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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.
On May 11, the OCC issued the “Military Lending Act” (MLA) booklet of the Comptroller’s Handbook. According to the announcement, the booklet reflects the 2015 Department of Defense amendments, as well as the interpretive guidance published in 2016 and updated in 2017 (covered by InfoBytes here and here), and applies to the examinations of OCC-supervised institutions that establish consumer credit products covered by the MLA. The booklet includes, among other things, (i) rules for determining fees and charges included in the calculation of the military annual percentage rate (MAPR); (ii) rules for calculating the MAPR; (iii) required disclosures to be provided to covered borrowers; and (iv) consumer credit limitations for covered borrowers.
Department of Defense Updates MLA Interpretive Guidance; Addresses Timing for Safe Harbor Qualification
The Department of Defense (DoD) published a new interpretive rule (rule) under the Military Lending Act (“MLA”) on December 14. This interpretive rule takes effect immediately, and it both amends and adds to the interpretive rule issued by DoD in August 2016 (previously covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). In general, the rule contains the following updated interpretations:
- Exemption of Credit Secured by a Motor Vehicle or Personal Property. The rule provides additional guidance on the exemption covering purchase money-secured motor vehicle and personal property loans. Specifically, the rule states that additional costs may be added to an extension of credit so long as these costs relate to the object securing the credit, and not the extension of credit itself. For example, the rule explains that credit used to finance “optional leather seats,” “an extended warranty,” or “negative equity” in connection with the purchase of a motor vehicle will not cause the loan to be subject to the MLA. However, the rule also states that, if credit is extended to cover “Guaranteed Auto Protection insurance or a credit insurance premium” or additional “cashout,” the loan is not eligible for the MLA exception.
- Security Interests in Covered Borrowers’ Accounts. The rule addresses the ability of a creditor to take a security interest in a covered borrower’s account. Specifically, the rule states that a covered borrower may “convey security interest for all types of consumer credit” to a creditor, so long as the creditor complies with all other laws and the MLA rule. Similarly, the rule notes that the MLA does not prohibit a creditor from exercising rights to take an otherwise-valid statutory lien on funds that have been deposited into a covered borrower’s account “at any time.” However, the rule also emphasizes methods a creditor may not use to obtain payment from a covered borrower’s account, such as a “remotely created check.”
- Timing for Safe Harbor Qualification. The rule provides additional clarity on when a creditor must check an applicant’s active duty status to obtain the MLA’s safe harbor. The rule states that an applicant’s covered borrower status should be determined when the applicant (i) initiates the transaction, (ii) submits an application to establish an account or during the processing of that application, or (iii) anytime during a 30-day period of time prior to such action. In addition, the rule states that a covered borrower check can qualify for the safe harbor if it is performed “during the course of the creditor’s processing of that application for consumer credit.”
California Legislature Urges Congress to Request the Department of Defense Alter Criteria for Safe Harbor Provision in the MLA
On September 25, the California Legislature filed a joint resolution that urges Congress to impress upon the Department of Defense the need to realign their criteria requiring a social security number for the safe harbor provision in the Military Lending Act (MLA). The resolution noted that the revised MLA regulations requiring lenders to ask for a social security number, among other information from borrowers, may expose lenders to liability under the California Unruh Civil Rights Act. It further states that this provision of the MLA could unnecessarily burden many segments of California’s immigrant communities.
On November 18, the GAO announced the release of its report and recommendations following the watchdog agency’s review of application of the SCRA’s rate cap by student loan servicers. According to the report, entitled Student Loans: Oversight of Servicemembers' Interest Rate Cap Could Be Strengthened, the number of servicemembers receiving the interest rate cap for their student loans has greatly increased since the Department of Education began requiring federal student loan servicers to automatically check the Department of Defense’s SCRA database to identify those who are eligible.
The report also identified several challenges commonly encountered by servicemembers seeking to take advantage of the rate cap, including: (i) inaccurate SCRA information from the database; (ii) lack of a requirement that private loan servicers use the automatic eligibility check to identify eligible servicemembers; and (iii) lack of routine oversight of SCRA compliance for nonbank private student loan lenders and servicers. The GAO recommended, among other things, that the DOJ require private loan servicers to use the automatic eligibility check to identify eligible borrowers. The report also highlighted an issue with the Department of Education’s new borrower complaint system, which lacks the ability to track SCRA complaints systematically.
As Part of Joint Initiative with the CFPB, FTC Launches Updated, Mobile-Friendly Military Consumer Website
On November 15, the FTC announced the launch of its new mobile-friendly “financial readiness” website, which is designed to help members of the military community navigate personal financial decisions in light of the unique challenges they face, such as frequent relocations and deployment. The website, which may be found at www.Military.Consumer.gov, is a collaborative effort of the FTC, DoD, CFPB and others.
- Valerie L. Hletko to discuss "Forecasting litigation and settlement trends in the mortgage servicing and fair lending context" at the American Conference Institute National Forum on Residential Mortgage Regulatory Enforcement & Litigation
- Michelle L. Rogers and Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Building a govt affairs program; Government investigations” at the TechGC National Summit
- Tina Tchen to deliver keynote address at the American Bar Foundation Montgomery Summer Research Diversity Fellowship 30th Anniversary Celebration
- Douglas F. Gansler to discuss "Privacy, security and protection of your assets in contracts; Security exercises and tactical measures" at the TechGC National Summit
- H Joshua Kotin will discuss federal regulatory developments in mortgage lending and servicing at the Mortgage Bankers Association of Arkansas Fall Conference
- Kate Shrout to discuss "Conducting workplace investigations" at the TechGC National Summit
- Kathryn R. Goodman to discuss "HECM servicing policies and updates" at the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association Annual Meeting & Expo
- Fredrick S. Levin to discuss "Reverse mortgage litigation trends" at the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association Annual Meeting & Expo
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to speak at the "Digital marketing compliance roundtable" at the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association Annual Meeting & Expo
- Hank Asbill to discuss "The role of the media in white collar criminal investigations and the Mueller probe" at the American Bar Association White Collar Crime Town Hall
- John C. Redding to discuss "Regulatory compliance update" at PowerSports Finance
- Matthew P. Previn to discuss "Enforcement trends: Who is doing what and how?" at the Cambridge Forums Inc. Forum on Consumer Finance Litigation & Enforcement
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Protect yourself from a CFPB investigation" at the National Association of Settlement Purchasers Conference
- Tina Tchen to deliver keynote address at the American Bar Association Professional Success Summit
- Andrea K. Mitchell to discuss "Developments in fair lending law" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Summit on Diversity and Inclusion
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "New CDD Rule: Pitfalls in compliance" at the American Bankers Association/American Bar Association Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference