The CFPB is proposing to rescind the ability-to-repay provisions of its payday loan rule and delay the provisions’ compliance date while leaving in place the rule’s troublesome payment provisions and their August 19 compliance date.  In this week’s podcast, we look at the CFPB’s rationale for rescinding the ATR provisions, what the payment provisions require and the implementation challenges they present, how industry input could improve the final outcome, the potential impact of the pending litigation challenging the rule, and possible legal challenges to the proposals.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

 

 

The CFPB announced that it has entered into a settlement with the owners of payday loan retail outlets that operated under the name “Cash Tyme” in seven states to resolve alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act/ Regulation P, and the Truth in Lending Act/ Regulation Z.  The consent order requires Cash Tyme to pay a civil money penalty of $100,000.

The CFPB found that Cash Tyme had engaged in unfair acts or practices in violation of the CFPA by conduct that included:

  • Having inadequate processes to prevent ACH debits of accounts of customers who no longer owed the amounts debited or to accurately and promptly identify and refund overpayments, with such conduct having likely resulted in NSF or overdraft fees to customers whose accounts were wrongfully debited
  • Routinely making calls to third parties to collect debts, including to a customer’s employer, supervisor, and personal references (with some of such calls placed despite Cash Tyme having received do-not-call requests)

The CFPB found that Cash Tyme had engaged in deceptive acts or practices in violation of the CFPA by conduct that included:

  • Using information about third-party references provided on loan applications for marketing purposes where the “net impression of the loan applications” was that such information would only be used for verification purposes in connection with the loan being applied for
  • Advertising unavailable services, including check cashing, phone reconnections, and home telephone connections, on the storefronts’ outdoor signage

The CFPB’s conclusion that Cash Tyme violated GLBA/Reg P was based on its finding that Cash Tyme had failed to provide initial privacy notices to consumers who had paid off a loan in full and subsequently took out a new loan.  According to the CFPB, such consumers, when taking out the new loan, were establishing a new customer relationship with Cash Tyme that required a new initial privacy notice.

The Bureau’s conclusion that Cash Tyme violated TILA/Reg Z was based on its findings that Cash Tyme had failed to include a payday loan database fee charged to Kentucky customers in the APR it disclosed in loan contracts and advertisements, rounded APRs to whole numbers in advertisements, and disclosed an example APR and payment amount that was based on an example term of repayment without disclosing the corresponding repayment terms used to calculate that APR.

In addition to payment of the $100,000 civil money penalty, the consent order requires Cash Tyme to conduct an audit to identify any consumers who were overcharged or overpaid as a result of improper ACH debits and, as of the date the consent order is issued, had not received a refund from Cash Tyme in amount equal to or greater than the amount of the overcharge or overpayment.

 

 

The CFPB has entered into a proposed settlement with a group of corporate and individual defendants who were alleged to have engaged in unlawful conduct in connection with offering “short-term loans to consumers located in the United States through a network of affiliated companies located in Canada and Malta.”

The settlement is intended to resolve a lawsuit filed by the CFPB against the defendants in 2015 in a New York federal district court that alleged the defendants made payday loans to residents of states in which the loans were void under state law because the defendants charged interest rates that exceeded state usury limits or the defendants failed to acquire required licenses.  The CFPB claimed that the defendants engaged in unfair, deceptive, or abusive conduct in violation of the CFPA through actions that included: (1) misrepresenting that consumers were obligated to pay debts that were void under state law and that the loans were not subject to U.S. federal or state law, and (2) misrepresenting that the defendants would sue consumers who did not pay or take other actions they did not intend to take.  The complaint also alleged that the defendants violated the Credit Practices Rule by conditioning the loans on irrevocable wage assignments.

The proposed Stipulated Final Judgment and Order sets forth the CFPB’s findings that the defendants had engaged in the alleged unlawful conduct and permanently bars the defendants from engaging in the following conduct:

  •  “advertising, marketing, promoting, offering, originating, servicing, or collecting” a consumer loan made to a U.S. resident, assisting others in such activities, or receiving any remuneration or other consideration from providing service to, or working in any capacity for, anyone engaged in or assisting with such activities
  • collecting on or selling any loans made to a U.S. consumer before the date the Order is entered
  • disclosing, using, or benefitting from information regarding U.S. consumers obtained before the date the Order is entered

The proposed settlement provides for no monetary penalty, something that has not gone unnoticed by consumer advocates.

A Minnesota federal district court recently ruled that lead generators for a payday lender could be liable for punitive damages in a class action filed on behalf of all Minnesota residents who used the lender’s website to obtain a payday loan during a specified time period.  An important takeaway from the decision is that a company receiving a letter from a regulator or state attorney general that asserts the company’s conduct violates or may violate state law should consult with outside counsel as to the applicability of such law and whether a response is required or would be beneficial.

The amended complaint names a payday lender and two lead generators as defendants and includes claims for violating Minnesota’s payday lending statute, Consumer Fraud Act, and Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act.  Under Minnesota law, a plaintiff may not seek punitive damages in its initial complaint but must move to amend the complaint to add a punitive damages claim.  State law provides that punitive damages are allowed in civil actions “only upon clear and convincing evidence that the acts of the defendants show deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others.”

In support of their motion seeking leave to amend their complaint to add a punitive damages claim, the named plaintiffs relied on the following letters sent to the defendants by the Minnesota Attorney General’s office:

  • An initial letter stating that Minnesota laws regulating payday loans had been amended to clarify that such laws apply to online lenders when lending to Minnesota residents and to make clear that such laws apply to online lead generators that “arrange for” payday loans to Minnesota residents.”  The letter informed the defendants that, as a result, such laws applied to them when they arranged for payday loans extended to Minnesota residents.
  • A second letter sent two years later informing the defendants that the AG’s office had been contacted by a Minnesota resident regarding a loan she received through the defendants and that claimed she had been charged more interest on the law than permitted by Minnesota law.  The letter informed the defendants that the AG had not received a response to the first letter.
  • A third letter sent a month later following up on the second letter and requesting a response, followed by a fourth letter sent a few weeks later also following up on the second letter and requesting a response.

The district court granted plaintiffs leave to amend, finding that the court record contained “clear and convincing prima facie evidence…that Defendants know that its lead-generating activities in Minnesota with unlicensed payday lenders were harming the rights of Minnesota Plaintiffs, and that Defendants continued to engage in that conduct despite that knowledge.”  The court also ruled that for purposes of the plaintiffs’ motion, there was clear and convincing evidence that the three defendants were “sufficiently indistinguishable from each other so that a claim for punitive damages would apply to all three Defendants.”  The court found that the defendants’ receipt of the letters was “clear and convincing evidence that Defendants ‘knew or should have known’ that their conduct violated Minnesota law.”  It also found that evidence showing that despite receiving the AG’s letters, the defendants did not make any changes and “continued to engage in lead-generating activities in Minnesota with unlicensed payday lenders,” was “clear and convincing evidence that shows that Defendants acted with the “requisite disregard for the safety” of Plaintiffs.”

The court rejected the defendants’ argument that they could not be held liable for punitive damages because they had acted in good-faith when not acknowledging the AG’s letters.  In support of that argument, the defendants pointed to a Minnesota Supreme Court case that held punitive damages under the UCC were not recoverable where there was a split of authority regarding how the UCC provision at issue should be interpreted.  The district court found that case “clearly distinguishable from the present case because it involved a split in authority between multiple jurisdictions regarding the interpretation of a statute.  While this jurisdiction has not previously interpreted the applicability of [Minnesota’s payday loan laws] to lead-generators, neither has any other jurisdiction.  Thus there is no split in authority for the Defendants to rely on in good faith and [the case cited] does not apply to the present case.  Instead, only Defendants interpret [Minnesota’s payday loan laws] differently and therefore their argument fails.”

Also rejected by the court was the defendants’ argument that there was “an innocent and equally viable explanation for their decision not to respond or take other actions in response to the [AG’s] letters.”  More specifically, the defendants claimed that their decision “was based on their good faith belief and reliance on their own unilateral company policy that that they were not subject to the jurisdiction of the Minnesota Attorney General or the Minnesota payday lending laws because their company policy only required them to respond to the State of Nevada.”

The court found that the defendants’ evidence did not show either that there was an equally viable innocent explanation for their failure to respond or change their conduct after receiving the letters or that they had acted in good faith reliance on the advice of legal counsel.  The court pointed to evidence in the record indicating that the defendants were involved in lawsuits with states other than Nevada, some of which had resulted in consent judgments.  According to the court, that evidence “clearly show[ed] that Defendants were aware that they were in fact subject to the laws of states other than Nevada despite their unilateral, internal company policy.”

 

 

 

This afternoon, Pew Charitable Trusts will host an event in Washington, D.C. focusing on Ohio’s Fairness in Lending Act.  Enacted in July 2018, the Act places new limitations on payday loans including an interest rate cap, a limit on the total cost of a loan, and other structural restrictions.  The Act is viewed as a significant victory for consumer advocates with the potential to be followed through legislation in other states or through ballot initiatives.  (Last week, Colorado voters passed a ballot initiative that places a 36 percent APR cap on payday loans.)

At the event, Ohio legislators from both sides of the aisle, business leaders, advocates, and researchers will discuss the Act.  According to Pew’s description of the event, the topics will include a discussion of strategies “to advance meaningful reform in other states with payday loans.”

 

 

By an overwhelming vote (approximately 1,4270,000 million to 433,000), Colorado voters passed Proposition 111, a ballot initiative that places a 36 percent APR cap on payday loans.  The question presented to voters was:

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning limitations on payday lenders, and, in connection therewith, reducing allowable charges on payday loans to an annual percentage rate of no more than thirty-six percent?

As described on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website, Proposition 111 “would restrict the charges on payday loans to a yearly rate of 36 percent and would eliminate all other finance charges and fees associated with payday lending.”

Colorado’s Attorney General has indicated that at least half of all retail lenders closed their doors following the enactment of legislation in 2010 that restricted payday loan fees to an average APR of about 120%.  We suspect that Proposition 111 will have a similar effect, with only the most efficient operators remaining that can rely on sheer volume, sophisticated underwriting, and other product structures available under the Colorado Consumer Credit Code.

According to American Banker, the passage of Proposition 111 makes Colorado the fifth state to impose rate caps on payday loans through a voter referendum.  The other states to have done so are South Dakota, Ohio, Arizona, and Montana.

 

 

Yesterday, the court reversed course in the lawsuit filed by two industry trade groups challenging the CFPB’s final payday/auto title/high-rate installment loan rule (Payday Rule).  On its own initiative, the Texas federal district court granted a stay of the Payday Rule’s August 19, 2019 compliance date and continued in force its stay of the lawsuit.  Unfortunately, the court did not specify a termination date for the stay of the compliance date, as the trade groups and CFPB originally requested.  Instead, the compliance date is stayed “pending further order of the court.”

To my mind, the court’s failure to specify how long the stay of the compliance date will remain in effect leaves the Rule’s status hopelessly muddled.  The CFPB has stated that its current plan is to revisit the Payday Rule’s ability-to-repay (ATR) provisions but not its payment provisions.  CFPB officials have indicated that the Bureau intends to propose a delay of the Payday Rule’s ATR provisions but not the payment provisions.  What happens if the CFPB follows through with that plan?  When the parties report that development to the court, might the court just lift its stay of the compliance date, without affording lenders additional time to address the payment provisions?

My guess is that the court intends its stay to function like the tolling of a statute of limitations—meaning that, for each day the stay remains in effect, the August 19 compliance deadline is extended for an additional day.  But alas, the court’s order does not specify this intent.  I hope the parties in the case ask for clarification that the compliance date will be extended day-for-day so long as the stay remains in effect.  Alternatively, the CFPB could announce that it will propose a delay in the compliance date for the payment provisions when it moves forward with its rule-making next January.

Unless and until the court and/or the CFPB clarify their intentions, prudent lenders will continue to prepare for the advent of the payment provisions of the Payday Rule.  As Ned Stark from The Game of Thrones might say (if he were alive):  “August 19 is coming.”

 

 

Earlier today, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection released a Public Statement Regarding Payday Rule Reconsideration and Delay of Compliance Date. Echoing rumors that have been circulating in the industry for several weeks (which we had agreed not to address in our blog), the Statement reads in full as follows:

The Bureau expects to issue proposed rules in January 2019 that will reconsider the Bureau’s rule regarding Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans and address the rule’s compliance date. The Bureau will make final decisions regarding the scope of the proposal closer to the issuance of the proposed rules. However, the Bureau is currently planning to propose revisiting only the ability-to-repay provisions and not the payments provisions, in significant part because the ability-to-repay provisions have much greater consequences for both consumers and industry than the payment provisions. The proposals will be published as quickly as practicable consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act and other applicable law.

Of course, the Bureau is correct in observing that the ability-to-repay (ATR) provisions of the Rule “have much greater consequences for both consumers and industry than the payment provisions.”  That is because the ATR provisions, if allowed to go into effect, would largely kill the industry and thus deprive millions of consumers of a source of credit they deem essential.  Nevertheless, the draconian potential consequences of the ATR provisions do not justify leaving the payment provisions intact. These provisions are unduly complicated. They require hard-to-reach consumers to affirmatively reauthorize lender-initiated payment attempts after two consecutive unsuccessful attempts rather than relying on a simpler and more straightforward notice and opt-out regimen.

Also, while the payment provisions are supposedly designed to prevent excessive NSF fees, as we have pointed out in a comment letter to the Bureau and elsewhere, they treat attempts to initiate payments by debit card, where there is no chance of any NSF fee, the same as other forms of payment that can give rise to NSF fees. This treatment of card payments can only be ascribed to the hostility to high-rate lending characteristic of the former leadership of the Bureau. If the Bureau does nothing else with the Rule’s payment provisions, it should certainly correct this wholly indefensible aspect of the Rule.

We note that the Bureau requested an extension until Monday, October 29, to respond to the preliminary injunction motion by the Community Financial Services Association and Consumer Service Alliance of Texas. If the Bureau files its response Monday, we will likely have more to report.

Four consumer advocacy groups have filed a motion seeking leave to file an amicus memorandum opposing the joint motion filed by the CFPB and two trade groups that seeks a stay of the compliance date for the CFPB’s final payday/auto title/high-rate installment loan rule (Payday Rule).  The joint motion, which was filed in the trade groups’ April 2018 lawsuit challenging the Payday Rule, also seeks a stay of the litigation for the duration of the CFPB’s rulemaking to reconsider the Payday Rule.

The four consumer advocacy groups are Public Citizen, Inc., Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund, Center for Responsible Lending, and National Consumer Law Center.  They assert in their motion that because the stay was sought jointly by the parties to the lawsuit, “the Court lacks the benefit of adversarial briefing on the parties’ request.”

The joint motion filed by the CFPB and trade groups seeks a stay of the Payday Rule’s compliance date pursuant to Section 10(d) of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. section 705, which provides:

When an agency finds that justice so requires, it may postpone the effective date of action taken by it, pending judicial review.  On such conditions as may be required and to the extent necessary to prevent irreparable injury, the reviewing court … may issue all necessary and appropriate process to postpone the effective date of an agency action or to preserve status or rights pending conclusion of the review proceedings.

In the proposed amicus memorandum accompanying their motion, the consumer advocacy groups argue that Section 705 cannot be properly invoked by the CFPB and trade groups to stay the Payday Rule’s compliance date for the following reasons:

  • For the court to stay the compliance date while also staying the litigation is at odds with the purpose of Section 705 “to stay agency action for the purpose of maintaining the status quo during judicial review.”  The CFPB and trade groups are not seeking to maintain the status quo to protect against litigation uncertainties but rather to address uncertainties created by the CFPB’s decision to engage in rulemaking to reconsider the Payday Rule.  Section 705 “cannot properly be used as the basis for a stay where the parties are not litigating and have no intention to do so.”
  • The joint motion is an “attempt to jerry rig non-adversarial litigation to effect an end-run around the [Administrative Procedure Act’s] statutory requirements.”  An agency ordinarily can only delay a rule’s compliance date through the APA’s notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures.
  • The same four-part test used to assess requests for stays pending appeal applies to Section 705 stays.  The joint motion does not satisfy this test because:
    • Little effort was made to show any likelihood of plaintiffs’ success on the merits in their challenge to the Payday Rule
    • No showing was made that the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable injury absent a stay pending review, with no actual information provided “as to whether any individual member of the plaintiff associations intends to spend money on compliance with the Payday Rule before the date when this lawsuit—if it were litigated—could reasonably be expected to end.”
    • No consideration was given to the impact of their request on the CFPB, which would include “bind[ing] the agency and its next director, based on the request of an acting director, who only serves temporarily and at the pleasure of the president.” (emphasis included).
    • No analysis was provided of how a stay would impact the public interest, such as “the impact of a stay on the consumers who the Payday Rule intends to protect.”

The consumer advocacy groups’ motion states that the trade groups have indicated that they oppose the filing of the amicus brief and that the CFPB has indicated that it takes no position on whether the amicus brief should be filed.  We would therefore expect the trade groups to file a response opposing the motion.  Once the court rules on the consumer advocacy groups’ motion, the next step would be for the court to decide the joint motion for a stay either after a hearing or without holding a hearing.

 

The National Credit Union Administration has published a notice in the Federal Register proposing to amend the NCUA’s general lending rule to provide federal credit unions (FCU) with a second option for offering “payday alternative loans” (PALs).  Comments on the proposal are due by August 3, 2018.

In 2010, the NCUA amended its general lending rule to allow FCUs to offer PALs as an alternative to other payday loans.  For PALs currently allowed under the NCUA rule (PALs I), an FCU can charge an interest rate that is 1000 basis points above the general interest rate set by the NCUA for non-PALs loans, provided the FCU is making a closed-end loan that meets certain conditions.  Such conditions include that the loan principal is not less than $200 or more than $1,000, the loan has a minimum term of one month and a maximum term of six months, the FCU does not make more than three PALs in any rolling six-month period to one borrower and not more than one PAL at a time to a borrower, and the FCU requires a minimum length of membership of at least one month.

The proposal is a reaction to NCUA data showing a significant increase in the total dollar amount of outstanding PALs but only a modest increase in the number of FCUs offering PALs.  In the proposal’s supplementary information, the NCUA states that it “wants to ensure that all FCUs that are interested in offering PALs loans are able to do so.”  Accordingly, the NCUA seeks to increase interest among FCUs in making PALs by giving them the ability to offer PALs with more flexible terms and that would potentially be more profitable (PALs II).

PALs II would not replace PALs I but would be an additional option for FCUs.  As proposed, PALs II would incorporate many of the features of PALs I while making four changes:

  • The loan could have a maximum principal amount of $2,000 and there would be no minimum amount
  • The maximum loan term would be 12 months
  • No minimum length of credit union membership would be required
  • There would be no restriction on the number of loans an FCU could make to a borrower in a rolling six-month period, but a borrower could only have one outstanding PAL II loan at a time.

In the proposal, the NCUA states that it is considering creating an additional kind of PALs (PALs III) that would have even more flexibility than PALs II.  It seeks comment on whether there is demand for such a product as well as what features and loan structures could be included in PALs III.  The proposal lists a series of questions regarding a potential PALs III rule on which the NCUA seeks input.

The NCUA’s proposal follows closely on the heels of the bulletin issued by the OCC setting forth core lending principles and policies and practices for short-term, small-dollar installment lending by national banks, federal savings banks, and federal branches and agencies of foreign banks.  In issuing the bulletin, the OCC stated that it “encourages banks to offer responsible short-term, small-dollar installment loans, typically two to 12 months in duration with equal amortizing payments, to help meet the credit needs of consumers.”