In a span of three days, the CFPB, under Acting Director Mulvaney, significantly retreated in the payday-lending space and suffered a court defeat in its request for monetary relief with respect to a CashCall installment lending program.  The federal district court’s decision in CashCall followed a bench trial that occurred before Mr. Mulvaney’s first day at the Bureau, making it unlikely that the CFPB will appeal.

First, on January 17, 2018, the CFPB announced that it intends to reconsider the payday/auto-title/high-rate installment loan rule finalized under former Director Cordray.  On the next day, January 18, the CFPB, without explanation, voluntarily dismissed its federal court lawsuit against four online tribal lenders.  Finally, on January 19, the federal judge presiding over CashCall in the Central District of California rejected the CFPB’s demand for $235 million in restitution and a penalty of $51 million, and instead awarded a $10.3 million penalty, the amount available for violations that are neither reckless nor knowing.

Most notably, the district court rejected the CFPB’s claims that CashCall intended to defraud and deceive consumers.  To the contrary, the court found that:

  • CashCall acted in good faith in structuring its tribal lending program and relied on the advice of prominent legal counsel;
  • The CFPB failed to produce any evidence to support its allegation that CashCall deceived consumers;
  • CashCall “made every effort to inform consumers about all material aspects of the loans;”
  • [T]he evidence indicated quite clearly that consumers received the benefit of their bargain;” and
  • The CFPB failed to introduce credible evidence of the net amount of unjust enrichment obtained by CashCall.

It is important to note, however, that the district court reiterated and relied on its prior opinion that CashCall, and not the tribal-affiliated entities, was the true lender.  CashCall’s appeal of the true-lender decision remains pending.

We will continue to monitor the CFPB’s evolving positions under new leadership, especially its proposal to reconsider, and perhaps radically alter, the current payday/auto-title/high-rate installment loan rule.

 

 

On December 1, 2018, three Democrat and three Republican members of the House of Representatives introduced a joint resolution under the Congressional Review Act (H.J. Res. 122) to override the CFPB’s final payday/auto title/high-rate installment loan rule.  The CRA is the vehicle used by Congress to overturn the CFPB’s arbitration rule in a party-line vote.

In a new blog post entitled “7 Reasons to Oppose the Federal Payday Loan Rule,” a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute supports use of the CRA to overturn the payday loan rule.  Among the seven reasons discussed in the blog are that the rule leaves low-to-middle income consumers without access to credit, payday loan users overwhelmingly approve of the product, and the rule is built on a flawed theory of consumer harm.

The CFPB’s final payday became “effective” this past Tuesday, January 16, 2018.  However, the compliance date for the rule’s substantive requirements and limits (Sections 1041.2 through 1041.10), compliance program/documentation requirements (Section 1041.12), and prohibition against evasion (Section 1041.13) is August 19, 2019.  While the CFPB announced yesterday that it intends to engage in a rulemaking process to reconsider the final rule, it normally cannot do so without following the time-consuming notice and comment procedures of the Administrative Procedure Act.  In addition, since any changes made by the CFPB are likely to be challenged in litigation, the CFPB will need to successfully defend a revised rule or its withdrawal of the existing rule.

Given the hurdles created by the rulemaking process, the CRA provides a “cleaner” and quicker vehicle for overturning the final rule.  Republican Congressman Dennis Ross, one of the CRA resolution’s sponsors, is reported to have said that despite the CFPB’s announcement, he intends to continue to seek passage of the resolution by Congress.

Both high-rate loans covered by the final rule and the final rule itself are highly controversial.  Accordingly, there can be no assurance that the majorities needed to override the rule under the CRA can be assembled in both the House and the Senate.  Nevertheless, whether through the CRA, new rulemaking, or litigation, we continue to expect that the final rule adopted under former CFPB Director Richard Cordray will not be implemented in anything approaching its current form.

The CFPB announced today that it intends to engage in a rulemaking process to reconsider, pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act, its final rule on Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans (the “Payday Rule”).  The announcement fully accords with our expectation that the Payday Rule will never see the light of day in its current form.

If it were to go into effect, the Payday Rule would largely eliminate the availability of payday loans to the public.  In this regard, the Payday Rule reflected former CFPB Director Cordray’s hostility to payday lending and his failure to seriously consider how consumers who rely upon the product would be impacted by its elimination.  It was adopted on a crash basis shortly before Director Cordray’s resignation and largely disregarded over 1,000,000 comments from consumers articulating the critical benefits of payday loans.

To our mind, it was inevitable that Director Cordray’s successor would wish to re-evaluate the costs and benefits of the Payday Rule.  We think it highly likely that, at the end of the day, the new Director (whether Mick Mulvaney in an acting capacity or the as-yet-to-be-appointed permanent successor to former Director Cordray) will repeal the Payday Rule while he or she considers other options that can preserve the product and limit the potential for consumer injury.

Today’s announcement is good news for the millions of consumers who rely upon payday and title loans to meet their financial needs (and, of course, to the payday and title lending industries).

A former CFPB examiner has written U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions claiming that CFPB officials falsified examination reports in connection with a CFPB examination of ACE Cash Express that led to the CFPB extracting $10 million of restitution and penalties from ACE.  At the time the CFPB forced ACE to enter into this consent order, even in the absence of any allegations of fraud on the part of the CFPB, we sharply criticized the CFPB for its treatment of ACE.

The July 2014 order between the CFPB and ACE, one of the country’s largest payday lenders, was based on supposed ACE collection problems.  It required ACE to pay $5 million in restitution and another $5 million in civil monetary penalties.

We observed at the time that the CFPB had extracted this relief without providing any context to its actions or explaining how it determined the monetary sanctions.  We found it particularly troubling that, despite the infrequency of collection misconduct observed by ACE’s independent expert, best practices followed by ACE, and the limited criticism of ACE policies, procedures and practices within the four corners of the consent order, former CFPB Director Cordray added insult to injury by accusing ACE of engaging in “predatory” and “appalling” tactics, effectively ascribing occasional misconduct by some collectors to ACE corporate policy.

Now, former CFPB examiner Cassandra Jackson raises serious questions as to the integrity of the exam report giving rise to the consent order.  Ms. Jackson states that she participated in the CFPB examination and was instructed by her superiors “to change, remove, and otherwise falsify documents connected with the examination.”  According to Ms. Jackson, the requests to falsify documents were made by the Examiner in Charge (EIC) of the ACE exam and “others in Management positions.”

Ms. Jackson states that:

  • She was specifically told (1) to cite ACE for a violation despite her verification that ACE was in compliance with the law; (2) to state that ACE had failed to provide exonerating documents; and (3) to remove such documents from case file folders.
  • When she refused, the EIC changed information in her report and signed off on the final report, which was reviewed and accepted by a CFPB Field Manager.
  • The CFPB used the falsified report to garner the consent order with ACE.
  • Her refusal to falsify information resulted in her being told that she was not performing at an acceptable level and was subject to disciplinary action.

Ms. Jackson urges Attorney General Sessions to initiate an investigation of this matter.  Of course, we cannot assess the validity of Ms. Jackson’s claims.  However, we can say that an investigation is in order.

 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a joint resolution under the Congressional Review Act to override the CFPB’s final payday/auto title/high-rate installment loan rule.  House members sponsoring the bill consist of three Democrats and three Republicans.  The CRA is the vehicle used by Congress to overturn the CFPB’s arbitration rule.

The CFPB’s final payday loan rule was published in the Federal Register on November 17.  The regulation is effective January 16, 2018. The compliance date for the rule’s substantive requirements and limits (Sections 1041.2 through 1041.10), compliance program/documentation requirements (Section 1041.12), and prohibition against evasion (Section 1041.13) is August 19, 2019.  The deadline to submit an application for preliminary approval to be a registered information system is April 16, 2018.

To be eligible for the special Senate procedure that allows a CRA disapproval resolution to be passed with only a simple majority, the Senate must act on the resolution during a period of 60 “session days” which begins on the later of the date when the rule is received by Congress and the date it is published in the Federal Register.  For purposes of the CRA, a rule is considered to have been “received by Congress” on the later of the date it is received in the Office of the Speaker of the House and the date of its referral to the appropriate Senate committee.  The payday loan rule was received by the Speaker of the House on November 13 and referred to the Senate Banking Committee on November 15.  (Due to uncertainty as to which days going forward will count as “session days,” the deadline for voting on a CRA resolution cannot be definitively determined in advance.)

In addition to the CRA resolution, we expect an industry lawsuit challenging the rule to  be filed within the next few weeks.  According to media reports, the lawsuit is expected to be filed by the Community Financial Services Association of America.  Also, Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s designee as CFPB Acting Director, is reported to be reviewing the payday loan rule as well as other CFPB actions to determine what his next steps will be.

Richard Moseley Sr., the operator of a group of interrelated payday lenders, was convicted by a federal jury on all criminal counts in an indictment filed by the Department of Justice, including violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and the Truth in Lending Act (TILA).  The criminal case is reported to have resulted from a referral to the DOJ by the CFPB. The conviction is part of an aggressive attack by the DOJ, CFPB, and FTC on high-rate loan programs.

In 2014, the CFPB and FTC sued Mr. Mosley, together with various companies and other individuals.  The companies sued by the CFPB and FTC included entities that were directly involved in making payday loans to consumers and entities that provided loan servicing and processing for such loans.  The CFPB alleged that the defendants had engaged in deceptive and unfair acts or practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) as well as violations of TILA and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA).  According to the CFPB’s complaint, the defendants’ unlawful actions included providing TILA disclosures that did not reflect the loans’ automatic renewal feature and conditioning the loans on the consumer’s repayment through preauthorized electronic funds transfers.

In its complaint, the FTC also alleged that the defendants’ conduct violated the TILA and EFTA.  However, instead of alleging that such conduct violated the CFPA, the FTC alleged that it constituted deceptive or unfair acts or practices in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.  A receiver was subsequently appointed for the companies.

In November 2016, the receiver filed a lawsuit against the law firm that assisted in drafting the loan documents used by the companies.  The lawsuit alleges that although the payday lending was initially done through entities incorporated in Nevis and subsequently done through entities incorporated in New Zealand, the law firm committed malpractice and breached its fiduciary obligations to the companies by failing to advise them that because of the U.S. locations of the servicing and processing entities, the lenders’ documents had to comply with the TILA and EFTA.  A motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the law firm was denied.

In its indictment of Mr. Moseley, the DOJ claimed that the loans made by the lenders controlled by Mr. Moseley violated the usury laws of various states that effectively prohibit payday lending and also violated the usury laws of other states that permit payday lending by licensed (but not unlicensed) lenders.  The indictment charged that Mr. Moseley was part of a criminal organization under RICO engaged in crimes that included the collection of unlawful debts.

In addition to aggravated identity theft, the indictment charged Mr. Moseley with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud by making loans to consumers who had not authorized such loans and thereafter withdrawing payments from the consumers’ accounts without their authorization.  Mr. Moseley was also charged with committing a criminal violation of TILA by “willfully and knowingly” giving false and inaccurate information and failing to provide information required to be disclosed under TILA.  The DOJ’s TILA count is particularly noteworthy because criminal prosecutions for alleged TILA violations are very rare.

This is not the only recent prosecution of payday lenders and their principals. The DOJ has launched at least three other criminal payday lending prosecutions since June 2015, including one against the same individual operator of several payday lenders against whom the FTC obtained a $1.3 billion judgment.   It remains to be seen whether the DOJ will limit prosecutions to cases where it perceives fraud and not just a good-faith disclosure violation or disagreement on the legality of the lending model.  Certainly, the offenses charged by the DOJ were not limited to fraud.

The CFPB’s final payday loan rule was published in today’s Federal Register.  Lenders covered by the rule include nonbank entities as well as banks and credit unions.  In addition to payday loans, the rule covers auto title loans, deposit advance products, and certain high-rate installment and open-end loans.  For a summary of the rule, see our legal alert.

Since the rule’s effective and compliance dates are tied to the Federal Register publication date, those dates have now been set. The regulation is effective January 16, 2018.  The compliance date for the rule’s substantive requirements and limits (Sections 1041.2 through 1041.10), compliance program/documentation requirements (Section 1041.12), and prohibition against evasion (Section 1041.13) is August 19, 2019.  The deadline to submit an application for preliminary approval to be a registered information system is April 16, 2018.

We expect the rule’s publication to trigger the filing of an industry lawsuit challenging the rule within a matter of weeks.  In addition, the rule could become the subject of a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), the vehicle used by Congress to overturn the CFPB’s arbitration rule.

Under the CRA, the receipt of a final rule by Congress begins a period of 60 days during which a member of either chamber can introduce a joint resolution of disapproval.  In calculating the 60 days, every calendar day is counted, including weekends and holiday, with the count paused only for periods when either chamber (or both) is gone for more than three days (i.e. pursuant to an adjournment resolution).

For purposes of the CRA, a rule is considered to have been “received by Congress” on the later of the date it is received in the Office of the Speaker of the House and the date of its referral to the appropriate Senate committee.  The payday loan rule was received by the Speaker of the House on November 13 and referred to the Senate Banking Committee on November 15.

To be eligible for the special Senate procedure that allows a CRA disapproval resolution to be passed with only a simple majority, the Senate must act on the resolution during a period of 60 session days which begins on the later of the date when the rule is received by Congress and the date it is published in the Federal Register.

The final payday loan rule’s publication in the Federal Register is also a trigger for the filing of a petition with the Federal Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to set aside the rule. The Dodd-Frank Act provides that such a petition must be filed “not later than 10 days” after a regulation has been published in the Federal Register.  Efforts to use the FSOC mechanism to overturn the arbitration rule did not materialize.

Hours after the CFPB released its final payday/auto title/high-rate installment loan rule on October 5, 2017, the OCC rescinded its guidance on deposit advance products.  That guidance, entitled Supervisory Concerns and Expectations Regarding Deposit Advance Products published in November 2013 (OCC Bulletin 2013-40), and substantially identical guidance issued by the FDIC on the same day, had effectively precluded banks subject to OCC and FDIC supervision from offering deposit advance products.  We were sharply critical of the prior guidance and applaud the OCC’s action.

Acting Comptroller Keith Noreika, in his statement about the OCC’s action, mentioned the CFPB and the risk of “potentially inconsistent regulatory direction and undue burden as they prepare to implement the requirements of the CFPB’s final [payday loan] rule.”  The Acting Comptroller went further, explaining that the OCC guidance “may even hurt the very consumers it is intended to help, the most marginalized, unbanked and underbanked portions of our society.”  The OCC, therefore, appears to invite banks to consider offering the product.  It remains to be seen whether the FDIC will follow suit.

We think that national banks and federal savings banks (and perhaps other financial institutions) have an opportunity to structure deposit advance products that will fall outside the new CFPB rule, meet supervisory expectations, produce substantial revenues, and provide badly needed credit to consumers whose options may be sharply constrained by the CFPB rule.

We will continue to monitor any developments as they unfold.

It will take a while to digest the CFPB’s nearly 1,700-page release on payday, title and high-rate installment lending but, naturally, I have a number of preliminary observations:

  1. It remains highly uncertain that the Rule will ever go into effect.  Once Director Cordray leaves office, his successor may have very different views on the costs and benefits of these products and may, at a minimum, want to assure himself or herself that there is a strong basis for the Rule.  The CFPB has never established, as it must, a strong empirical case that any consumer injury associated with these loans outweighs off-setting consumer benefits.  The industry will surely litigate this issue and has a good chance of succeeding.  As we have previously speculated in our blog on numerous occasions, we expect that Director Cordray soon will resign to run for governor of Ohio, and, given that his term expires in July of next year regardless, there will be a new director or acting Director at least a year before the rule becomes effective as a result.  His successor may feel that he or she has better things to do with the initial period in office than to defend a badly flawed Rule. Of course, Director Cordray will not need to defend the Rule in industry lawsuits.
  2. The CFPB’s decision to carve longer-term high-rate (>36% APR) loans out of the Rule’s ability-to-repay (ATR) requirements is a big win for the industry.  It undoubtedly reflects the CFPB’s recognition, as reflected in two comment letters we submitted on the proposal, that: (a) the CFPB’s study of installment lending, as opposed to short-term payday and title loans, was particularly weak; and (b) the combination of the Rule’s 36% rate trigger and onerous requirements for longer-term loans effectively established a usury limit, in violation of a provision of Dodd-Frank that explicitly denies the CFPB the power to set usury limits.
  3. While the CFPB made a sensible decision to exclude longer-term loans from the Rule’s ability-to-repay requirements, this prudence was not matched by its treatment of card payments in the Rule’s so-called “penalty-fee prevention” provisions. These provisions apply to both short-term and to longer-term loans with APRs exceeding 36%.  The CFPB professes to impose these requirements to protect consumers against excessive bank NSF charges and account closures yet it applies the requirements not only to ACHs and check transactions but also to debit and prepaid card payments.  This makes no sense since card transactions, by their very nature cannot give rise to bank NSF fees and/or account closures.  Either a card transaction is authorized or it is declined, and no fee is associated with a decline.  To my mind, the application of penalty-fee prevention provisions to card payments is arbitrary and capricious and, accordingly, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.
  4. The 21-month deferred effective date, up from 15 months in the proposal, is a win for the industry.
  5. The Rule appears to be good news for lenders focused on providing longer-term title loans, which fall entirely outside the coverage of the Rule.
  6. The Rule, coupled with the OCC’s action withdrawing its prior deposit advance guidance, also appears to be good news for banks interested in providing deposit advance products.  Notably, longer-term deposit advance products will fall entirely outside the Rule (including its penalty-fee prevention provisions, provided that the bank offering the product ensures that its borrowers are never charged overdraft or NSF fees in connection with such loans. We will have additional blog updates on this topic in the coming days.

On November 9, 2017, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. ET, Ballard Spahr attorneys will hold a webinar, “First Takes on the CFPB Small Dollar Rule: What It Means for You.” The webinar registration form is available here.

The CFPB issued its final payday loan rule yesterday in a release running 1,690 pages.  Lenders covered by the rule include nonbank entities as well as banks and credit unions. In addition to payday loans, the rule covers auto title loans, deposit advance products, and certain high-rate installment and open-end loans.  The final rule becomes effective 21 months after publication in the Federal Register (except for certain provisions necessary to implement the rule’s consumer reporting requirements, which become effective 60 days after the rule’s publication).

On November 9, 2017, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. ET, we will hold a webinar, “First Takes on the CFPB Small Dollar Rule: What It Means for You.”  The webinar registration form is available here.

The final rule establishes limitations for a “covered loan,” which can be either (1) any short-term consumer credit with a term of 45 days or less, (2) any longer-term balloon-payment consumer credit, or (3) longer-term consumer credit with a term of more than 45 days and without a balloon payment where (i) the total cost of credit exceeds an annual rate of 36%, and (ii) the lender obtains a form of “leveraged payment mechanism” giving the lender a right to initiate transfers from the consumer’s account.

Among the changes from the CFPB’s proposal: vehicle security is no longer relevant to whether longer-term credit is a “covered loan” and a “leveraged payment mechanism” no longer includes payments obtained through a payroll deduction or other direct access to the consumer’s paycheck.

The final rule excludes from coverage (1) purchase-money credit secured by the car or other consumer goods purchased, (2) real property or dwelling-secured credit if the lien is recorded or perfected, (3) credit cards, (4) student loans, (5) non-recourse pawn loans, (6) overdraft services and overdraft lines of credit, (7) alternative loans that meet conditions similar to those applicable to loans made under the NCUA’s Payday Alternative Loan Program, and (8) subject to certain conditions, employer wage advance programs, no cost-advances, and accommodation loans.

The final rule contains an “ability to repay” requirement for covered short-term credit and longer-term balloon payment credit but provides an alternative.  A lender must choose between:

  • A “full payment test,” under which the lender must make a reasonable determination of the consumer’s ability to repay the loan and cover major financial obligations and living expenses over the term of the loan and the succeeding 30 days.  Under this test, the lender must take account of the consumer’s basic living expenses and obtain and verify evidence of the consumer’s income and major financial obligations  Unlike the proposed rule, the final rule does not require income verification in all instances.  In circumstances where a lender determines that a reliable income record is not reasonably available, such as when a consumer receives some income in cash and spends that money in cash, the lender can reasonably rely on the consumer’s statements alone as evidence of income.  Further new liberality allows a lender to verify housing expenses other than a payment for a debt obligation that appears on a national consumer report by reasonably relying on the consumer’s written statement.  The final rule does not include the proposal’s presumptions of unaffordability.  Among other changes from the proposal, the final rule permits lenders and consumers to rely on income from third parties, such as spouses, to which the consumer has a reasonable expectation of access as part of the ability to repay determination and permits lenders in certain circumstances to consider whether another person is regularly contributing to the payment of major financial obligations or basic living expenses.  A 30-day cooling off period applies after a sequence of three covered short-term or longer-term balloon payment loans.
  • A “principal-payoff option,” under which the lender can make up to three sequential loans in which the first has a principal amount up to $500, the second has a principal amount that is at least one-third smaller than the principal amount of the first, and the third has a principal amount that is at least two-thirds smaller than the principal amount of the first.  A lender could not use this option if (1) the consumer had in the past 30 days an outstanding covered short-term loan or an outstanding longer-term balloon payment loan, and (2) the new loan would result in the consumer having more than six covered short-term loans during a consecutive 12-month period or being in debt for more than 90 days on covered short-term loans during a consecutive 12-month period.  When using this option, the lender cannot take vehicle security or structure the loan as open-end credit.

In a major change from the proposal, the final rule does not include an underwriting requirement for covered longer-term credit without a balloon payment.  Instead, for such credit, lenders are subject only to the final rule’s “penalty fee prevention” provisions, which apply to all covered loans.  Under these provisions:

  • If two consecutive attempts to collect money from a consumer’s account made through any channel are returned for insufficient funds, the lender cannot make any further attempts to collect from the account unless the consumer has provided a new and specific authorization for additional payment transfers.  The final rule contains specific requirements and conditions for the authorization.
  • A lender generally must give the consumer at least three business days advance notice before attempting to collect payment by accessing a consumer’s checking, savings, or prepaid account.  The notice must include information such as the date of the payment request, payment channel, payment amount (broken down by principal, interest, fees, and other charges), and additional information “unusual attempts,” such as when the payment is for a different amount than the regular payment or initiated on a date other than the date of a regularly scheduled payment.

The final rule also requires the CFPB’s registration of consumer reporting agencies as “registered information systems” to whom lenders must furnish information about covered short-term and longer-term balloon payment credit and from whom lenders must obtain consumer reports for use in extending such credit.  If there is no registered information system or if no registered information system has been registered for at least 180 days of the final rule’s 21-month effective date, lenders will be unable to use the “principal-payoff” option.  The CFPB expects that there will be at least one registered information system by the effective date.