OCC Releases Bulletin on Revised Examination Procedures for the Military Lending Act

On October 7, following the Federal Reserve’s and the CFPB’s leads, the OCC released Bulletin 2016-33 advising financial institutions of updated interagency examination procedures for compliance with the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Military Lending Act (MLA) July 2015 final rule. As previously summarized in BuckleySandler’s Special Alert, the DoD issued an interpretive rule regarding the amendments to the regulations implementing the MLA on August 26, 2016. The 2015 final rule went into effect for consumer credit products other than credit cards on October 3, 2016. The requirements will take effect for credit card accounts one year later, on October 3, 2017. The OCC plans to include the updated interagency examination procedures in the Comptroller’s Handbook.


CFPB Releases Final Rule on Prepaid Financial Products; Chamber of Digital Commerce Comments on Scope of the Rule

On October 5, the CFPB released its final rule on prepaid financial products, including traditional prepaid cards, mobile wallets, person-to-person payment products, and other electronic accounts with the ability to store funds. The rule is intended to provide consumers with additional federal protections under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act analogous to the protections checking account consumers receive. The following federal protections are included in the new rule: (i) financial institutions will be required to provide certain account information for free via telephone, online, and in writing upon request, unless periodic statements are provided; (ii) financial institutions must work with consumers who find errors on their accounts, including unauthorized or fraudulent charges, timely investigate and resolve these incidents, and restore missing funds when appropriate; and (iii) consumers will be protected against unauthorized transactions, such as withdrawals or purchases, if their prepaid cards are lost or stolen. Read more…


Second Circuit Overturns Credit Card Antitrust Violation

On September 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that a credit card company did not unreasonably restrain trade in violation of the Sherman Act by prohibiting merchants from directing customers to use other, less costly forms of payment. The appeals court reversed based on the lower courts definition of the market as limited to the “core enabling functions provided by networks which allow merchants to capture, authorize, and settle transactions for customers who elect to pay with their credit or charge card.” According to the decision, this definition was too limited in this case, because the credit card network derived its market share from cardholder satisfaction, providing “no reason to intervene and disturb the present functioning of the payment‐card industry.” The court noted that the outcome in this case is different than in previous credit card exclusionary rule cases because here, the payment clearing network and the card issuing function are completely integrated, meaning that the issuer and the network are the same company.


CFPB Monthly Complaint Snapshot Highlights Credit Card Issues

On July 26, the CFPB released its most recent monthly complaint report, which provides a high-level snapshot of consumer complaint trends. The current report highlights credit card complaints. According to the report, between July 21, 2011 and July 1, 2016, the CFPB handled approximately 97,100 credit card-related complaints, making credit cards the fourth most complained about product. The report identifies billing disputes, identity theft/fraud/embezzlement, and “other” complaints as the three most common types of credit card-related complaints. The report states that, with respect to complaints related to credit decisions, consumers frequently complain about difficulty in understanding initial application decisions and servicing changes (such as interest rate adjustments and credit limit reductions). Credit card complaints described in the report also include (i) confusion over payment allocation relating to promotional and deferred interest balances; (ii) frustration with late fees and additional costs; and (iii) difficulty understanding the terms and conditions of rewards and obtaining benefits.

With respect to consumer complaints generally, the report’s “Geographic spotlight” section focuses on Washington and the Seattle metro area. The report notes that, as of July 1, Washington consumers have submitted 18,900 complaints, with approximately 11,000 of those from Seattle consumers. At 29%, mortgage loans are the most-complained-about product in Washington, with debt collection and credit reporting trailing at 27% and 15%, respectively. Across all products and throughout the nation, the CFPB has handled approximately 930,800 complaints.


Credit Cards 2016: Consumer Protection in Focus

Manley-Williams captionValerie-Hletko caption 2The past year has seen heightened CFPB interest in the following areas: (i) deferred interest and rewards, (ii) limited English proficiency consumers, and (iii) the recent revisions to the Military Lending Act (MLA). Pursuing simplicity in the design of product features and closely following limited English proficiency issues will help credit issuers mitigate their regulatory risk. Also on the horizon in 2016 is the effective date of the MLA revisions, which were announced in July 2015.

Deferred Interest and Rewards

The Bureau has been focused on the marketing and design of deferred interest products and issued a strong admonition in September 2014 relating to the potential for consumer surprise.  However, there has been relatively little enforcement activity in this regard.  Instead, enforcement generally has focused on technical violations of law.  For example, an August 2015 consent order arose out of point-of-sale disclosures as opposed to the product features themselves. Some deferred interest issues, such as “old fashioned mistakes,” (e.g., “if paid in full” is dropped from the marketing copy) may represent low-hanging fruit for the CFPB and should be addressed to mitigate enforcement risk.  The Bureau has also expressed concern about technical issues that may complicate deferred interest for consumers, such as expiration of the promotional period prior to the payment due date.

The Bureau has suggested that consumers base their choice of credit card more on the nature and richness of the rewards than on the interest rate.  Accordingly, the Bureau has expressed concern about various aspects of rewards programs, including the expiration of points and complexity surrounding how they are earned and redeemed.  While simplicity may reduce regulatory risk, it undoubtedly makes rewards programs more expensive for issuers, and makes it more difficult for consumers to distinguish among them. Read more…