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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • OCC's Semiannual Risk Perspective highlights key risks affecting the federal banking system

    Federal Issues

    On December 3, the OCC released its Semiannual Risk Perspective for Fall 2018, identifying and reiterating key risk areas that pose a threat to the safety and soundness of national banks and federal savings associations. The report focuses on risks to the federal banking system based on five areas: the operating environment, bank performance, special topics in emerging risk, trends in key risks, and supervisory actions. Overall, loans and bank profitability grew in 2018 as the U.S. economy continued to grow. Moreover, recent examination findings indicate incremental improvements in banks’ general risk management practices. Specific risk areas of concern noted by the OCC include: (i) the origination quality of new loans and potential embedded risks from previously successive years of relaxed underwriting standards; (ii) an increasingly complex operating environment, including the continually evolving threat to cybersecurity; (iii) elevated money-laundering risks; and (iv) rising market interest rates, including certain risks associated with heightened competition for deposits.

    The report also notes that outstanding enforcement actions continue to decline since peaking in 2010, which, according to the OCC, reflects an overall improvement in, among other things, banks’ risk management practices. The leading cause of current enforcement actions continues to be compliance or operational failures.

    Federal Issues OCC Bank Compliance Anti-Money Laundering Underwriting Interest Rate Enforcement

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  • Auto lender pays $11.8 million to resolve investigation into add-on product and loan extension program

    Federal Issues

    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.

    Federal Issues CFPB Settlement Consent Order Auto Finance Interest Rate

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  • Colorado voters pass initiative capping interest on payday loans at 36 percent

    State Issues

    On November 6, Colorado voters approved a ballot initiative (officially referred to as Proposition 111) to reduce the maximum annual percentage rate that may be charged on deferred deposits or payday loans to 36 percent.  In addition, Proposition 111 eliminates an alternative APR formula based on loan amount, prohibits lenders from charging origination and monthly maintenance fees, and amends the definition of an unfair or deceptive practice. The measure takes effect February 1, 2019.

    State Issues Payday Lending Consumer Finance Interest Rate Usury

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  • District Court denies arbitration bid, rules clauses signed by borrowers are invalid

    Courts

    On October 18, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington denied a motion to compel arbitration, holding that an arbitration clause was invalid under the “effective vindication” exception to the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). According to the opinion, borrowers received several loans from an online payday lender, incorporated under tribal law, which charged usurious, triple-digit interest rates on the loans. Per the terms of the loan agreements, the borrowers consented to binding arbitration for any disputes and agreed per the choice-of-law provision that tribal law applied, effectively waiving any protections they might have enjoyed under federal and state law. The lender moved to arbitrate, which the borrowers opposed, arguing that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable under the “effective vindication” exception to arbitration because it implicitly waives a consumer’s state and federal statutory rights. The district court agreed, finding that the arbitration clause operated as a prospective waiver of most federal statutory remedies. The court found that while the FAA gives parties the freedom to structure arbitration agreements as they choose, that freedom does not extend to a substantive waiver of federally protected statutory rights. The lender also argued that the arbitrator, rather than the court, should decide if the agreement’s choice-of-law provision was invalid. The court disagreed, ruling that questions of arbitrability are for the courts to decide, not the arbitrators. Finally, the lender asked to sever the choice-of-law provision of the arbitration agreement. The court rejected such an approach, holding that when the “offending provisions” of an arbitration agreement “go to the essence of the contract,” they cannot be severed.

    Courts Payday Lending Arbitration Interest Rate Usury

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  • California expands state servicemember civil relief protections

    State Issues

    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.

    State Issues Military Lending SCRA Servicemembers Auto Finance Interest Rate Student Lending Mortgages

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  • CFPB files lawsuit against pension advance company citing alleged CFPA and TILA violations

    Courts

    On September 13, the CFPB filed a complaint against a pension advance company, its owner, and related entities (defendants) based upon alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) and the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). In a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the Bureau charged that the defendants engaged in deceptive practices in violation of the CFPA when they allegedly misrepresented to customers that “lump-sum” pension advances were not loans and carried no applicable interest rate, even though customers were required to pay back advances at amounts equivalent to a 183 percent interest rate and often incurred fees such as one-time $300 set up fees, monthly management fees, and 1.5 percent late fees. According to the Bureau, the defendants allowed customers to take out advance payments ranging from $100 to $60,000. The defendants then allegedly provided the income streams as 60- or 120-month cash flow payments to third-party investors, promising between 6 and 12 percent interest rates. Moreover, the defendants allegedly failed to provide customers with TILA closed-end-credit disclosures. The complaint seeks civil penalties, monetary and injunctive relief.

    As previously covered in InfoBytes, the pension advance company initiated a suit against the CFPB in January 2017 after the Bureau declined to set aside or keep confidential a civil investigative demand served against the company. The suit challenged the Bureau’s constitutionality and argued that the company was likely to suffer irreparable harm from being identified as being under investigation. However, in a split decision, the D.C. Circuit Court ultimately denied the company’s bid for an emergency injunction, citing the now-vacated majority opinion in PHH v. CFPB.

    Courts CFPB Consumer Finance Interest Rate CFPA TILA PHH v. CFPB Single-Director Structure

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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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  • Illinois Attorney General sues online “pension sale” installment lender

    Lending

    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.

    Lending State Issues Installment Loans Pension Benefits Interest Rate State Attorney General

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  • Tennessee amends interest rate legislation

    Lending

    On March 23, the Governor of Tennessee signed HB 1944, which amends lending provisions of the Tennessee Code Annotated to change the application of interest rates to the amount financed instead of the total amount of the loan with regard to certain loans made by Tennessee industrial loan and thrift companies. The following interest rate requirements under present Tennessee law now apply to the amount financed: (i) under $100, no interest shall be charged on the principal or on the unpaid balance due after maturity in excess of a maximum effective rate of 18 percent per annum; (ii) between $100 and $5,000, no interest shall be charged on the principal or on the unpaid balance due after maturity in excess of a maximum effective rate of 30 percent per annum; (iii) greater than $5,000, no interest shall be charged on the principal or on the unpaid balance due after maturity in excess of a maximum effective rate of 24 percent per annum; and (iv) for open-end credit plans, a maximum effective rate of 24 percent per annum applies to the principal or on the unpaid balance due after maturity. HB 1944 is effective immediately and applies to loans made on or after March 23.

    Lending State Issues Interest Rate Consumer Finance Usury State Legislation

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  • Colorado judge rules FDIA does not completely preempt state usury claims against a non-bank

    Courts

    On March 21, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado held that the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (FDIA) does not completely preempt a Colorado state regulator’s claims that a non-bank lender violated state law and remanded the case back to state court. The underlying action results from charges brought by the administrator of Colorado’s Uniform Consumer Credit Code against a non-bank lender – which the administrator argues is the “true lender” of loans issued by a New Jersey-chartered bank – for allegedly overcharging interest and other fees in violation of state law. In granting the motion to remand, the court noted that the administrator sufficiently alleged the non-bank was the “true lender” of the loans in question as the non-bank provided the website through which customers apply for the loans, determined the criteria for marketing the loans, decided which applications receive loans, and purchased the loans within two days after they were made by the New Jersey bank. The district court concluded that while courts are split as to banks, because the true lender of the loans was a non-bank, complete preemption by FDIA does not apply even though the non-bank lender has a “close relationship” with a state or national bank. The district court also stated that whether the non-bank is a “true lender” is “not relevant to the issues of complete preemption, which determine whether remand is warranted.”

    Courts Preemption State Issues Usury Interest Rate Nonbank True Lender FDIA

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