On July 14, the FTC announced the approval of a final consent order against two Ohio-based auto dealers to resolve allegations that they failed to make certain advertising disclosures in violation of the FTC Act, the Consumer Leasing Act (CLA), and the CLA’s implementing Regulation M. Specifically, according to the FTC’s November 2015 complaint, the auto dealers’ lease advertisements (i) failed to disclose, or adequately disclose, that typical consumers would not qualify for advertised terms; and (ii) displayed a monthly payment amount without clearly and conspicuously disclosing terms required by the CLA and Regulation M. Pursuant to the consent order, the auto dealers are prohibited from, among other things, (i) advertising the amount of any payment, or the length or any payment term, without also clearly and conspicuously disclosing all related qualification restrictions, such as those based on the consumer’s credit score; (ii) misrepresenting payment terms; and (iii) advertising payment terms without clearly and conspicuously disclosing terms required by the CLA and Regulation M.
Federal Reserve and CFPB Propose Method for Adjusting TILA and Consumer Leasing Act Exemption Thresholds
On July 22, the CFPB and the Federal Reserve released proposed rules detailing the method for adjusting the dollar thresholds in Regulation Z (TILA) and Regulation M (Consumer Leasing Act/CLA) for exempt consumer credit and lease transactions. Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, the exemption thresholds in TILA and the CLA are adjusted annually based on the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The recently released proposals seek to clarify, among other things, that in the years following a year in which there is no annual percentage increase in the CPI-W, the CFPB and Federal Reserve will not adjust the exemption thresholds. Comments on the proposals are due within 30 days of publication in the Federal Register.
On June 6, the FTC announced that it submitted its 2015 Annual Financial Acts Enforcement Report to the CFPB. The report covers the FTC’s enforcement activities related to compliance with Regulation Z (TILA), Regulation M (Consumer Leasing Act or CLA), and Regulation E (Electronic Fund Transfer Act or EFTA), as well as the FTC’s related activities in rulemaking, research, policy development, and consumer/business education related to TILA. According to the report, the FTC’s enforcement efforts in 2015 concerning TILA involved mortgage-related credit and non-mortgage credit, including automobile purchases and financing, car title loans, payday lending, and consumer electronics financing. Regarding mortgage-related credit activity, the report highlights continued litigation involving mortgage assistance relief services/forensic audit scams: “[i]n these scams, mortgage assistance relief providers offer, for a substantial fee, to review or audit the mortgage documents of distressed homeowners to identify violations of TILA, Regulation Z, and other federal laws.” The report further noted that under Regulation M and as part of the FTC’s Operation Ruse Control sweep on the auto industry, the FTC issued five final administrative consent orders and one consent agreement for public comment. Finally, regarding the FTC’s enforcement activities related to compliance with the EFTA, the report states that four of the FTC’s seven cases involving the EFTA in 2015 arose in the context of “negative option” plans, where consumers agreed to a trial period in which they received certain goods or services for no additional charge or at a reduced price, but later incurred recurring charges due to failure to cancel before the trial period ended.
On November 25, the Federal Reserve and the CFPB announced that the dollar thresholds in Regulation Z and Regulation M for exempt consumer credit and lease transactions will not change in 2016. Based on the annual percentage decrease in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) as of June 1, 2015, TILA and Consumer Leasing Act generally will apply to consumer credit transactions and consumer leases of $54,600 or less beginning January 1, 2016 – the same thresholds that applied in 2015. Regardless of the loan amount, private education loans and loans secured by real property remain subject to TILA. The agencies published notices of thresholds in Regulation Z and Regulation M in the Federal Register on November 27, 2015.
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.”