On May 14, the FTC released a letter it sent to the CFPB’s assistant directors for fair lending and supervision examinations describing activities related to the FTC’s administration and enforcement of the regulations implementing ECOA, EFTA, TILA, and the Consumer Leasing Act. The annual letter reviews the FTC’s post-Dodd-Frank Act responsibilities with regard to these regulations and reports on enforcement actions taken with regard to each. For example, with regard to TILA, the letter reviews FTC enforcement actions involving non-mortgage credit advertisements, mortgage lending advertisements, and forensic audit scams, and describes the FTC’s rulemaking and policy work related to the CFPB’s mortgage rules and in the area of mobile payments.
On May 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that an appointment to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) made by President Obama in March 2010 during a purported Senate recess was unconstitutional and vacated orders of the NLRB as constituted with the improperly appointed member. NLRB v. New Vista Nursing & Rehab., No. 11-3440, 2013 WL 2099742 (3rd Cir. May 16, 2013). The NLRB member appointment at issue in this case precedes the appointments at issue in Noel Canning, which appointments were made during the same pro forma Senate session in which President Obama appointed CFPB Director Richard Cordray. The D.C. Circuit’s opinion invalidating those appointments currently is on appeal to the Supreme Court. Here, as explained in the majority opinion and as in Noel Canning, the central question is the meaning of “the Recess of the Senate.” The court concluded that “the Recess of the Senate” in the Recess Appointments Clause refers to only intersession breaks, held that the NLRB panel lacked the requisite number of members to exercise its authority because one panel member was invalidly appointed during an intrasession break, and vacated the Board‘s orders. In a dissenting opinion, one judge argued that the majority holding undoes an appointments process that has successfully operated for over 220 years, and the court instead should have held that “the Recess” refers to both intrasession and intersession recesses because the Senate can be unavailable to provide advice and consent during both. The Third Circuit did not address whether the President may only fill vacancies that arise or begin during such intersession recesses, as opposed to vacancies that happen to exist during such recesses.
On May 9, Indiana enacted HB 1081, which makes numerous changes to the state’s consumer lending, licensing, and banking laws. Among those changes, the bill increases the threshold loan amounts under various definitions in the Uniform Consumer Credit Code, including “consumer credit sale,” “consumer loan,” and “consumer related loan.” With regard to mortgage originator licensing, the bill (i) revises the surety bond requirements for creditors and entities exempt from licensing that employ a licensed mortgage loan originator, (ii) prohibits an unlicensed individual or an unlicensed organization to act as a closing agent in a first lien mortgage transaction, and (iii) empowers the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) to investigate any licensee or person that the DFI suspects is operating without a license or in violation of the First Lien Mortgage Lending Act. The bill provides additional guidelines for filing an article of dissolution of a bank, trust company, or a building and loan association. It also makes changes to the certain powers of banks and trust companies. In addition, the bill make numerous amendments related to debt management companies, lead generators, and other consumer financial service providers, and revises requirements for money transmitter licensing by, for example, authorizing the DFI to designate the NMLS for licensing purposes.
On May 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with the CFPB in holding that a single-story unit in a multi-story condominium is a “lot,” as that term is used in the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act. Berlin v. Renaissance Rental Partners, No. 12-2213, slip op. (2d Cir. May 6, 2013). The CFPB and HUD, the predecessor regulator under the ILSFDA, had previously issued regulations stating that a property could only qualify as a “lot” if it involved the “exclusive use of … land.” The Second Circuit determined that the definition of the term “land” was ambiguous and deferred to the agencies’ interpretation, which equated “land” with “realty.” The case is notable primarily because the dissenting opinion reflects an increasingly unfriendly attitude in the courts towards so-called Auer deference. That deference generally requires courts to defer to any plausible interpretation from an agency of its own regulations. In a 15-page dissent in Berlin, Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs questioned the utility of that deference doctrine in this case, arguing that the agency’s reading was “unnatural” and should not be given effect. Chief Judge Jacobs also disagreed with the majority’s emphasis on the fact that the HUD/CFPB position was consistent. Indeed, Chief Judge Jacobs felt that the CFPB’s “gravity-defying” “misunderstanding” was “not improved by consistency,” particularly given that the agencies’ interpretations rested on guidelines that were “semi-literate.” Interestingly, Chief Judge Jacobs twice cited to Justice Scalia’s recent dissent in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, which questions the continuing basis for Auer. (A previous InfoByte discussed the opinions in Decker.) Because Auer may prove relevant in many administrative law cases—including those involving banking and financial regulators—this unfriendly attitude may prove significant for participants throughout the financial industry.
On May 7, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced mail and wire fraud charges against a debt settlement firm, its owner, and three of its employees. The government alleges the defendants lied to prospective customers about (i) fees associated with the company’s debt relief products, (ii) the company’s purported affiliation with the federal government and leading credit bureaus, and (iii) the results achieved for its customers. On the same day, the CFPB filed a civil complaint against the same debt relief provider and one other company in which the CFPB alleges the firms violated the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Dodd-Frank Act by charging consumers illegal advance fees for debt-settlement services. The CFPB is seeking to halt the operations, collect civil penalties, and obtain customer redress.
On May 8, the CFPB issued a report regarding student loan affordability and related policy issues. The report summarizes and analyzes public responses to the CFPB’s request for information and discusses policy options for addressing these issues. In particular, the paper explores policy options for restructuring student loans, including, for example, allowing distressed private loan borrowers to convert their obligations into federal student loans, which would allow them to accesses certain income-based repayment and other benefits available to federal loan borrowers, and options for a public-private loan restructuring program. The paper also identifies multiple policy options for jumpstarting the refinance market, including creating a “centralized source on private student loans[, which] could create the conditions and data standards for the emergence of an auction-like marketplace for refinance activity.” The paper states that compliance with existing laws on origination, servicing, and collection of student loans is also critical. On the same day the report was issued, the CFPB held a field hearing at which CFPB Director Richard Cordray, other CFPB officials, and industry and consumer groups discussed many of the issues presented by the CFPB information request and report, including the effects of student debt burdens on individuals and the broader economy, and potential debt relief policy options.
On May 1, the CFPB’s Office of Servicemember Affairs published its Semi-Annual Complaint Report, which states that the volume of complaints from servicemembers, veterans, and their families has steadily increased since the CFPB first started accepting complaints in July 2011. The report provides limited summary information about the complaints, noting that mortgage complaints predominate, followed by credit card and credit reporting complaints. In a related blog post, the CFPB states that it has received more than 5,000 servicemember complaints to date, and calls again for additional questions or complaints from the entire military community.
On May 1, the FTC and the CFPB announced a roundtable to “examine the flow of consumer data throughout the debt collection process” and discuss (i) the amount of documentation and other information currently available to different types of collectors and at different points in the debt collection process, (ii) the information needed to verify and substantiate debts, (iii) the costs and benefits of providing consumers with additional disclosures about their debts and debt-related rights, and (iv) information issues relating to pleading and judgment in debt collection litigation. The event will be held on June 6, 2013 in Washington, DC and is open to the public.
On May 1, the CFPB announced its next Consumer Advisory Board Meeting, scheduled for May 15, 2013 in Los Angeles, CA. The meeting agenda includes a public session that will feature remarks from CFPB Director Cordray and comments from consumer groups, community and industry representatives, and members of the public.
On April 30, the CFPB published policy recommendations for advancing K-12 financial education. The paper, “Transforming the Financial Lives of a Generation of Young Americans,” identifies perceived problems for young people in the financial marketplace and reviews current approaches to financial education for the target age groups. The CFPB recommends that state policymakers and educators (i) introduce key financial education concepts early and make a stand-alone financial education course a graduation requirement for high school students, (ii) include personal financial management questions in standardized tests, (iii) provide opportunities throughout the K-12 years to practice money management through innovative, hands-on learning opportunities, (iv) create consistent opportunities and incentives for teachers to take financial education training for use in teaching financial management to their students, and (v) encourage parents and guardians to discuss money management topics at home and provide them with the tools necessary to have conversations about money with their children.
On April 26, the CFPB issued a final rule that (i) establishes the governance structure of the Civil Penalty Fund, including the position of Civil Penalty Fund Administrator, (ii) identifies categories of victims who may receive funds and the amounts they may receive, (iii) establishes procedures for allocating funds for payments to victims and for consumer education and financial literacy programs, and for distributing allocated funds to individual victims, (iv) describes the circumstances in which payments to certain victims or classes of victims will be deemed impracticable, and (v) requires the Administrator to issue regular reports. While the CFPB issued the rule without a notice and comment period because the rule is exempt from the Administrative Procedures Act and other rulemaking requirements, it also issued a related proposal in which the CFPB seeks comment on, among other things, (i) whether it should make payments to victims of any type of “activities” for which it has imposed civil penalties, even if no enforcement action imposed a civil penalty for the particular “activities” that harmed the victim, (ii) whether it should limit payments to a share of the civil penalties collected for the particular violations that harmed a consumer, as opposed to using general Civil Penalty Fund dollars, and (iii) alternatives to the allocation procedures to be used when sufficient funds are not available to compensate fully the uncompensated harm of all victims to whom it is practicable to make payments. Comments on the proposal are due within 60 days of its publication in the Federal Register.
On April 26, Indiana enacted SB 238, which increases the maximum credit service charge for a consumer credit sale other than one involving a revolving charge account and the maximum finance charge for a supervised loan. Effective July 1, 2013, the bill increases the applicable amounts financed, which are subject to the graduated service charge or loan finance charge percentage, and increases the service charge or loan finance charge percentage that applies if the graduated percentages do not apply. For consumer loans other than supervised loans, the bill increases the permitted loan finance charge from 21% to 25%, provides that the lender may contract for and receive a loan origination fee of not more than 2% of the loan amount (or line of credit, for a revolving loan) in the case of a loan secured by an interest in land, or $50 in the case of a loan not secured by an interest in land. For supervised loans, the bill provides that the lender may contract for and receive a loan origination fee of not more than $50. For both supervised loans and consumer loans other than supervised loans, (i) the permitted minimum loan finance charge may be imposed only if the lender does not assess a loan origination fee, and (ii) in the case of a loan not secured by an interest in land, if a lender retains any part of a loan origination fee charged on a loan that is paid in full by a new loan from the same lender, certain other restrictions apply.
Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court’s award of summary judgment to a mortgage servicer who provided a negative credit report after the borrower refinanced his home without notifying the closing agent that his servicing rights had been transferred. Llewellyn v. Allstate Home Loans, Inc., 711 F.3d 1173 (10th Cir. 2013). The district court granted summary judgment to the servicer and its foreclosure law firm after concluding that the borrower had failed to provide sufficient evidence of actual economic or emotional damages, or willfulness to support his FCRA claim. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s determination that the borrower had not provided evidence of economic damages or willfulness, but concluded that the evidence presented was sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact about whether the borrower suffered emotional damages and reversed and remanded for further proceedings on that claim. In so doing, the court explained that borrowers can rely solely on their own testimony to establish emotional harm if they explain their injury in reasonable detail and do not rely on conclusory statements. The appellate court also affirmed the district court’s award of summary judgment in favor of the servicer on the borrower’s FDCPA claim, concluding that the servicer acquired the debt before it was in default, and thus did not qualify as a “debt collector” under the statute.
On April 24, the CFPB published a white paper on payday loan and deposit advance products that claims to show those products lead to a “cycle of high-cost borrowing.” On April 25, the FDIC and the OCC proposed guidance relating to deposit advance products based on similar concerns. The CFPB paper reflects the results of what the CFPB characterizes as a year-long, in-depth review of short-term, small-dollar loans, which began with a January 2012 field hearing. Although it acknowledges that demand exists for small dollar credit products, that such products can be helpful for consumers, and that alternatives may not be available, the CFPB concludes that such products are only appropriate in limited circumstances and faults lenders for not determining whether the products are suitable for each customer. The CFPB paper does not propose any rule or guidance, but is instead intended to present a clear statement of CFPB concerns. The paper notes that a related CFPB study of online payday loans is ongoing. The FDIC and OCC proposed guidance outlines the agencies’ safety and soundness, compliance, and consumer protection concerns about deposit advance products, and sets forth numerous expectations, including with regard to consumer eligibility, capital adequacy, fees, compliance, management oversight, and third-party relationships. For example, under the guidance the agencies would expect banks to offer a deposit advance product only to customers who (i) have at least a six month relationship with the bank, (ii) do not have any delinquent or adversely classified credits, and (iii) meet specific financial capacity standards. The guidance also would require, among other things, that (i) each deposit advance loan be repaid in full before the extension of a subsequent loan, (ii) banks refrain from offering more than one loan per monthly statement cycle and provide a cooling-off period of at least one monthly statement cycle after the repayment of a loan before another advance is extended, and (iii) banks reevaluate customer eligibility every six months.
On April 25, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) sent a letter to several consumer credit bureaus, demanding that the firms (i) ensure that credit scores are not lowered for consumers adversely impacted by Hurricane Sandy, (ii) reset any scores that have been lowered, (iii) work with banks and other lenders to red flag any negative information relating to storm-impacted consumers, and (iv) meet with the DFS to permanently change procedures to prevent credit scores from going down for consumers impacted by a disaster. The letter asserts such actions are required because financial challenges created by the storm could negatively impact individual credit scores for reasons that are unrelated to their creditworthiness. The state’s press release provides a phone number for consumers to call if they believe that their credit has been “unfairly impacted” by the storm.