Check Cashing

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