Recently, Canada’s Department of Finance published a consultation paper that proposes an addendum to the Code of Conduct for the Credit and Debit Card Industry in Canada to apply the Code to mobile payments. The Code, which took effect in August 2010, is a voluntary measure applicable to credit and debit card networks and covers point-of-sale, Internet, and phone payment methods. The addendum would extend the Code to apply explicitly to payments initiated by consumers that access a deposit or credit account through a payment network accessed by mobile device at the point-of-sale. The addendum also would clarify the way in which five of the ten elements of the code would apply to mobile payments. For example, the addendum would prohibit credit and debit card functions from co-residing in the same mobile payment application. Canada’s Department of Finance has invited stakeholder comments on all aspects of the proposal.
On January 16, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced that she obtained “first of their kind” settlements from the state’s five largest prepaid debit card companies. The settlements resolve claims that the companies failed to properly disclose information about fees and misled consumers with claims that use of the cards would improve credit history. While the agreements are not identical, they each require enhanced compliance measures, which generally relate to fee disclosures, use of comparison charts, and use of claims about credit improvements. Each company also agreed to make a donation to the Central Florida Chapter of Junior Achievement and pay the cost and fees for the matters investigated to the Office of the Attorney General.
On August 8, the FDIC announced consent orders with a debit card issuer and vendor to resolve allegations that the entities operated an allegedly unfair and deceptive student debit card account program that (i) charged student account holders multiple nonsufficient fund (NSF) fees from a single transaction, (ii) allowed accounts to remain in overdrawn status while NSF fees accrued, and (iii) collected fees from subsequent deposits to the accounts. Collectively the settling companies will provide $11 million in restitution and agreed to pay civil money penalties totaling $282,000. The orders also require that the companies enhance their compliance programs and take specific steps to alter their NSF practices. On August 9, the CFPB issued a consumer advisory in which it reminds students that they (i) cannot be required to use a specific bank or card, (ii) should select bank account before arriving at school, and (iii) should opt for direct deposit as soon as it is offered.
On July 30, the FTC released staff comments submitted in response to the CFPB’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the regulation of prepaid cards. The CFPB issued the Notice in May, noting its intention to extend Regulation E to cover general purpose reloadable gift cards and seeking comment, data, and information about such cards. In response, the FTC staff comments review the current regulation of payment cards, and identify for the CFPB’s consideration several consumer protection issues that may arise with regard to prepaid cards, including (i) liability limits, (ii) disclosure and fees expiration dates, (iii) error resolution procedures, (iv) authorization standards for recurrent payments, and (v) consumer access to account information.
On July 27, the Federal Reserve Board issued a final rule that amends Regulation II. The rule allows a debit issuer that is subject to the interchange fee standards to charge—in addition to interchange fees—a fraud-prevention fee to defray costs associated with implementing policies and procedures that reduce fraudulent electronic debit transactions. The fee cannot exceed one cent per transaction, unchanged from the Federal Reserve’s interim final rule on this issue. The final rule details fraud-prevention program requirements that an issuer must meet in order to charge the fee. An issuer charging such a fee must annually review and update its fraud-prevention program and notify its payment card networks that it complies with the rule’s fraud prevention standards. The rule takes effect October 1, 2012.
On July 13, the parties to the long-running consolidated class action litigation against the two major payment network providers and 17 banks filed a proposed settlement to resolve allegations that the defendants unlawfully conspired to fix the fees that merchants are charged each time a customer uses a card for a purchase, so-called “swipe” or “interchange” fees. Class Settlement Agreement, In re Payment Card Interchange Fee & Merchant Discount Antitrust Litigation, No. 05-MD-1720 (E.D.N.Y. Jul. 13, 2012). In total, the settlement is valued at $7.25 billion. Of that total amount, roughly $6 billion would be paid to a class of millions of merchants and certain individual merchants. Another $1.2 billion of the total amount would be used to provide merchants with a temporary reduction in interchange fees. Further, the agreement allows merchants, for the first time, to apply a surcharge to customer transactions processed over the payment networks.
On June 7, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representative George Miller (D-CA) sent letters to the CFPB and the Department of Education requesting that those agencies examine the practices associated with bank-affiliated student debit cards. The letters cite a recent U.S. PIRG report that identified “troubling practices” with these products, including alleged use of improper fees and misleading marketing. The lawmakers pose a series of questions to define the scope of the examination, including, for example (i) whether campus-based debit cards provide adequate consumer protections, (ii) whether the fees and penalties associated wit such cards violate federal law, and (iii) whether the contractual agreements between schools and financial institutions violate student privacy rights.
On May 1, the Federal Reserve Board released a comparison of interchange fees by payment network for 2011. The Federal Reserve Board plans to publish this information annually to assists card issuers and merchants in choosing payment card networks. The results, which also are expected to assist policymakers in evaluating the impact of the interchange fee regulations that took effect in October 2011, show each network provider’s average fee per transaction and the portion of each transaction value attributable to the fee. On an aggregate level, the average interchange fee declined substantially for non-exempt issuers from 43 cents to 24 cents following implementation of the regulation. For exempt issuers, the average fee remained at 43 cents.