Tennessee Allows Industrial Banks To Charge Fees For Electronic Payments

On April 4, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed into law SB 1486, which authorizes registered industrial banks, industrial loan and thrift companies, and industrial investment companies to charge a convenience fee to any borrower making payment by credit card, debit card, electronic funds transfer, electronic check, or other electronic means in order to offset actual costs incurred by the lender. The convenience fees cannot exceed the actual costs incurred by the registrant for each payment type, or the average of the actual cost incurred for the various types of electronic payments accepted by the registrant. Registrants who elect to charge a convenience fee must also allow payment by non-electronic means—check, cash, or money order—without the imposition of a convenience fee. The changes take effect July 1, 2014.

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FTC Settles Suit Against Tribe-Affiliated Lenders; Dispute Over CFPB Investigation Of Tribe-Affiliated Lenders Moves To Federal Court

On April 11, the FTC announced that a tribe-affiliated payday lending operation and its owner agreed to pay nearly $1 million to resolve allegations that they engaged in unfair and deceptive acts or practices and violated the Credit Practices Rule in the collection of payday loans. The FTC alleged that the lenders illegally tried to garnish borrowers’ wages and sought to force borrowers to travel to South Dakota to appear before a tribal court, and that the loan contracts issued by the lenders illegally stated that they are subject solely to the jurisdiction of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. The announced settlement payment includes a $550,000 civil penalty and a court order to disgorge $417,740. The companies and their owner also are prohibited from further unfair and deceptive practices and are barred from suing any consumer in the course of collecting a debt, except for bringing a counter suit to defend against a suit brought by a consumer.

Also on April 11, in a separate matter related to federal authority over tribe-affiliated lending, a group of tribe-affiliated lenders responded in opposition to a recent CFPB petition to enforce civil investigative demands (CIDs) the Bureau issued to the lenders. In September 2013, the CFPB denied the lenders’ joint petition to set aside the CIDs, rejecting the lenders’ primary argument that the CFPB lacks authority over businesses chartered under the sovereign authority of federally recognized Indian Tribes. The lenders subsequently refused to respond to the CIDs, which the CFPB now asks the court to enforce. The CFPB argues that the lenders fall within the CFPB’s investigative authority under the terms of the Consumer Financial Protection Act, which the CFPB argues is a law of general applicability, including with regard to Indian Tribes and their property interests. The lenders continue to assert that they are sovereign entities operating beyond the CFPB’s reach.

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Iowa Amends Mortgage, Consumer Credit Laws

On March 26, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed into law HF 2324, which revises the state’s mortgage and consumer credit statutes to align with federal law. The bill amends the current $25,000 loan ceiling applicable to certain consumer credit transactions and replaces it with a “threshold amount” that incorporates by reference limits established under federal Truth in Lending Act. The bill also adopts the federal definition of “points and fees” for mortgage transactions and provides that if a loan is extended with points and fees higher than those specified under federal law the loan is subject to state law, including monetary limits on loan origination or processing and broker fees, a limit on the types of permissible lender charges, and a limit on fees relating to payment of interest reduction fees in exchange for a lower rate of interest. The bill also amends the definition of “finance charge” in the state’s consumer credit code to include an initial charge imposed by a financial institution for an overdrawn account. Finally, the bill adds a new section that allows banks to include in their consumer credit contracts over $25,000 a provision that a consumer is responsible for reasonable attorney fees if the bank is the prevailing party in a lawsuit arising from the transaction. The changes take effect July 1, 2014.

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Illinois AG Licensing Enforcement Actions Target Payday Loan Lead Generator, Lenders

On April 7, Illinois Attorney General (AG) Lisa Madigan sued a payday loan lead generator to enforce a 2012 cease and desist order issued by the state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The regulator and the AG assert that the state’s Payday Loan Reform Act (PLRA), which broadly defines “lender” to include “any person or entity . . . that . . . arranges a payday loan for a third party, or acts as an agent for a third party in making a payday loan, regardless of whether approval, acceptance, or ratification by the third party is necessary to create a legal obligation for the third party,” required the lead generator to obtain a license before operating in Illinois. The AG claims that the lead generator violated the state’s Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act by offering and arranging payday loans in knowing violation of the PLRA’s licensing and other requirements. The suit also alleges that the lead generator knowingly matched Illinois consumers with unlicensed members of the generator’s payday lender network. The AG is seeking a permanent injunction and a $50,000 civil penalty. On the same day, the AG also announced it filed suits against four online payday lenders for failing to obtain a state license, making payday loans with interest rates exceeding state usury caps, and otherwise violating state payday loan limitations. Those suits ask the court to permanently enjoin the lenders from operating in Illinois and declare all existing payday loan contracts entered into by those lenders null and void, with full restitution to borrowers.

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Idaho Bill Regulates Payday Loan Terms

On March 26, Idaho enacted SB 1314, which, among other things, prohibits payday lenders from making a loan that exceeds 25% of the borrower’s gross monthly income at the time the loan is made. The bill provides a safe harbor for lenders if the borrower presents evidence of gross monthly income or represents in writing that the payday loan does not exceed 25% of the borrower’s gross monthly income. The bill also requires lenders to, upon request, allow borrowers to enter into extended repayment plans. Lenders cannot charge any additional fees related to such plans, but lenders are not required to enter into an extended plan with a borrower more than one time in any 12-month period. Finally, the bill requires specific written disclosures and prohibits payday lenders from presenting a borrower’s check to a depository institution more than two times. The changes take effect July 1, 2014.

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Debt Settlement Firm Pleads Guilty In CFPB’s First Criminal Referral

On April 8 the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that a debt settlement company and its owner pled guilty to fraud charges, resolving the first criminal case referred to the DOJ by the CFPB. The DOJ alleged that from 2009 through May 2013, the company systematically exploited and defrauded over 1,200 customers with credit card debt by charging them for debt settlement services the company never provided. The DOJ claimed that the company (i) lied about and/or concealed its fees, and falsely assured customers that fees would be substantially less than those the company eventually charged; (ii) deceived customers by fraudulently and falsely promising that the company could significantly lower borrower debts when, for the majority of its customers, the company allegedly did little or no work and failed to achieve any reduction in debt; and (iii) sent prospective customers solicitation letters falsely suggesting that the agency was acting on behalf of or in connection with a federal governmental program. The company’s owner pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The company pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and faces a fine of up to twice the gross pecuniary gain derived from the offense, and up to five years’ probation. The defendants also entered into a stipulation of settlement of a civil forfeiture action and consented to the entry of a permanent injunction barring them from providing, directly or indirectly, any debt relief or mortgage relief services in the future. The CFPB subsequently dismissed its parallel civil suit.

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CFPB Issues Annual Consumer Complaint Report

On March 31 the CFPB published its Consumer Response Annual Report, providing a review of the CFPB’s complaint process and a description of complaints received during January 1 through December 31, 2013. According to the report the Bureau received approximately 163,700 complaints in 2013. Mortgage complaints outpaced all others (37%), followed by complaints regarding debt collection (19%), bank accounts (12%), and credit cards (10%). Complaints related to consumer loans, student loans, payday loans, money transfers, and “other” each comprised 3% or less of the total. The report also breaks down the types of complaints for each category and summarizes companies’ responses. The majority of closed complaints for all categories were resolved with an explanation by the company, i.e. without monetary or other relief, and companies responded to complaints in a timely fashion 99% of the time, or better. The report also stated that the CFPB “continues to evaluate, among other things, the release of consumer narratives, the potential for normalization of the data to make comparisons easier, and the expansion of functionality to improve user experience.”

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Eleventh Circuit Holds TCPA Consent To Receive Autodialed Calls Must Come From Current Cell Phone Subscriber

On March 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that, under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), consent to receive autodialed calls on a cell phone number must be provided by the number’s current subscriber and not the intended recipient of the call. Osorio v. State Farm Bank, F.S.B., No. 13-10951, 2014 WL 1258023 (11th Cir. Mar. 28, 2014). The case arose when a credit card applicant (and eventual cardholder) provided her housemate’s cell phone number on the issuing bank’s credit card application. After the cardholder became delinquent on her credit card payments, and a collection agency hired by the bank made over 300 autodialed calls to the housemate’s cell phone, the housemate filed suit against the bank under the TCPA, arguing that he did not consent to receive autodialed calls from the bank. The Eleventh Circuit held that the cardholder had no authority to consent to the collection calls because only the subscriber—the housemate—could have given such consent, either directly or through an authorized agent. The court further held that the cardholder and the housemate, in the absence of any contractual restriction to the contrary, were free to orally revoke any consent previously given to call the number in connection with the credit card debt. Finally, the court rejected the bank’s argument that the TCPA prohibits autodialed calls only when the called party is charged for each specific call. The court reversed a district court ruling in favor of the bank and remanded for further proceedings.

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NY AG Announces Agreement To Limit Online Title Lending

On April 1, New York Attorney General (AG) Schneiderman announced that 10 repossession companies agreed to discontinue repossessing vehicles at the request of title loan companies. The AG states that out-of-state or online lenders offer title loans, which he characterizes as a type of payday loan with high interest rates, to New Yorkers without obtaining a New York license, and offer loans in excess of the 16% interest rate cap applicable to unlicensed lenders. In September 2013, the AG settled with five companies that collected debts on allegedly illegal payday loans, part of a broader effort by New York authorities to address alleged usurious online lending.

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Utah Establishes Payday Loan Ability To Repay Requirements

On March 29, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed HB 127, which amends state law to require deferred deposit lenders, i.e. payday lenders, to assess a borrower’s ability to repay the loan “in the ordinary course, which may include rollovers or extended payment plans” and to obtain a signed acknowledgment from a borrower that the person has the ability to repay the loan. The legislation states that a lender is in compliance with the ability to repay requirement if, at the time of the initial period of the deferred deposit loan transaction, the lender obtains (i) a consumer report; (ii) written proof or verification of income from the person seeking the deferred deposit loan; or (iii) prior repayment history with the deferred deposit loan from the records of the deferred deposit lender. In addition, if a borrower is charged 10 continuous weeks of interest or fees on a payday loan, including rollovers, then at the end of the 10-week period, the lender must allow the borrower, upon the borrower’s request, to repay the loan and rollovers under an extended payment plan that meets certain requirements. The legislation also requires a lender to provide notice of default at least 10 days before filing a civil action to collect on a deferred deposit loan.

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Washington Amends State SCRA Statute To Provide State Remedy For Violation Of Federal SCRA

On March 27, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 2171, which amends the Washington Service Member’s Civil Relief Act (WSCRA) to provide that a violation of the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is a violation of the WSCRA and applies in proper cases in all Washington courts. The bill also provides a private right of action for servicemembers or their dependents to enforce the WSCRA, and grants the state attorney general civil litigating authority, with penalties of up to $55,000 for a first violation and up to $110,000 for each subsequent violation. The changes take effect on June 12, 2014.

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Minnesota Appeals Court Upholds State Regulation Of Online Payday Lender

On March 31, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that the Minnesota state legislature may regulate the activities of online payday lenders that extend loans to individuals residing within the state’s borders, even if the lender’s operations are based in a different state. State of Minn. v. Integrity Advance, LLC, No. 62-CV-11-7168, 2014 WL 1272279 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 31, 2014). The state of Minnesota alleged that an online payday lender violated Minnesota law by charging high annual interest rates, automatically rolling-over loans for extended periods, and failing to obtain a state lending license. The lender argued that the dormant commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from discriminating against or unduly burdening interstate commerce, prevented the Minnesota legislature from regulating the lender because the lender received and accepted Minnesotans’ loan applications at its place of business in Delaware, where the loans were consummated. The court rejected the lender’s argument and held that the U.S. Constitution permits states to regulate commercial transactions that affect their citizens so long as the transactions are not “wholly extraterritorial” – that is, occurring entirely outside of the state’s borders. The court determined that the online lender’s loans were not “wholly extraterritorial” because the lender (i) accepted loan applications online from Minnesota residents that indicated the applicant resided and worked in Minnesota; (ii) contacted Minnesotans in their home state approximately 27,944 times for loan underwriting and other business purposes; and (iii) deposited loan funds directly into Minnesota borrowers’ bank accounts. The court also upheld the district court’s award of $7 million in civil and statutory damages against the lender, finding that the lower court did not abuse its discretion since the award amounted to only 21% of the statutorily-allowed amount.

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Washington Amends Provisions Impacting Non-Depository Institutions

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.

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UK FCA Describes Approach To Consumer Credit Markets, Launches Review Of Credit Card Market

On April 3, Martin Wheatley, Chief Executive of the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which took over responsibility for overseeing consumer credit markets in the UK on April 1, 2014, identified the FCA’s most “immediate priority” as ensuring “providers of credit, as well as satellite services like credit broking, debt management and debt advice, have sustainable and well-controlled business models, supported by a culture that is based on ‘doing the right thing’ for customers.” He explained that the FCA wants to expand financial service providers’ focus on compliance with specific rules to include “wider FCA expectations of good conduct.” Referencing a paper the FCA published on April 1, the day it began overseeing consumer credit markets, Mr. Wheatley stated that consumer credit providers need to consider how they engage with consumers in vulnerable circumstances. On this issue, the FCA also announced a “competition review” of the UK credit card market to determine, among other things, “how the industry worked with those people who were in difficult financial situations already.”

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Federal Reserve OIG Criticizes CFPB’s Supervision Program

On April 1, the Federal Reserve Board’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which also is responsible for auditing the CFPB, issued a report that is critical of the CFPB’s supervisory activities and recommends that the CFPB take specific actions to strengthen its supervision program. The report shares concerns raised by entities having been through the examination process.

The report covers the CFPB’s supervisory activities from July 2011 through July 2013, including 82 completed examinations (excluding baseline reviews), which yielded 35 reports of examination and 47 supervisory letters. Of those 82 completed examinations, 63 were of depository institutions, and 19 were of nondepository institutions.

Among the findings, the OIG concludes that: Read more…

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