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Washington state Attorney General says debt buyers are collection agencies, files lawsuit for operating without a license
On September 21, the Washington state Attorney General announced that it filed a lawsuit against several collection agencies and their owner (defendants) for allegedly purchasing and suing on charged-off consumer debts in violation of the Washington Collection Agency Act (WCAA) and the Washington Consumer Protection Act (WCPA). The complaint alleges that defendants bought and then obtained judgements on at least 3,500 consumer debts without first obtaining a collection agency license under the WCAA. Under the WCAA, a debt buyer is a collection agency and must therefore “be licensed as a collection agency if it enters into contracts with sellers of debt accounts or takes other affirmative steps to acquire accounts for collection, either directly or through an agent.” Failure to obtain a license as required under the WCAA amounts to a per se violation of the WCPA. Because defendants bought and sued on consumer debts before obtaining a license in 2013, the Attorney General claimed that they violated the WCAA and the WCPA. The complaint seeks civil money penalties of up to $2,000 per violation for each violation of the WCPA, restitution for affected consumers, and reimbursement of legal costs and fees.
On October 1, NYDFS announced the commencement of the final phase of its initiative to manage the license application and regulation of all non-depository financial institutions operating in the state through the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System and Registry (NMLS). As such, NYDFS now allows financial services companies holding check casher and virtual currency business activity licenses to transition those licenses to NMLS. Additionally, companies applying for new licenses may now submit applications through NMLS. As previously covered in InfoBytes, licensed budget planners, sales finance agencies, money transmitter licensees, and mortgage providers have already made the transition to NMLS.
On September 30, the California governor signed AB 237, which establishes a pilot program under the California Financing Law with the stated purpose of encouraging lenders to provide affordable small dollar loans to consumers. Significant features of the program include: (i) an increase to the upper limit of a permissible loan, from $2,500 to $7,500; and (ii) the authorized imposition of specified alternative interest rates and charges on unsecured loans of at least $300 and less than $2,500.
Under California’s Pilot Program for Increased Access to Responsible Small Dollar Loans (Pilot Program), licensees who choose to participate in the Pilot Program will be required to apply and pay a specified fee to the Commissioner of Business Oversight (Commissioner). Participating licensees will also be required, among other things, to (i) determine a borrower’s ability to repay the loan, factoring in all verifiable outstanding credit and capping total monthly debt service payments at 50 percent of the borrower’s gross monthly income for loans of $2,500 or less and 36 percent for loans greater than $2,500; (ii) establish terms of 180 days or more for loans with principal balances of at least $1,500, but less than $2,500, upon origination; (iii) establish terms of no less than one year and no more than five years for loans with principal balances exceeding $2,500; (iv) implement policies and procedures for the purpose of answering borrower questions and performing reasonable background checks on any finders associated with the licensee’s participation in the Pilot Program (AB 237 permits approved licensees to use the services or one more finders); and (v) reduce the interest rate of each subsequent loan made to the same borrower by a minimum of one percentage point under certain conditions. In addition, AB 237 allows the Commissioner to charge a licensee certain fees associated with the use of a finder, stipulates examinations requirements for licensees and finders, and establishes deadlines and requirements for the Commissioner when submitting required findings from the Pilot Program. The Pilot Program will run through January 1, 2023.
Governor Brown issued a message in conjunction with his signing AB 237 expressing his concern, among others, that increasing the cap on small dollar loans without also providing stricter regulatory oversight may lead to “unintended consequences.” Governor Brown requested that the state’s Department of Business Oversight “increase their vigilance and more carefully oversee both lenders and finders to ensure their actions comply with existing law.”
Colorado regulator exempts certain cryptocurrency exchanges from money transmitter licensing requirements
On September 20, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies Division of Banking (Division) issued interim guidance exempting certain types of cryptocurrency exchanges from the state’s money transmitter licensing requirements. Under the interim guidance—which outlines the Division’s interpretation of Colorado’s existing Money Transmitters Act (the Act)— the Division determined that the Act regulates the transmission of money, meaning legal tender, and that cryptocurrencies are not legal tender under the Act. As a result, virtual currency exchanges operating in Colorado do not require a license if transmitting only cryptocurrencies without any legal tender issued and backed by a government (fiat currency) involved in the transaction. However, if fiat currency is present in a transaction, then a virtual currency exchange may require a license. Additionally, a virtual currency exchange must obtain a license when it performs all of the following: (i) it engages in the business of selling and buying cryptocurrencies for fiat currency; (ii) it allows a Colorado customer to transfer cryptocurrency to another customer within the exchange; and (iii) it allows the transfer of fiat currency through the medium of cryptocurrency within the exchange. If a virtual currency exchange offers the ability to transfer fiat currency through the medium of cryptocurrency, the Division encourages the exchange to contact the Division to determine whether it must obtain a license.
On September 21, the Federal Reserve Board (Board) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comment on the repeal of certain provisions of regulations that incorporate the Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act (SAFE Act), which the Board states are intended to reflect the transfer of rulemaking authority to the CFPB by the Dodd-Frank Act. Specifically, the Board proposes amending Regulation H (Membership of State Banking Institutions in the Federal Reserve System) and Regulation K (International Banking Operations) to repeal the provisions that incorporate the SAFE Act because of the change in rulemaking authority and because the CFPB finalized a rule that is substantially identical to the Board's regulations. Comments on the proposal are due within 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On September 14, the California governor approved AB 38 amending the state’s Student Loan Servicing Act (Act). The Act provides for the licensure, regulation, and oversight of student loan servicers by the California Department of Business Oversight (CDBO). Among other things, the amendments: (i) clarify the circumstances under which the Commissioner of the CDBO may deny a student loan servicer’s application; (ii) remove debt collectors of defaulted student loans from the definition of a “student loan servicer”; (iii) authorize the Commissioner to require license applicants and licensees to submit required filings with, and pay assessments to, the Commissioner through the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System and Registry; (iv) require the Commissioner to report violations of the Act “as well as other enforcement actions and information to the licensing system and registry to the extent that the information is a public record”; and (v) extend to 10 business days the time for a licensee to acknowledge receipt of a qualified written request from a borrower. The amendments also grant the Commissioner the authority to prescribe circumstances under which electronic records, including applications, financial statements, and reports, may be accepted.
District of Columbia moves to dismiss lawsuit alleging city’s student loan servicer regulations are preempted by federal law
On September 7, the District of Columbia filed a memorandum in support of its motion to dismiss a lawsuit claiming that the city’s regulations and requirements for student loan servicers are preempted by federal law. The plaintiff, a D.C.-based trade group whose membership consists of national student loan servicers, argues in its complaint that various provisions of District of Columbia Law 21-214, and rules promulgated thereunder, are preempted by the Federal Higher Education Act (HEA). For example, the complaint alleges that the licensing, examination, and annual reporting requirements are expressly preempted by the HEA, and the requirement to provide records to the D.C. Commissioner of Securities and Banking, upon request, violates the requirement that third party requests for records be made directly to the Department of Education.
The city countered that the potential harm is “hypothetical” and the plaintiff’s preemption claims are insufficient to establish standing. Several nonprofit groups filed an amicus brief in support of the city, stating that the lawsuit “is part of a strenuous effort by the Department and loan servicers not to protect federal interests, but to reach an outcome whereby no government entity provides meaningful regulation.” Moreover, the amicus brief claims that the lawsuit was filed following the Department’s Interpretation issued last March (as previously covered in InfoBytes here), which took the position that state regulation of Direct Loan servicing is broadly preempted by the HEA because it “impedes uniquely Federal interests,” and state regulation of the servicing of Federal Family Education Program Loans “is preempted to the extent that it undermines uniform administration of the program.”
On August 24, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed AB 2035, which amends the New Jersey Residential Mortgage Lending Act and certain related statutes. Among other technical and clarifying changes, the amendments create a framework for the issuance of a “transitional mortgage loan originator license,” which would allow an “out-of-state mortgage loan originator” or a “registered mortgage loan originator” to obtain temporary authority to engage in the business of mortgage loan origination in New Jersey for 120 days before obtaining a New Jersey mortgage loan originator license. The amendments provide specific definitions for what constitutes a “registered mortgage loan originator” and what constitutes an “out-of-state mortgage loan originator.” Specifically, the amendments define an “out-of-state mortgage loan originator” as an individual who is registered with Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and currently holds a valid mortgage loan originator license issued under the law of any other state or jurisdiction in the country. And the law amends the definition of “registered mortgage loan originator” to include a requirement that such a person must be validly registered as a mortgage loan originator with a depository institution employer for at least the one-year period prior to applying for licensure under the act.
The amendments revise the types of fees that residential mortgage lenders have the right to charge related to the origination, processing, and closing of a mortgage loan: (i) application fee; (ii) origination fee; (iii) lock-in fee; (iv) commitment fee; (v) warehouse fee; (vi) discount points; and (vii) fees necessary to reimburse the lender for charges imposed by third parties, such as appraisal and credit report fees. The amendments also create a different list of fees a mortgage broker may charge in connection with the brokering of any mortgage loan transaction.
The amendments take effect 90 days after the bill’s enactment.
1st Circuit holds homeowners who defaulted on an allegedly unlicensed mortgage loan cannot escape time bars for their claims
On August 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit held that homeowners who defaulted on a refinance loan on their Massachusetts property could not void the transaction or enjoin their property’s foreclosure sale. The appellate court determined that the homeowners’ claims that the lender violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, the Truth in Lending Act, and the Massachusetts consumer protection statute were all time-barred. The homeowners argued that the statute of limitations never began to run because the lender was not licensed to lend money in the state, making the original note and mortgage “akin to forgeries and thus ‘void ab initio,’” but the court held that there was “no authority for this unusual proposition.” The court also refused to toll the limitations period under the doctrine of fraudulent concealment, which requires the plaintiff “to make a threshold showing of due diligence,” because the homeowners filed their claims more than five years after they retained counsel and ten years after they granted the mortgage at issue.
On August 14 and 10, the Illinois governor signed HB 4404 and SB 2615, which amend the Illinois Residential Mortgage License Act of 1987. Effective immediately, SB 2615, now Public Act 100-0795, requires, among other things, that mortgage loan advertisements in Illinois, whether print or electronic, reference the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System (NMLS) and Registry’s Consumer Access website, except where exempted by the Secretary of Financial and Professional Regulation.
HB 4404, now Public Act 100-0851, provides that an entity that is engaged solely in independent loan processing through the sponsoring of individuals is considered exempt from the licensing requirements of the Residential Mortgage License Act but is required to annually apply through the NMLS for an exempt company registration for the purpose of sponsoring one or more licensed mortgage loan originators. The changes are effective immediately.
- 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