FTC Settles Suit Against Tribe-Affiliated Lenders; Dispute Over CFPB Investigation Of Tribe-Affiliated Lenders Moves To Federal Court

On April 11, the FTC announced that a tribe-affiliated payday lending operation and its owner agreed to pay nearly $1 million to resolve allegations that they engaged in unfair and deceptive acts or practices and violated the Credit Practices Rule in the collection of payday loans. The FTC alleged that the lenders illegally tried to garnish borrowers’ wages and sought to force borrowers to travel to South Dakota to appear before a tribal court, and that the loan contracts issued by the lenders illegally stated that they are subject solely to the jurisdiction of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. The announced settlement payment includes a $550,000 civil penalty and a court order to disgorge $417,740. The companies and their owner also are prohibited from further unfair and deceptive practices and are barred from suing any consumer in the course of collecting a debt, except for bringing a counter suit to defend against a suit brought by a consumer.

Also on April 11, in a separate matter related to federal authority over tribe-affiliated lending, a group of tribe-affiliated lenders responded in opposition to a recent CFPB petition to enforce civil investigative demands (CIDs) the Bureau issued to the lenders. In September 2013, the CFPB denied the lenders’ joint petition to set aside the CIDs, rejecting the lenders’ primary argument that the CFPB lacks authority over businesses chartered under the sovereign authority of federally recognized Indian Tribes. The lenders subsequently refused to respond to the CIDs, which the CFPB now asks the court to enforce. The CFPB argues that the lenders fall within the CFPB’s investigative authority under the terms of the Consumer Financial Protection Act, which the CFPB argues is a law of general applicability, including with regard to Indian Tribes and their property interests. The lenders continue to assert that they are sovereign entities operating beyond the CFPB’s reach.

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House Committee Members Express Concerns About Operation Choke Point

On April 8 the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing with the general counsels of the federal banking agencies regarding, among other things, Operation Choke Point, the federal enforcement operation reportedly intended to cut off from the banking system certain lenders and merchants allegedly engaged in unlawful activities. Numerous committee members from both sides of the aisle raised concerns about Operation Choke Point, as well as the federal government’s broader pressure on banks over their relationships with nonbank financial service providers, including money service businesses, nonbank lenders, and check cashers. Committee members asserted that the operation is impacting lawful nonbank financial service providers, who are losing access to the banking system and, in turn, are unable to offer needed services to the members’ constituents. The FDIC’s Richard Osterman repeatedly stated that Operation Choke Point is a DOJ operation and the FDIC’s participation is limited to providing certain information and resources upon request. Mr. Osterman also asserted that the FDIC is not attempting to, and does not intend to, prohibit banks from offering products or services to nonbank financial service providers operating within the law, and that the FDIC’s guidance is clear that banks are neither prohibited from nor encouraged to provide services to certain businesses, provided they properly manage their risk. Similarly, the OCC’s Amy Friend stated that the OCC wants to ensure that banks conduct due diligence and implement appropriate controls, but that the OCC is not prohibiting banks from offering services to lawful businesses. She stated the OCC has found that some banks have made a business decision to terminate relationships with some nonbank providers rather than implement additional controls.

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Illinois AG Licensing Enforcement Actions Target Payday Loan Lead Generator, Lenders

On April 7, Illinois Attorney General (AG) Lisa Madigan sued a payday loan lead generator to enforce a 2012 cease and desist order issued by the state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The regulator and the AG assert that the state’s Payday Loan Reform Act (PLRA), which broadly defines “lender” to include “any person or entity . . . that . . . arranges a payday loan for a third party, or acts as an agent for a third party in making a payday loan, regardless of whether approval, acceptance, or ratification by the third party is necessary to create a legal obligation for the third party,” required the lead generator to obtain a license before operating in Illinois. The AG claims that the lead generator violated the state’s Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act by offering and arranging payday loans in knowing violation of the PLRA’s licensing and other requirements. The suit also alleges that the lead generator knowingly matched Illinois consumers with unlicensed members of the generator’s payday lender network. The AG is seeking a permanent injunction and a $50,000 civil penalty. On the same day, the AG also announced it filed suits against four online payday lenders for failing to obtain a state license, making payday loans with interest rates exceeding state usury caps, and otherwise violating state payday loan limitations. Those suits ask the court to permanently enjoin the lenders from operating in Illinois and declare all existing payday loan contracts entered into by those lenders null and void, with full restitution to borrowers.

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Idaho Bill Regulates Payday Loan Terms

On March 26, Idaho enacted SB 1314, which, among other things, prohibits payday lenders from making a loan that exceeds 25% of the borrower’s gross monthly income at the time the loan is made. The bill provides a safe harbor for lenders if the borrower presents evidence of gross monthly income or represents in writing that the payday loan does not exceed 25% of the borrower’s gross monthly income. The bill also requires lenders to, upon request, allow borrowers to enter into extended repayment plans. Lenders cannot charge any additional fees related to such plans, but lenders are not required to enter into an extended plan with a borrower more than one time in any 12-month period. Finally, the bill requires specific written disclosures and prohibits payday lenders from presenting a borrower’s check to a depository institution more than two times. The changes take effect July 1, 2014.

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Comptroller Curry Calls On Banks To Offer Payday Loan Alternatives

On April 1, Comptroller Thomas Curry delivered remarks in which he urged banks to offer alternatives to “high cost payday loans.” The Comptroller defended his agency’s guidance on deposit advance products and stated that “properly managed small-dollar loan programs do not exhibit the same level of risks [the OCC] identified with deposit advance products, and that such loans can be made available to consumers.” He added that many of the risks identified with regard to deposit advance guidance, including the product’s short-term balloon payment feature, were specific to that product. He encouraged banks to offer “responsible” small-dollar loan programs comprised of products with reasonable terms, and to report payment information for such products to credit bureaus. In addition to helping consumers, the comptroller believes such programs (i) can be offered at an incremental cost to banks; (ii) can help build banks’ reputations and expand existing customer relationships; and (iii) can potentially be eligible for positive CRA consideration. The remarks did not provide specific guidance on the pricing and other small dollar loan terms that the OCC would consider appropriate.

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Utah Establishes Payday Loan Ability To Repay Requirements

On March 29, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed HB 127, which amends state law to require deferred deposit lenders, i.e. payday lenders, to assess a borrower’s ability to repay the loan “in the ordinary course, which may include rollovers or extended payment plans” and to obtain a signed acknowledgment from a borrower that the person has the ability to repay the loan. The legislation states that a lender is in compliance with the ability to repay requirement if, at the time of the initial period of the deferred deposit loan transaction, the lender obtains (i) a consumer report; (ii) written proof or verification of income from the person seeking the deferred deposit loan; or (iii) prior repayment history with the deferred deposit loan from the records of the deferred deposit lender. In addition, if a borrower is charged 10 continuous weeks of interest or fees on a payday loan, including rollovers, then at the end of the 10-week period, the lender must allow the borrower, upon the borrower’s request, to repay the loan and rollovers under an extended payment plan that meets certain requirements. The legislation also requires a lender to provide notice of default at least 10 days before filing a civil action to collect on a deferred deposit loan.

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Minnesota Appeals Court Upholds State Regulation Of Online Payday Lender

On March 31, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that the Minnesota state legislature may regulate the activities of online payday lenders that extend loans to individuals residing within the state’s borders, even if the lender’s operations are based in a different state. State of Minn. v. Integrity Advance, LLC, No. 62-CV-11-7168, 2014 WL 1272279 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 31, 2014). The state of Minnesota alleged that an online payday lender violated Minnesota law by charging high annual interest rates, automatically rolling-over loans for extended periods, and failing to obtain a state lending license. The lender argued that the dormant commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from discriminating against or unduly burdening interstate commerce, prevented the Minnesota legislature from regulating the lender because the lender received and accepted Minnesotans’ loan applications at its place of business in Delaware, where the loans were consummated. The court rejected the lender’s argument and held that the U.S. Constitution permits states to regulate commercial transactions that affect their citizens so long as the transactions are not “wholly extraterritorial” – that is, occurring entirely outside of the state’s borders. The court determined that the online lender’s loans were not “wholly extraterritorial” because the lender (i) accepted loan applications online from Minnesota residents that indicated the applicant resided and worked in Minnesota; (ii) contacted Minnesotans in their home state approximately 27,944 times for loan underwriting and other business purposes; and (iii) deposited loan funds directly into Minnesota borrowers’ bank accounts. The court also upheld the district court’s award of $7 million in civil and statutory damages against the lender, finding that the lower court did not abuse its discretion since the award amounted to only 21% of the statutorily-allowed amount.

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CFPB Report, Field Hearing, Build Record For Changes To Payday Lending Market

On March 25, the CFPB released a report and held a field hearing on payday loans. Through both, the CFPB sought to expand the record on which it will formulate new rules to address its concerns about the payday lending market. Director Cordray indicated in his remarks at the field hearing that the CFPB is on the verge of initiating the public phase of a rulemaking.

The Report

The report—the first such “Data Point” report from the CFPB’s Office of Research—focuses on “loan sequences,” what the CFPB describes as “a series of loans taken out within 14 days of repayment of a prior loan.” The analysis was performed using the same data obtained from storefront payday lenders through the supervisory process and used by the CFPB in its prior analysis and report.  Like the prior analysis, this latest analysis did not include online payday lending data.  The CFPB acknowledges certain limitations of the data used, including that data collected from different lenders contain different levels of detail and that some lender data did not include default-related information. (Note that the CFSA challenged, under the Information Quality Act, the CFPB’s prior report and the data on which it relied. The CFPB rejected that challenge.)

The CFPB reports that over 80% of payday loans are rolled over or followed by another loan within 14 days. In addition, the CFPB’s report offers the following findings: Read more…

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Nevada Federal Court Affirms FTC’s Authority Over Tribal Payday Lending Businesses

On March 19, the FTC reported that the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada held that the FTC Act “grants the FTC authority to regulate arms of Indian tribes, their employees, and their contractors,” including tribe-affiliated businesses sued by the FTC over allegedly unfair and deceptive practices in the origination and collection of payday loans. FTC v. AMG Servs., Inc., No. 12-536, 2014 WL 910302 (D. Nev. Mar. 7, 2014). The court’s order affirmed a report and recommendation issued last July by a magistrate judge in which the magistrate concluded that under controlling Ninth Circuit precedent, the FTC has authority to regulate “Indian Tribes, Arms of Indian Tribes, employees of Arms of Indian Tribes and contractors of Arms of Indian Tribes with regard to” the payday lending activities at issue in the case. The district court rejected the defendant’s objections that the magistrate erred in (i) assigning the defendants the burden of establishing whether they fall within the FTC’s jurisdiction; (ii) determining that the FTC Act is a statute of general applicability; and (iii) failing to apply Indian law canons and Supreme Court opinions the defendants argued are controlling in determining whether a federal statute of general applicability applies to Indian tribes and arms of Indian tribes.

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Maine Seeks To Halt Unlicensed Consumer Lending

On March 16, Maine enacted legislation that makes it a violation of the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act for a lender not organized and supervised under the laws of any state or the United States to solicit or make, either directly or through an agent, a loan to a Maine consumer unless licensed under state law. The law also establishes as an unfair or deceptive act or practice for entities other than supervised financial institutions to process a check, draft, other form of negotiable instrument or an electronic funds transfer from a consumer’s financial account in connection with a loan solicited from or made by an unlicensed lender who is not exempt from the licensure requirement. The statute similarly establishes as an unfair or deceptive act or practice for any person or lender to provide substantial assistance to a lender or processor when the person or lender or the person’s or lender’s authorized agent either knows or consciously avoids knowing that the lender or processor is unlicensed and not otherwise exempt from licensure or is engaging in an unfair or deceptive act or practice. The Maine UTPA provides a private right of action and allows the state attorney general to seek injunctive relief and civil penalties for violations of an injunction.

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CFPB Announces Payday Loan Field Hearing

This afternoon, the CFPB announced that it will hold a field hearing on payday loans on March 25, in Nashville, TN.  The event is open to members of the public who RSVP, and will feature remarks from consumer advocates, industry representatives, and CFPB officials, including Director Richard Cordray.  The CFPB often announces policy initiatives in connection with its field hearings, and in its most recent rulemaking agenda the CFPB anticipated additional “prerule activities” related to payday loans and deposit advance products this month.

Payday lending was the topic of the CFPB’s first ever field hearing in January 2012, at which the Bureau released examination procedures for short-term, small-dollar lending. Since then, the CFPB has, among other things, (i) launched a payday loan complaint portal; (ii) announced its first enforcement action against a payday lender; (iii) participated in an ongoing, multi-agency effort to revise the Military Lending Act regulations;  and (iv) published a white paper on payday loans and deposit advance products.

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UK FCA Finalizes New Consumer Credit Rules

On February 28, the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced final rules for consumer credit providers, including new protections for consumers in credit transactions. The FCA states that the most drastic changes relate to payday lending and debt management. For example, with regard to “high-cost short-term credit,” the new rules will (i) limit to two the number of loan roll-overs; (ii) restrict to two the number of times a firm can seek repayment using a continuous payment authority; and (iii) require creditors to provide a risk warning. Among other things, the new rules also establish prudential standards and conduct protocols for debt management companies, peer-to-peer lending platforms, and debt advice companies. The policy statement also describes the FCA’s risk-based and proactive supervisory approach, which the FCA states will subject firms engaged in “higher risk business” that “pose a potentially greater risk to consumers” to an “intense and hands on supervisory experience” and will allow the FCA to levy “swift penalties” on violators. The new rules take effect April 1, 2014. The FCA plans next to propose a cap on the cost of high-cost, short-term credit.

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CFPB Director Defends Mortgage Rules, Discusses Plans In Other Markets

On January 28, the House Financial Services Committee held a lengthy hearing with CFPB Director Richard Cordray in connection with the CFPB’s November 2013 Semi-Annual Report to Congress, which covers the period April 1, 2013 through September 30, 2013. The hearing came a day after the Committee launched a CFPB-like “Tell Your Story” feature through which it is seeking information from consumers and business owners about how the CFPB has impacted them or their customers. The Committee has provided an online submission form and also will take stories by telephone. Mr. Cordray’s prepared statement provided a general recap of the CFPB’s recent activities and focused on the mortgage rules and their implementation. It also specifically highlighted the CFPB’s concerns with the student loan servicing market.

The question and answer session centered on the implementation and impact of the CFPB’s mortgage rules, as well as the CFPB’s activities with regard to auto finance, HMDA, credit reporting, student lending, and other topics. Committee members also questioned Mr. Cordray on the CFPB’s collection and use of consumer data, particularly credit card account data, and the costs of the CFPB’s building construction/rehabilitation.

Mortgage Rule Implementation / Impact

Generally, Director Cordray pushed back against charges that the mortgage rules, in particular the ATR/QM rule, are inflexible and will limit credit availability. He urged members to wait for data before judging the impacts, and he suggested that much of the concerns being raised are “unreasoned and irrational,” resulting from smaller institutions that are unaware of the CFPB’s adjustments to the QM rule. He stated that he has personally called many small banks and has learned they are just not aware of the rule’s flexibility. He repeatedly stated that the rules can be amended, and that the CFPB will be closely monitoring market data.

The impact of the mortgage rules on the availability of credit for manufactured homes was a major topic throughout the hearing, On the substance of the issue, which was raised by Reps. Pearce (R-NM), Fincher (R-TN), Clay (D-MO), Sewell (D-AL), and others, Director Cordray explained that in his understanding, the concerns from the manufactured housing industry began with earlier changes in the HOEPA rule that resulted in a retreat from manufacture home lending. He stated that industry overreacted and now lenders are coming back into the market. Mr. Cordray has met personally with many lenders on this issue and will continue to do so while monitoring the market for actual impacts, as opposed to the “doomsday scenarios that are easy to speculate on in a room like this.” Still, he committed to work on this issue with manufacturers and lenders, as well as committee members. Read more…

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New York AG Settles Suit Against Internet Payday Lenders

On January 24, New York Attorney General (AG) Eric Schneiderman announced the resolution of a lawsuit filed in August 2013 against Native American tribe-affiliated payday lending firms and their owners for allegedly violating the state’s usury and licensed lender laws in connection with their issuing of personal loans over the Internet. The AG claims that the companies charged New York consumers annual interest rates on payday loans far in excess of the 16% rate cap set by state law. According to the announcement, the defendants agreed to modify the terms of all outstanding loans made to New York borrowers and to not collect interest on outstanding loans. The defendants also must provide refunds to borrowers who have paid back more than the principal of their loan plus the state-capped interest rate of 16%, and pay $1.5 million in penalties. The companies also must become licensed in New York before offering new loans in the state.

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California Appellate Court Holds State Regulators Lack Authority To Regulate Tribe-Affiliated Lenders

On January 21, the California Court of Appeal, Second District, held that short-term, small-dollar credit businesses owned by certain federally recognized Indian tribes are sufficiently related to their respective tribes to be protected under the doctrine of tribal immunity from state regulation. California v. Miami Nation Enterprises, No. B242644, 2014 WL 212220 (Cal. Ct. App. Jan. 21, 2014). The court affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of a civil action filed by the Commissioner of the California Department of Corporations seeking to enforce an order directing five tribe-affiliated lenders to cease providing payday loans over the Internet to California residents allegedly in violation of several provisions of the California Deferred Deposit Transaction Law. The two tribes had entered into management agreements with a non-tribal payday marketing company to direct and operate their lending activities. The court rejected the Commissioner’s argument that tribal immunity does not apply because under those agreements the day-to-day operations of the businesses have been effectively delegated to a nontribal entity, and that the tribes do not participate in the net income from the businesses, receiving instead only a “modest percentage” of the gross revenues. The court held that a business functions as an arm of the tribe if it (i) has been formed by tribal resolution and according to tribal law, for the purpose of tribal economic development and with the clearly expressed intent by the sovereign tribe to convey its immunity to that entity; and (ii) has a governing structure both appointed by and ultimately overseen by the tribe. The court added that “[n]either third-party management of day-to-day operations nor retention of only a minimal percentage of the profits from the enterprise (however that may be defined) justifies judicial negation of that inherent element of tribal sovereignty.”

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