On November 18, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by voice vote H.R. 1210 and H.R. 1737, both of which will affect CFPB policies governing the mortgage and auto lending industries. The “Portfolio Lending and Mortgage Access Act” – H.R. 1210 – would amend the Truth in Lending Act to create a safe harbor from certain requirements for depository institutions making residential mortgage loans held in portfolios. Specifically, the bill permits loans that appear on a depository institution’s balance sheet to be treated as a Qualified Mortgage subject to certain limitations, thus permitting such loans to fall under the Ability-to-Repay Rule’s safe harbor provisions. The “Reforming CFPB Indirect Auto Finance Guidance Act” – H.R. 1737 – would invalidate CFPB Bulletin 2013-02, which provides guidance to indirect auto lenders regarding compliance with federal fair lending laws.
On November 24, the FTC announced that two Ohio auto dealers agreed to settle FTC charges that they deceived consumers with misleading advertisements. Specifically, the FTC alleged that the auto dealers violated the FTC Act and the Consumer Leasing Act by failing to adequately disclose key terms regarding car lease offers, such as (i) the total payment amount due at signing; (ii) whether a security deposit was required; and (iii) credit score requirements. The proposed settlement order will remain in effect for 20 years and prohibits the defendants from advertising misleading lease or financing terms. The defendants are barred from advertising a payment amount, or that any initial payment is required, without disclosing the following: (i) that the transaction is a lease; (ii) the total amount due at consummation or delivery; (iii) the number of payments, their amounts, and timing; (iv) whether or not a security deposit is required; and (v) that consumers may need to pay an extra fee at the end of the lease based on the difference between the vehicle’s residual value and the value at the end of the lease. Finally, the proposed settlement also requires the defendants to “clearly and conspicuously disclose all qualifications or restrictions on a consumer’s ability to obtain the advertised terms.”
On November 5, Massachusetts AG Maura Healey announced a settlement with a national auto lender to resolve allegations that the lender charged excessive interest rates on subprime auto loans. The company agreed to provide over $5 million – approximately $11,000 per consumer – in relief to those affected by its alleged practice of charging consumers excessive interest rates as a result of including fees from an add-on GAP insurance product. Under the terms of the assurance and discontinuance, the company will (i) eliminate the alleged excessive interest on certain loans as a result of the GAP fee; and (ii) forgive outstanding interest on loans. In addition, the company must pay $150,000 to Massachusetts and perform supervised audits of its existing loan portfolio to ensure that no additional consumers were overcharged because of GAP fees.
CFPB Orders Auto Finance Company to Pay Over Three Million for Alleged Unfair Debt Collection Practices
On October 28, the CFPB filed an administrative order against an Ohio-based auto lender specializing in extending credit to servicemembers. The CFPB alleged that the company violated the CFPA by engaging in unfair, abusive, and deceptive debt collection practices, including: (i) contacting and threatening to contact servicemembers’ commanding officers to inform them of delinquencies and alleged military violations requiring discipline; (ii) exaggerating the potential disciplinary actions, such as demotion, loss of promotion, and discharge, that servicemembers may face if they failed to make payments; (iii) representing that the company could commence an involuntary allotment or wage garnishment without obtaining a court judgment; and (iv) threatening legal action when the company did not intend to take legal action at the time. Among other things, the consent order requires that the company: (i) refund or credit over $2 million to consumers; and (ii) pay a $1 million civil money penalty.
On October 27, the OCC issued an updated Floor Plan Lending booklet of the Comptroller’s Handbook. The revised booklet (i) summarizes the basics of floor plan lending for examiners, including a description of indirect dealer lending and the regulatory and legal foundation for floor plan lending; (ii) provides banks with sound risk management practices and describes regulatory risk rating guidelines; and (iii) includes an expanded examination procedures section with examples of risk rating cases and factors for determining the quantity of credit risk and the quality of credit risk management. The updated booklet replaces a similarly titled booklet issued in March 1990, as well as section 216 of “Floor Plan and Indirect Lending” issued in January 1994 as part of the former Office of Thrift Supervision’s Examination Handbook.
On October 20, the FTC announced that, following a public comment period, it approved final consent orders against two Las Vegas auto dealers for allegedly engaging in deceptive advertising practices. In June, the FTC filed two administrative complaints against the auto dealers for (i) misrepresenting the purchase price or leasing offers of vehicles; and (ii) failing to disclose key information in its advertisements, including if a down payment was required at the time of purchase. The final consent orders were unanimously approved in a 5-0 vote by the Commission and prohibit the dealers from (i) engaging in further action that results in violations of the Consumer Leasing Act and the Truth in Lending Act; (ii) misrepresenting the cost of financing or leasing a vehicle; and (iii) stating the down payment amount or percentage without also disclosing repayment terms and the annual percentage rate.
On October 1, the CFPB ordered an indirect auto lender and its auto title lending subsidiary to pay more than $48 million in restitution and consumer relief over allegations that both companies engaged in unlawful debt collection practices. The CFPB alleged that the companies used a variety of “deceptive” tactics to coerce borrowers into making payments on their remaining loan amounts. The CFPB further asserted that the companies provided inaccurate information in their advertisements to borrowers regarding monthly interest rates, and misled borrowers about the effect of changing payment due dates or the ramifications of extending loan terms, which resulted in additional accrued interest owed over the life of the loan. Under terms of the consent order, the companies agreed to, among other things, provide $44.1 million in restitution and loan balance reductions to affected borrowers and pay a $4.25 million civil money penalty.
On July 21, Senators Blumenthal (D-CT) and Markey (D-MA) introduced legislation, the Security and Privacy in Your Car Act (“SPY Car” Act), that would protect drivers’ privacy while allowing them to remain connected to the growing technological advances in the automobile industry. In addition to directing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the FTC to develop federal cybersecurity and privacy standards that would secure motor vehicles manufactured for sale in the United States and protect drivers, the SPY Car Act seeks to establish a rating system, or “cyber dashboard,” that “informs consumers about how well the vehicle protects drivers’ security and privacy” beyond the minimum standards potentially set by the NHTSA and the FTC. The requirements that motor vehicles: (i) be equipped with reasonable measures to protect against hacking attacks; (ii) maintain the ability to reasonably secure data collected within electronic systems; and (iii) be equipped with capabilities to immediately detect, report, and stop attempts to intercept driving data or control the vehicle, are among the cybersecurity standards outlined in the SPY Car Act. In regards to privacy standards, the legislation proposes the following: (i) transparency, such that owners or lessees are explicitly aware of the collection, transmission, retention, and use of driving data; (ii) consumer choice, allowing owners or lessees to opt out of data collection and retention without losing access to other features, such as key navigation; and (iii) marketing prohibition, which would ban companies from using personal driving information for advertising purposes without obtaining the affirmative express consent of the owner or lessee. The introduction of the SPY Car Act follows Senator Markey’s 2015 Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk report, which showed gaps in the auto industry’s ability to prevent hackers from accessing internet-connected features in vehicles.
CFPB and DOJ Reach $24 Million Settlement with Indirect Auto Lender to Resolve Discriminatory Pricing Allegations
On July 14, the CFPB and DOJ announced a $24 million settlement with an indirect auto lender to resolve allegations that the lender offered higher interest rates to minority borrowers compared to white borrowers with a similar credit risk profile. Specifically, both agencies contended that the lender allowed their partnering dealers excessive discretion to increase the lender’s base interest rate with a “dealer markup” on auto loan contracts, which resulted in discriminatory pricing. Under terms of the settlement, the lender agreed to, among other things, (i) pay $24 million in restitution to affected borrowers, (ii) impose dealer markup rate caps on auto loans, and (iii) improve its policies and procedures related to auto loan pricing and compensation program. Notably, the Bureau did not impose a civil money penalty due to the lender’s responsible conduct. The Bureau filed its consent order in an administrative enforcement action. In a separate announcement, the DOJ filed its complaint and consent order in federal court, which will require judicial approval. The lender was represented in the matter by BuckleySandler.
On July 14, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced two settlements with auto dealers over allegedly deceptive advertising practices. The first settlement was reached with a White Plains-based auto dealer that allegedly misled consumers by promoting, in its print and online ads, illusory sale and lease prices by including “discounts or rebates that were not available to most consumers, and thus, did not represent the actual sale or lease prices.” According to the Attorney General, rebates or discounts offered to “military” or “college graduates” were among the deceptive advertisements used by the auto dealer. An investigation by the AG’s Office revealed that the dealership would only make the rebates or discounts available to certain military personnel and recent college graduates. In addition to failing to comply with the Attorney General’s Advertising Guidelines for Automobile Dealers, the Attorney General alleged that the ads used footnotes and asterisks that contradicted or materially modified the principal message of the advertisements. The dealership will pay $32,500 to the state and has agreed to reform its advertising practices.
In a separate action, the Attorney General announced a settlement resolving allegations that 22 dealerships “persistently defrauded consumers with misleading promotions and fraudulent sales tactics.” According to the Attorney General’s office, the dealers’ advertisements included certain game cards that led consumers to believe that they would be guaranteed winners of certain items – such as cash, a free vehicle, or an Apple iPad – if they received a winning ticket containing three matching symbols. However, virtually none of the consumers won a prize when they brought in their winning tickets to the dealers. In addition to misleading game cards, the dealers were alleged to have charged unauthorized fees for vehicle maintenance plans that had not been requested by purchasers and to have upcharged the retail sales price on cars to effectively nullify discounts offered to consumers. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the dealers will pay $310,000 in penalties and restitution.
On July 6, Governor Maggie Hassan (D-NH) signed into law Senate Bill 119/Chapter 207 to regulate the offering of GAP waivers. The act also amends the terms of Consumer Guarantee Contracts to limit the consumer’s ability to bring an action in a court of law. The act is effective September 4, 2015.
Minnesota Passes Legislation to Exclude Guaranteed Asset Protection Waiver Policies from Insurance Definition
On June 13, Governor Mark Dayton (D-MN) signed into law H.F. 3/Chapter 1, which, in part, excludes Guaranteed Asset Protection (GAP) waiver policies from the definition of insurance. Effective August 1, the act specifies that the GAP waiver statute will not apply to certain insurance law requirements, including those relating to: (i) commercial deals; (ii) a debt cancellation or debt suspension contract; and (iii) credit life, credit accident and health, and credit involuntary unemployment. The act also allows for GAP waivers to be sold for either a single payment or as a monthly periodic payment. Finally, the act includes certain GAP waiver disclosures, such as cancellation of the GAP waiver by the borrower within the free look period, which is no less than 30 days.
On June 29, the FTC filed two administrative complaints and issued proposed orders against two Las Vegas auto dealers to resolve allegations that they engaged in misleading advertising practices that misrepresented the purchase price or leasing offers of their vehicles, as well as the amount actually due at signing. In addition, the FTC also contends that the auto dealers failed to disclose other key information in its advertisements, such as the need for a security deposit, whether a down payment was required, and the terms of repayment. Under the proposed consent orders, the FTC will require both dealerships to refrain from misrepresenting the actual cost to purchase or lease a vehicle, and to comply with requirements of the Consumer Leasing Act and the Truth in Lending Act. No monetary judgment is proposed for either auto dealership.
New York AG Announces Nearly $14 Million Agreement with Local Auto Dealers Over Deceptive Sales Practices, Plans to Sue an Additional 11 Auto Dealerships
On June 17, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced an approximate $14 million agreement with three jointly-owned auto dealers in connection with the alleged unlawful sale of add-on products, such as credit repair and identity-theft prevention services. According to the AG, the auto dealers failed to disclose the costs and fees of many “after-sale” items to consumers, in some instances resulting in the addition of $2,000 to the purchase or leasing price of a vehicle. Furthermore, the AG contends that the dealers concealed that they were charging consumers for the add-on services, or misrepresented that the services were free of charge. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the auto dealers must, among other things, (i) pay more than $13.5 million in restitution to affected consumers and (ii) pay $325,000 in penalties, fees, and costs to New York State. In addition to the settlement announcement, AG Schneiderman made public that his office has served notices of intent to file suits against an additional eleven dealerships for allegedly engaging in similar practices.
On June 10, the CFPB issued its final rule to oversee “larger participant” nonbank auto finance companies. Although the CFPB received significant feedback during the comment period, the final rule is nearly identical to that proposed in September 2014. Under the final rule, the CFPB will have supervisory authority over nonbank auto finance companies with at least 10,000 aggregate annual originations. These originations include making, purchasing, acquiring, or refinancing extensions of credit for the purchase or lease of an automobile. The CFPB estimates this threshold will bring about 34 entities and their affiliates under its supervisory authority, which represents roughly seven percent of all nonbank auto finance companies, and approximately 91% of the nonbank automobile financing market. In addition to the final rule, the CFPB also published updated automobile finance examination procedures to include industry specific guidance for covered persons.
The rule will take effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Although the CFPB has not determined when and in what order examinations will begin, some industry insiders have predicted they could start in late 2015. Read more…