On April 24, the CFPB published a white paper on payday loan and deposit advance products that claims to show those products lead to a “cycle of high-cost borrowing.” On April 25, the FDIC and the OCC proposed guidance relating to deposit advance products based on similar concerns. The CFPB paper reflects the results of what the CFPB characterizes as a year-long, in-depth review of short-term, small-dollar loans, which began with a January 2012 field hearing. Although it acknowledges that demand exists for small dollar credit products, that such products can be helpful for consumers, and that alternatives may not be available, the CFPB concludes that such products are only appropriate in limited circumstances and faults lenders for not determining whether the products are suitable for each customer. The CFPB paper does not propose any rule or guidance, but is instead intended to present a clear statement of CFPB concerns. The paper notes that a related CFPB study of online payday loans is ongoing. The FDIC and OCC proposed guidance outlines the agencies’ safety and soundness, compliance, and consumer protection concerns about deposit advance products, and sets forth numerous expectations, including with regard to consumer eligibility, capital adequacy, fees, compliance, management oversight, and third-party relationships. For example, under the guidance the agencies would expect banks to offer a deposit advance product only to customers who (i) have at least a six month relationship with the bank, (ii) do not have any delinquent or adversely classified credits, and (iii) meet specific financial capacity standards. The guidance also would require, among other things, that (i) each deposit advance loan be repaid in full before the extension of a subsequent loan, (ii) banks refrain from offering more than one loan per monthly statement cycle and provide a cooling-off period of at least one monthly statement cycle after the repayment of a loan before another advance is extended, and (iii) banks reevaluate customer eligibility every six months.
On April 25, the Federal Reserve Board issued a policy statement on deposit advance products. The statement came on the same day that the OCC and the FDIC proposed more formal guidance for such products. The Board statement identifies potential “significant risks” associated with deposit advance products, including UDAP risk and other consumer compliance risk. The statement directs examiners to thoroughly review any deposit advance products offered by supervised institutions for compliance with Section 5 of the FTC Act and reminds banks of their responsibility for vendors hired to offer deposit advance products.
On April 10, the CSBS sent a letter to Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) – the chief sponsors in their respective chambers of Congress of legislation related to online payday lending – to express support for the bills. The letter focuses on the provisions of the SAFE Lending Act, S. 172 and H.R. 990, that seek to (i) ensure consistent application of state usury laws and (ii) enhance state authority over online lenders. Noting that state regulators have found “countless instances of unlicensed and unregulated online payday lending” in violation of state law, the CSBS contends that the bills should be considered a “framework for the proper state-federal regulatory balance” with respect to online, short-term, small-dollar loans.
On April 8, the Massachusetts Division of Banks sent a letter to state-licensed debt collectors advising them that it is illegal to collect on consumer loans that violate the Massachusetts small loan statute. The action follows a similar step taken by the New York Department of Financial Services last month. The Massachusetts letter reminds debt collectors that entities engaged, directly or indirectly, in the business of making loans of $6,000 or less with interest and expenses paid on the loan in excess of 12% annually must be licensed with the Division of Banks. Further, state law limits the annual interest rate that can be charged on small loans to 23%. The letter advises debt collectors that (i) loans made in violation of these rules are void, (ii) it is illegal to attempt to collect on debt that is void or unenforceable, and (iii) it is the responsibility of licensed debt collectors to ensure that they do not facilitate the creation or collection of illegal loans. The letter urges licensed debt collectors to review all client contracts and debtor accounts to ensure that all consumer, compliance, and reputational risks are appropriately evaluated and addressed on an ongoing basis.
On April 2, Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) sent letters to the CEOs of five large retail banks urging those institutions to voluntarily adopt certain consumer protections related to online payday lending. Those members and several others recently introduced the SAFE Lending Act, which the letter states would (i) allow consumers to prevent lenders form making automatic withdrawals and debits from their accounts, (ii) require all lenders to abide by state small-dollar lending rules, (iii) ban lead generators and anonymous payday lending, and (iv) increase enforcement authority to address offshore small-dollar lenders. Pending congressional action, the legislators asked the banks to “take every available step to prevent online payday lenders from accessing funds from consumer accounts when they are clearly operating in violation of state law.”
On March 20, 2013, Michael Bresnick, Executive Director of DOJ’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force gave a speech at the Exchequer Club of Washington, DC highlighting recent accomplishments of the Task Force and outlining its priorities for the coming year. He began by discussing a number of areas of known focus for the Task Force, including RMBS fraud, fair lending enforcement, and servicemember protection. He then outlined three additional areas of focus that the Task Force has prioritized, including (i) the “government’s ability to protect its interests and ensure that it does business only with ethical and responsible parties;” (ii) discrimination in indirect auto lending; and (iii) financial institutions’ role in fraud by their customers, which include third party payment processors and payday lenders.
The third priority, which was the focus of Mr. Bresnick’s remarks, involves the Consumer Protection Working Group’s prioritization of “the role of financial institutions in mass marketing fraud schemes — including deceptive payday loans, false offers of debt relief, fraudulent health care discount cards, and phony government grants, among other things — that cause billions of dollars in consumer losses and financially destroy some of our most vulnerable citizens.” He added that the Working Group also is investigating third-party payment processors, the businesses that process payments on behalf of the fraudulent merchant. Mr. Bresnick explained that “financial institutions and payment processors . . . are the so-called bottlenecks, or choke-points, in the fraud committed by so many merchants that victimize consumers and launder their illegal proceeds.” He said that “they provide the scammers with access to the national banking system and facilitate the movement of money from the victim of the fraud to the scam artist.” He further stated that “financial institutions through which these fraudulent proceeds flow . . . are not always blind to the fraud” and that the FFETF has “observed that some financial institutions actually have been complicit in these schemes, ignoring their BSA/AML obligations, and either know about — or are willfully blind to — the fraudulent proceeds flowing through their institutions.” Mr. Bresnick explained that “[i]f we can eliminate the mass-marketing fraudsters’ access to the U.S. financial system — that is, if we can stop the scammers from accessing consumers’ bank accounts — then we can protect the consumers and starve the scammers.” Read more…
The Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry (NMLS) held its fifth annual NMLS User Conference and Training in San Antonio, Texas from February 26 through March 1, 2013. The Conference brought together state and federal mortgage regulators, industry professionals, compliance companies, top law firms, and education providers to learn about the latest developments in mortgage supervision and to discuss pressing issues confronting the industry.
The first day of the Conference included the bi-annual NMLS Ombudsman Meeting, which provided an opportunity for NMLS users to raise issues concerning the NMLS, state and/or federal regulation. NMLS Ombudsman Timothy Siwy, Deputy Secretary of Non-Depository Institutions with the Pennsylvania Department of Banking, presided over the meeting, in which specific questions submitted by industry representatives were addressed. Several of the submitted questions focused on the new Uniform State Mortgage Loan Originator (MLO) Exam or Uniform State Test (the UST) of which 24 agencies have already adopted. Concerns were raised by the regulators as some state statutes require that a state’s specific laws be tested as a pre-requisite of MLO licensure. Others, such as regulators from California and Utah, had concerns that MLOs would not adequately learn state specific laws and regulations prior to licensure. In light of these concerns, industry representatives indicated that the UST is only the first step in licensure, and continuing education requirements, monitoring, and examinations would also serve as opportunities to ensure MLOs are well-versed in applicable state specific licensing laws and regulations.
Other areas of focus included NMLS’s expansion to include non-mortgage licenses, such as payday lender and pawn broker licenses. Some industry representatives voiced concern that approval of a license via the NMLS now carries with it an image of legitimacy with the public and expanding licensure to non-mortgage, less regulated industries could undermine that image. Regulators responded that the NMLS is a tracking mechanism—a way for regulators to track licensees state-to-state and industry-to-industry—not an independent licensing credential.
Full details regarding the specific issues submitted for comment, as well as accompanying exhibits, will be available on the NMLS Website, Ombudsman Page. A recording of the Ombudsman Meeting should be posted to the NMLS Resource Center in the near future.
The remaining days of the Conference covered Read more…
On March 7, Nebraska enacted two bills intended to amend and clarify requirements for installment loan brokers, payday lenders, mortgage bankers, and mortgage loan originators (MLOs). The first, LB 279, makes nonsubstantive clarifications to the definition of a “loan broker” and narrows the exemption for accountants to certified public accountants only. The bill also authorizes the Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance to share examination reports and other confidential information with the CFPB and other state regulators. The second, LB 290, removes many mortgage licensing requirements previously applicable to individuals and separately identifies MLO duties. Those duties include providing notification to the Department (i) within 10 days of events such as bankruptcy, criminal indictments, and suspension/revocation proceedings; and (ii) within 30 days of certain changes, including changes of employer and address. The bill also allows firms to electronically submit certain required reports and provides that the 120-day period for calculating abandonment of a license application runs from the date the Department sends the applicant electronic notice of deficient items. By state rule, both bills take effect three months after the end of the state’s legislative session, which scheduled to conclude May 30, 2013.
On March 6, the U.K. Office of Fair Trading (OFT) announced that it will institute enforcement actions and seek to revoke the licenses of payday lenders that do not change certain business practices within 12 weeks. The action applies to the leading 50 payday lenders who account for 90 percent of the U.K. payday market. The OFT action comes in a final report on a broad payday lending investigation, which revealed widespread irresponsible lending and a failure to comply with the standards set out in the OFT’s Irresponsible Lending Guidance. The OFT also proposed to refer the payday lending market to the Competition Commission to investigate competition in that market.
On February 26, CFPB Director Richard Cordray and Comptroller of the Currency Tom Curry addressed the National Association of Attorneys General. Mr. Cordray’s remarks were largely duplicative of those given a week earlier to the CFPB Consumer Advisory Board, and again identified several “problems” observed by the CFPB. Those problems were (i) deceptive and misleading marketing of consumer financial products and services, (ii) “debt traps” that trigger a cycle of debt, such as short-term credit products, (iii) “dead ends” in markets such as debt collection, loan servicing, and credit reporting where consumers cannot choose their provider and lack typical market influences, and (iv) discrimination. With regard to short-term loans, Mr. Cordray identified as an enforcement challenge lenders that lack a physical presence, and acknowledged ongoing efforts by the CFPB to address “loans that involve off-shore or other jurisdictional issues.” In his remarks, Mr. Curry first stressed the similar objectives of, and close working relationship among, the OCC, the CFPB, and the attorneys general. He then spent the majority of his remarks explaining why most OCC enforcement actions are resolved by settlement, adding that the first enforcement goal of the OCC as a “prudential bank supervisor” is remediation. Mr. Curry also responded to criticisms that OCC enforcement actions are “insufficiently severe,” and noted that the OCC is prepared to litigate if an institution refuses to consent.
On February 22, the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) sent letters to all debt collectors in the state to remind them that it is illegal to attempt to collect a debt on a payday loan made in New York, even if such loans were made on the Internet. Under New York law, nonbank lenders and state-charted banks are prohibited from making loans or forbearances under $250,000 at an interest rate of 16 percent or higher. Any loans made in violation of those limitations are void and cannot be collected by a debt collector. The DFS claims that “[l]enders attempt to skirt New York’s prohibition on payday lending by offering loans over the Internet, hoping to avoid prosecution.” The DS states that, regardless of the method used to make the loan, payday loans made in New York are not valid debts and cannot lawfully be collected.
On February 20, in remarks during the public portion of the CFPB’s Consumer Advisory Board meeting, CFPB Director Richard Cordray identified four “classes of problems” the CFPB will seek to address in the future. Mr. Cordray stated that the CFPB will focus on (i) deceptive and misleading marketing of consumer financial products and services; (ii) financial products that trigger a cycle of debt; (iii) certain markets – such as debt collection, loan servicing, and credit reporting – where consumers are unable to choose their provider; and (iv) discrimination. While the CFPB has already taken a number of enforcement actions to address the first set of problems, Mr. Cordray noted that with respect to the second class of problems the CFPB is still assessing how to deploy its various tools to best protect consumers while preserving access to responsible credit. Mr. Cordray also noted that loan servicing practices remain a concern, and again drew parallels between the mortgage servicing market and the student loan servicing market, noting that the CFPB is looking to take steps that may address the same kinds of problems faced by student loan borrowers. With respect to discrimination, Mr. Cordray argued that African-Americans and Hispanics have unequal access to responsible credit and pay more for mortgages and auto loans, and reiterated the CFPB’s commitment to utilizing the disparate impact theory of discrimination when pursuing enforcement actions.
On January 17, the City of Chicago passed ordinances related to debt collection, small dollar lending, and license enforcement. With the adoption of an ordinance requiring that debt collectors collecting debts from Chicagoans obtain from the City a Regulated Business License, Chicago becomes only the third municipality to require local debt collector licensing. By requiring a license, the ordinance requires that debt collectors follow all state and federal debt collection rules, including for example, providing debt verification. For debt collectors that have their licenses revoked, the ordinance requires a four-year wait period before a new license can be issued. A second ordinance sets new zoning rules for payday and title-secured lending stores. Finally, the City passed an ordinance that, effective June 1, 2013, will allow the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection to initiate license revocation proceedings and refuse to issue or reissue the license of specific business locations convicted within the last five years of violating the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (IWPCA) and the federal FDCPA. The passing of the ordinances follows a recent announcement by the City and the CFPB to enter a first-of-its-kind partnership to share information on consumer financial protection issues.
On January 2, a group of Democratic Senators sent a letter to the Federal Reserve Board, the FDIC, and the OCC seeking action to stop banks from making payday loans. The letter cites the agencies’ “long history of appropriately prohibiting . . . banks from partnering with non-bank payday lenders,” but claims that several banks are currently making payday loans directly to their customers. The products at issue are actually deposit advance loans, which the Senators claim are structured the same as traditional payday loans and put customers in a cycle of debt. The Senators call on the regulators to take “meaningful regulatory action” in response to the problem as they present it, but stop short of identifying specific banks or outlining potential federal legislation.
On December 21, the CFPB announced that it obtained an order from a federal district court in Florida that requires a nationwide payday debt relief services company to refund up to $100,000 to consumers who were charged advance fees for promised debt-settlement services that the company never actually rendered. While the amount of the refund obtained through the order is relatively small, the action is notable as the first joint enforcement action by the CFPB and certain state partners. The CFPB was joined in the suit by the attorneys general of New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Wisconsin, as well as the State of Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection. Following an investigation into the payday debt solution firm, the CFPB alleged that the company violated the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, the Dodd-Frank Act, and various state laws, by telemarketing debt-relief services and requesting or receiving fees from consumers for those services before renegotiating, settling, reducing, or otherwise altering the terms of at least one of the consumer’s debts. The CFPB announcement notes that the company cooperated with the CFPB and halted the allegedly illegal operations, and that in addition to the customer refunds the firm will pay a $5,000 civil penalty to the CFPB.