Monday, December 7, 2009
- David Evans and Joshua Wright: How the Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act of 2009 Would Change the Law and Regulation of Consumer Financial Products
- Jennifer S. Martin: What You Should Know about the Debit Card in Your Wallet: Where the Federal Reserve's New Overdraft May Fall Short
- Francesc Prior Sanz and Javier Santomá: Banking the Unbanked Using Prepaid Platforms and Mobile Telephones in the U.S.
- Ulf Mattsson: Demystifying PCI Technologies
Happy reading! Yes, after reading all the examinations. I've got a stack of first year Contracts exams coming my way this afternoon.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Full disclosure of the benefits and detriments of the overdraft programs prior an active enrollment decision is the best approach. If under the Final Rules a consumer enrolls in overdraft protection, resolution of assent and fairness hinges upon the disclosure of the terms of the overdraft service and the practices involved in securing assent. For instance, even though Regulation DD affirmatively requires disclosure of fees, a GAO study found that consumers have difficulty obtaining account terms and conditions and complete fee information even when requested. Moreover, even if the bank discloses the fees, the government does not regulate the reasonableness of fees or the manner in which they are imposed. The terms of overdraft fees are most likely ones of “adhesion,” in that they are offered or imposed without the ability to negotiate them, “take it or leave it” terms. If the GAO is correct, then Banks often fail to disclose the terms at all, even when asked. So, will the Final Rules result in substantial changes in banking practices?
Disclosure is at the cornerstone to most consumer regulations and is the primary prong of financial regulation. The Final Rules address disclosure issues primarily through the model opt-in form that accompanies the rules (the “form”). Importantly, the form: (i) requires that banks affirmatively give customers knowledge of enrollment in overdraft services; (ii) specifies the fee amounts that a bank charges per overdraft transaction, any daily fee charged for the account being overdrawn, and any daily limits on overdraft fees; and (iii) contains information about other, less costly banking services and where the consumer can obtain more information. These changes are significant because under current practice banks enroll many consumers without their knowledge or consent and without such disclosures. Up front disclosure is a key feature of the Final Rules, especially since consumers sometimes have difficulty obtaining fee terms at many banks despite Regulation DD requirements of fee disclosure. Of course, no form is perfect and there remains the potential for consumer confusion.
Curbing bank practices that disadvantage consumers by increasing the amount of overdraft fees incurred is the second prong in the solution to the problems with overdraft protection services banks currently offer. On this point, the Final Rules fall short. Although the Proposed Overdraft Rules addressed the issue of debit card holds by reducing many of the holds from days to just hours, the Final Rules contain no restrictions on holds, leaving wide discretion for the length and size of holds. It is doubtful that a consumer who goes out to gas up the car and buy groceries will know that in order to avoid an overdraft fee caused by a two hour gas pump hold on their card, he or she may want to buy groceries before gas when account balances are low. The Final Rules also do not take up other banking practices that increase the amount of overdraft fees, such as batch reordering of transactions from largest to smallest.
The final prong of any solution regarding overdraft fees must address the size and numerosity of fees imposed for consumers who opt-in the service. While banks typically impose credit card over the limit fees on a monthly basis, banks charge overdraft fees on a per transaction basis. Some consumers may continue to believe that credit and debit cards work the same in this respect. Consumers also tend to believe that government regulation is merit oriented, rather than disclosure based. While some in Congress have urged restrictions on overdraft fees to a “proportional” amount, the Final Rules do not take up fee size (see Dodd Says Senate May Expand Beyond Fed Overdrafts). To the extent that some banks charge overdraft fees on NSFs of less than $5, the size of the fee imposed is clearly material to consumers. Some banks have altered current practices to address this issue.
While the Final Rules represent an improvement over the status quo in terms of informing consumers about enrollment in overdraft services, they do not represent a complete solution to open issues of debit and ATM overdrafts. From the industry perspective, there are genuine operational issues at some banks that will require retooling of existing systems. Much of this must take place by July 1, 2010. Despite the successes in the Final Rules, consumers should not believe that they represent a panacea for overdrafts. If they do, disappointment will follow. This type of regulation is long overdue, probably owing to the more recent development of the product and regulatory system’s inability to respond effectively and promptly to developing issues in newer products. At its simplest, a solution to the problems of consumer choice and disclosure in debit card overdrafts favors a default rule system that gives the consumers an arrangement with the lowest cost. Despite the criticisms herein, the Final Rules go a long way toward that goal.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Invitation: We invite paper, presentation, and panel proposals exploring any aspect of contract law, theory, and policy writ large (including, but not limited to, bankruptcy/insolvency, commercial law, consumer law, dispute resolution regimes, family law, insurance law, legal systems, and restitution, in addition to more traditional contract topics) from a behavioral, comparative, critical, doctrinal, economic, empirical, equitable, historical, institutional, interdisciplinary, jurisprudential, pedagogical, philosophical, policy-driven, or political perspective. We also solicit volunteers to serve as moderators or discussants for panels that are not "packaged deals."
The CFPs issued earlier this year for the AALS Section on Contracts' January annual meeting program on New Approaches to Teaching Contracts: A "Teach-In" and the AALS Section on Commercial and Related Consumer Law's January annual meeting program on The Principles of the Law of Software Contracts: A Phoenix Rising from the Ashes of Article 2B and UCITA? each yielded more excellent proposals than either section could accommodate in New Orleans. Both topics remain quite relevant, and I hope to assemble one or more panels on each that will continue the conversations begun in New Orleans. I am also working on the opening plenary, my UNLV colleague Jeff Stempel is organizing a panel on insurance contracts, and Wayne Barnes (Texas Wesleyan) is organizing a panel on comparative contract law and theory. Those efforts, if all bear fruit, still leave room for many more presenters, moderators, and discussants.
We will try to accommodate as many presenters, moderators, and discussants as possible. We particularly encourage junior scholars and those who work in non-U.S. legal systems to propose papers or panels and to volunteer to serve as a discussant or moderator. We also welcome anyone who wishes to attend the conference without presenting or serving as a discussant or moderator. The educational and networking benefits alone are worth the price of admission.
Publication: There is no publication requirement for conference participants, although experience suggests that individual papers and panels often find good homes. The Nevada Law Journal encourages participants to submit individual and panel papers and hopes to publish several works from the conference in upcoming issues.
Likely Attendees: In addition to me, Jeff Stempel, and Wayne Barnes (mentioned above), as of November 18, the following have committed to attend, or expressed a strong desire to attend: Eniola Akindemowo (Thomas Jefferson), Roy Anderson (SMU), Wayne Barnes, Dan Barnhizer (Michigan State), Charles Calleros (Arizona State), Hazel Glenn Beh (Hawaii), Barbara Bucholtz (Tulsa), Gerald Caplan (McGeorge), Miriam Cherry (McGeorge), Carol Chomsky (Minnesota), Karen Cross (John Marshall), Sidney DeLong (Seattle), Larry DiMatteo (Florida, Warrington College of Business), Jay Feinman (Rutgers-Camden), Marjorie Florestal (McGeorge), David A. Friedman (Willamette), Larry Garvin (Ohio State), Danielle Kie Hart (Southwestern), Nicholas Johnson (Fordham), Yong-Sung Jonathan Kang (U. of Washington), Tadas Klimas (Lithuania), Chuck Knapp (UC-Hastings), George Kuney (Tennessee), Peter Linzer (Houston), Charles Martin (Florida Coastal), Jennifer Martin (Oregon), Meredith Miller (Touro), Marcy Peek (Whittier), Joe Perillo (Fordham), Deborah Post (Touro), Michael Pratt (Queen's University/Ontario), Cheryl Preston (BYU), Scott Pryor (Regent), Val Ricks (South Texas), Caprice Roberts (West Virginia), Irma Russell (Tulsa), Adam Scales (Washington & Lee), Andrew Schwartz (Colorado), Sean Scott (Loyola-L.A.), Jeff Stempel, Otto Stockmeyer (Cooley), Howard Walthall (Cumberland), Jarrod Wong (Pacific), and Debbie Zalesne (CUNY). All this without a proper CFP until now. I expect attendance will be at least double this number.
Submitting a Proposal: If you would like to propose a presentation or panel, please e-mail a title, brief description, and any supporting materials by January 4, 2010 to firstname.lastname@example.org or snail-mail it to me at 4505 S. Maryland Pkwy., Box 451003, Las Vegas, NV 89154-1003. If you would like to discuss or moderate, please let me know your interests and availability by January 4. We will evaluate proposals as they come in and will consider on a space-available basis any we receive after January 4.
Preliminary Schedule: The conference program will begin both Friday and Saturday morning no later than 9:00 a.m. (grazing and conversational opportunities will start earlier) and will run until 5:00 or 5:30 p.m. each day.
Accommodations: The Hyatt Place next to campus (4520 Paradise Road, Las Vegas, NV 89169) is holding a block of rooms at the rate of $118.00 per night (plus tax). The official deadline for hotel registration at the conference rate is January 25, 2010. However, I encourage you to book sooner, as we blocked a limited number of rooms (due to the The Hyatt Place requiring the law school to guarantee at least 80% occupancy and pay the difference if actual registration was less than we anticipate) and will be more likely to get the Hyatt Place to make the conference rate available to additional attendees if early registration is robust.
To book a conference-rate room at The Hyatt Place, go to http://www.lasvegas.place.hyatt.com/; choose a check-in date no earlier than February 25, 2010 and a check-out date no later than February 28, 2010; enter group code G-BOYD for Boyd School of Law Contracts Conference in the box labeled Group/Corporate #; hit the check availability button; if a room is available, verify that your group name is specified next to rate details and if everything matches, then hit book. If you have trouble booking online, or if you prefer to reserve a room over the phone, please call the hotel at (702) 369-3366.
Transportation: For attendees who stay at the conference hotel, The Hyatt Place provides airport shuttle service and we'll provide transportation between the Hyatt Place and the law school for those not wanting to walk the mile or so. Attendees who prefer to stay on The Strip or elsewhere are responsible for their own transportation.
Sustenance: Your registration fee will cover the costs of lunches both days and a reception and dinner Friday evening, as well as coffee, fruit, and baked goods each morning and cold beverage service and morsels each afternoon. The Hyatt Place also offers a complimentary continental breakfast, which might be particularly attractive to those whose body clocks are on Eastern or Central Time.
Registration: We're still finalizing the conference registration fee and process. The registration fee will be no more than $250. This is higher than past spring contracts conferences. Fortunately, the lower conference hotel rate than at prior conferences, free airport transportation for those staying at the conference hotel, and the relative ease and low cost of flying into and out of Las Vegas's McCarran Airport (which is less than two miles from the hotel) compared to the last three venues, will offset the higher registration fee.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
- The card is inactive for one year;
- No more than one fee is charged monthly; and
- The provider gives notice of the fees to the consumer.
Moreover, cards cannot expire for at least five years after purchase or reloading of the card. Both store-specific and network based cards are covered by the rules.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
- Banks must comply with the Final Rules as of July 1, 2010
- Banks cannot charge an overdraft fee on ATM and point-of-sale debit card (POS) transactions without the customer affirmatively opting-in to overdraft protection
- The rules apply to existing and new accounts
- Banks must offer the same account terms to customers who do not choose overdraft protection for ATM and POS transactions
Three issues remain unresolved by the Final Rules: (i) the size of overdraft fees (often $35 per transaction with no daily limit on the number of transactions charged; (ii) the batch reordering of transactions done by banks to increase the amount of fees generated on transactions by customers who do opt-in; and (iii) debit holds that trigger overdraft fees on transactions such as gasoline, hotels and restaurants. These gaps aside, the progress made by the Federal Reserve on debit cards is substantial.
Remember, banks can still charge the fees on those who have not opted-in until July 2010. So, still use your debit cards with care. As for me, I will not be opting-in, but will await the sales pitch that banks will inevitably make.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
This paper discusses consumer protections available to gift-card users. Specifically, it examines the ways in which value loaded at the time of purchase is protected for future card use or returned to consumers when the card is not used or has expired. The consumer protection information included in this paper is derived from a number of sources, including several types of state statutes, Federal Trade Commission decisions, financial industry regulatory agency guidelines, and previous interviews with payments industry experts regarding practices concerning network-branded gift cards. This paper expands research begun by the Payment Cards Center in 2004 into prepaid cards generally and the protections available to consumers who use gift cards specifically.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
In case you've not been following this, the CFPA would have the authority to write new consumer protection rules in the arenas of lending and credit, to monitor banks and other financial institutions for compliance with these rules, and to penalize institutions for any infractions. The CFPA would also have the ability to ban products, marketing tactics, and other business practices that it deems “unfair, deceptive, or abusive.”
The Financial Services Committee added several amendments which altered the Obama Administration’s original outline of the agency. An amendment added Oct. 21 exempts the insurance agency from CFPA oversight and prevents the agency from interfering with state insurance regulators’ oversight of insurance companies and products. An amendment offered by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) adds five representatives from the fields of “consumer protection, fair lending and civil rights, representatives of depository institutions that primarily serve underserved communities, or representatives of communities that have been significantly impacted by higher-priced mortgages” to the CFPA Oversight Board. Another amendment phases out the Home Valuation Code of Conduct; the amendment would allow all originators, licensed or registered in accordance with the SAFE Mortgage Licensing Act, to order appraisals directly.
The bill is now over at the House Energy and Commerce Committee which appears to be amending the bill to replace the executive who was to run the agency with a five-member commission with staggered terms.
Monday, November 2, 2009
This paper addresses two issues concerning the scope of the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (“CISG”), both of which have arisen in recent decisions applying the Convention: 1) whether requirements imposed by U.S. domestic sales law on attempts to disclaim implied warranties apply to attempts to derogate from the seller‘s obligations under Arts. 35(2)(a) & (b) CISG; and 2) whether burden of proof questions that are not expressly addressed in the CISG are governed by the general principles of the CISG. The paper defends the use of the distinction between substantive and procedural law in defining the scope of the CISG with respect to burden of proof issues, and in determining the whether the Convention provides for the recovery of damages for attorneys’ fees incurred to litigate a claim under the CISG. The paper concludes by arguing that defining the limits of the Convention‘s scope is critical to its success, and to the success of future attempts to create uniform international commercial law.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
For the safety conscious, Consumer Reports has a nice piece on Halloween safety. Light the front walk, drive carefully, carry flashlights, practice fire safety with those pumpkins, etc.
Happy Halloween and have fun trick-or-treating!
From Disney's website:
For the past several years, Baby Einstein has been under attack by propaganda groups taking extreme positions that try to dictate what parents should do, say and buy. Our philosophy has always been to focus on creating products that parents and babies love, and to not get sidetracked and pulled down into their street fight.Not being a big fan of television for kids, we actually found the Baby Einstein dvds had some positive, if not wholly education components. But, clearly there is a difference of opinion. It is difficult to make this really a good case of a breached warranty. It would have to be an express warranty (affirmation of fact) under UCC 2-313. The case that the dvds did not make your kids smarter would seem to have problems on the arguments of opinion, puffery and the like. Disney has put a stop to any claims by just offerring the refund.
Unfortunately, with Susan Linn’s latest stunt, we cannot be silent any longer. Linn’s obvious dislike for Baby Einstein has now turned into a sensational, headline-grabbing publicity campaign that seeks to twist and spin a simple, customer satisfaction action into a false admission of guilt. This is clearly not the case.
Linn’s moves are carefully crafted to prey on parental guilt and uncertainty. This time, she began by asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to go after Baby Einstein because, she said, we claimed that Baby Einstein was educational. But we do not make any such claim – and the FTC brought no action.
Not content to rely on the judgment of the federal government, her attacks continued and escalated despite the fact that her assertions have no merit.
That’s where we are today. However, we took a very different approach. We strongly believe that, unlike Linn, our consumers find value in our product, and rather than continue to fight with her, we decided to leave it up to those consumers. That is why we extended a refund policy that was already in place. Although she would like to claim otherwise, there is nothing extraordinary about a company’s willingness to stand behind its product. To the contrary, it is the strongest possible show of confidence in it.
Baby Einstein announced this offer in a press release issued on September 4, 2009, which was largely ignored by the media. Linn’s latest public relations blitz simply distorts the facts and misleads the public. In the end, this smear campaign has everything to do with Linn trying to generate ink and funding for her cause, and not about the value that consumers find in our product.
Thank you for letting us set the record straight.
General Manager, The Baby Einstein Company
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Consumers are justifiably mad about the rate hikes (See Debtors Revolt). The Debtor's Revolt has a new youtube video where she calls Chase Bank for raising her interest rate to 21% and closes the account. While I applaud her "revolt" response to bank's raising rates without good cause to do so, consumers need to be cognizant about the effect that closing accounts has on their credit scores. This is particularly true when it is a longer held account (in the Debtor's Revolt Chase incident, it appears to be a newer account as she mentions an introductory rate). Having received one of these rate increases in the mail myself recently, it reminds us all to read these stock letters from the card companies. While paying off credit card debt has historically been a good thing, the changing strategies of banks raising rates, closing accounts and reducing credit lines may force consumers to be more cautious than ever with card companies (See Suzi Orman, Change in Credit Card Strategy). Let's see if Dodd can plug this hole.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Here's the Today show piece:
Saturday, October 24, 2009
We have seen numerous instances when weaknesses and gaps in the regulatory structure itself contributed to the crisis, many of which can only be addressed by statutory change. Notably, to promote financial stability and to address the extremely serious problem posed by firms perceived as "too big to fail," legislative action is needed to create new mechanisms for oversight of the financial system as a whole; to ensure that all systemically important financial firms are subject to effective consolidated supervision; and to establish procedures for winding down a failing, systemically critical institution without seriously damaging the financial system and the economy.Bernanke went on to comment on a number of actions the Federal Reserve has taken and also to to take up the issue of consumer protection. Bernanke observed that "effective consumer protection promotes healthy competition in the financial marketplace, supports sound lending practices, and increases confidence in the financial system as a whole." Bernanke commented on the Fed's efforts using consumer testing to help determine when consumers understand financial products and communications from financial institutions. The Fed has used consumer testing in the debate involving debit cards, for instance. While no final regulations are yet in place for debit cards, the consumer testing tool may turn out to help the Fed tackle issues surrounding clarity of disclosures.
Bernanke has been hammering on the topic of needed regulatory changes for some time now. Let's hope that Congress is listening.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Although the Fed seems poised to finally move on debit cards, Congress appears to lack faith in the ability of the Fed to get this one done. While the Fed has lingered in its rulemaking, the Center for Responsible Lending reports that overdraft fees have increased 35% in the last two years alone. Senator Chris Dodd is leading the charge for Congressional intervention on debit cards. While rulemaking has been long coming, the pressure by Congress seems to also draw attention to the Fed's inability at times to protect consumer interests as part of its core mission. The situation of debit cards is but another example of why the Consumer Financial Protection Agency is a good idea (See Debate Heating Up). This may well be enough to spur the Fed to finishing up the debit card rules. Here's a piece on the proposed legislation.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Todd Zywicki of George Mason has argued one of the more reasoned oppositions that I've seen. His basic argument seems to be that the CFPA will not increase market competition and goes beyond historical restraints on lending. Zywicki believes that credit card debit is simply in substitution for other debt that consumers have always had, the CFPA will increase the cost of credit and that most consumers understand the products (See, Zywicki Testimony). I disagree with Zywicki on a number of points, particularly with respect to complexity of and transparency in marketing of financial products and basic fairness. I don't believe that consumers understand the terms offerred on financial products or even that lenders and banks actually disclose all relevant terms (c.f., FDIC Study on Bank Overdrafts). Moreover, without a regulator whose mission it is to take up consumer issues, there are impediments to regulatory intervention in products that are not as much on the Federal Reserve's top list, such as debit card overdraft fees. Nocera pretty much sums it up well: "The sooner we can pass the thing, the better."
Here's an interview that Zywicki arguing against the CFPA:
Friday, October 9, 2009
This agency will have the power to make certain that consumers get information that is clear and concise -- in plain language -- so they can compare products and know exactly what they're getting themselves into. It will ensure that banks and other firms can't hide behind these ridiculously confusing contracts -- pages and pages of fine print that nobody can figure out. It will have the ability to enforce and build on the credit card reforms we passed earlier this year, so that consumers aren't hit with unfair rate hikes and penalties, or hidden charges. It will require brokers to look out for the interests of families if they give advice about mortgages. And it will ensure transparency and fair dealing for other financial products, like bank overdraft services and payday loans.
Here's the video:
The Obama administration has proposed restructuring financial services regulation by transferring all consumer protection functions from existing agencies to a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). The goal of the CFPA legislation is to address the flaws in the regulatory architecture that have inhibited effective responses to the substantive problems, rather than mandate specific new substantive consumer protection laws.
The current consumer financial protection is based on disclosure regime and is policed through supervisory feedback, enforcement actions, and occasionally prohibitions on terms, products, and practices that are deemed inherently unfair and deceptive. On the federal level, consumer protection in financial services is divided among a number of agencies: the OCC, OTS, NCUA, Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, FHFA, HUD, VA, FTC and DOJ. Some of these agencies have the ability to promulgate regulations, some also exercise supervisory authority over financial institutions, and some may only enforce existing regulations. Sometimes authority is over a class of institutions, and sometimes it is over a particular type of product.
There are four main structural criticisms of the current regulatory structure: that consumer protection is a so-called 'orphan' mission; that consumer protection conflicts with, and is subordinated to, safety-and-soundness concerns; that no agency has developed an expertise in consumer protection in financial services, and; that regulatory arbitrage of the current system fuels a regulatory race-to-the-bottom.
Consolidation of consumer financial services protection authority could: place all financial services companies, regardless of the form of their charter, under a single regulator, thus ending its orphan status; separate consumer protection from safety-and-soundness regulation, thus ending subordination; encourage the development of a deep bench of regulatory expertise and knowledge, and; end the opportunity for regulatory arbitrage and any potential race to the bottom.
There are several potential concerns about a CFPA: conflicts with prudential regulators; ambiguity with respect to Consumer Reinvestment Act authority, and; potential overregulation resulting in higher costs of financial products, less product availability, and discouragement of innovation. Still, there are compelling reasons to believe that the present regulatory architecture cannot produce the optimal consumer protection regime and will continue to fail in its task, resulting in unfair treatment of consumers and a potentially significant source of systemic risk. To this extent, consideration of a CFPA should strive to distinguish between the basic thrust of the legislation - a consolidation of the regulatory authority of - and the proposed new substantive powers granted to the agency.
This article offers both a concession and a critique. The article concedes that the law of fixtures under the Uniform Commercial Code is helplessly tied to the various state laws dictating real estate. The natural impact of explicitly tying a UCC doctrine to multiple state law variation is the automatic loss of uniformity. At the center of the fixtures discussion in the UCC is a definition that does not define, and more importantly, does not limit doctrinal extension. Because the UCC offers a non-defining definition, this article considers the function of the fixtures definition. Specifically, the article looks to the original drafters comments about what the purpose of the fixtures definition was intended to accomplish.
Conceding that the definition in the UCC does not define, the article then critiques the definition by asking what role the definition plays in the game of seeking uniformity. Specifically, the article argues that the fixtures definition in UCC Section 9-102(a)(41) performs a function just as important as defining - it narrates. The article argues that the drafters in deciding on a definition of fixtures isolated themes of commonality and described those themes in a concise, but useful description of the fixture. Those themes include the joining of goods to realty, the concept of relation, and the emphasis on interests as a governing factor in the fixtures analysis. The article argues that the narration accomplished by the UCC allows for uniformity, not by mandatory uniformity, but by synchronic dialogue - allowing the themes to create images and the images to compel instinctive beliefs. The article argues, however, that the description provided by the drafters should be reunited with the substantive provisions relating to fixtures since each are tied to the other’s understanding.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
The Making Home Affordable modification program originally advertised that it would help 4 million homeowners retain their homes. (See, Foreclosures, New York Times). Mortgage foreclosures during the second quarter of 2009 were up 16%, reflecting falling housing values and rising unemployment. New Treasury plans include incentives for "short sales," which allow homes to be sold at less than loan value (i.e. market value) to head off foreclosures that are coming in the future (Short Sales Plan).
Two of the biggest impediments to modifications or short sales seems to be time and difficulty. While keeping homes out of foreclosure appears a good idea, lenders are likely earning default fees on the loan. Lenders may also be reluctant to modify loans too early, hoping owners will bring the loans current. Yet, waiting too long can allow the home to slip into foreclosure. Buyers interested in a short sale may also bolt if the bank takes too long or does not approve the home price, which is likely to be substantially below the loan value on the property. The difficulty of obtaining loan modifications and conflicting information received from lenders discourages eligible modifications under the federal plan.
While our home thankfully is not in foreclosure, I can report on our in process home refinancing that probably represents much of the frustrations that home owners face. For instance, in shopping for rates and costs, we found that some of the lending representatives did not return calls. Others had voice-mail boxes that were full so that messages could not be left. One Citi Mortgage representative gave us refinancing numbers, but then later we were never able to reach her. A second Citi Mortgage representative told us the initial numbers were actually wrong. Hardly inspiring. In the end, Wells Fargo actually negotiated rates that beat the competitors, so we are now working on reviewing paperwork with them. We're not done, but at least the refinance is locked in at a favorable rate. Yet, I can see from our own experience for an uncomplicated refi the frustrations that homeowners are reporting, particularly when the situation is complicated by a delinquency or foreclosure.
So, is the 500,000 milestone a reason to celebrate? Probably. But my enthusiasm is lessened by the amount of transactions that remain.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Jimmy and his friends even have a web site and a marketing video:
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
We look forward to having Brian's historical viewpoint.
The press release:
FOR RELEASE ON SEPT. 29, 2009 AT 10:00 AM:
Consumer and Banking Scholars Show Support for the Consumer Financial Protection Act
Hempstead and Jamaica, NY – On September 30, 2009, the House Financial Services Committee, chaired by Representative Barney Frank, will hold hearings on H. 3126, titled “the Consumer Financial Protection Act” which would create an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Today more than seventy law scholars who teach in fields related to consumer law and banking law have signed a detailed Statement of Support demonstrating their strong views about the importance of this legislation.
The faculty endorsing the Statement of Support include leading scholars who teach in fields related to consumer law and banking law who teach at many of the nation’s leading American law schools—in states including Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming as well as Washington, D.C. The signatories have no economic stake in the passage of this legislation.
The Statement concludes that on balance, the existing regulatory structure places “a higher value on protecting the interest of financial product vendors who promote complex debt instruments using aggressive sales practices, than on protecting the interests of consumers in transparent, safe, and fair financial products.” The body of the Statement is 8 pages long, single-spaced. It refers specifically to dozens of scholarly articles and studies demonstrating that at critical moments of consumer confusion and vulnerability,” the existing regulators “have been unwilling to expend resources to develop appropriate rules and guidelines and to police mortgage and credit instruments.” The Statement urges passage of H. 3126 because “consolidated authority and a dedicated consumer-oriented mission would be likely to improve public confidence in the safety and efficiency of the vast consumer financial products marketplace.” It further provides an analysis of desirable aspects of the legislation and points to extensive scholarship supporting the need for a new approach to handling consumer financial regulation.
For further information please contact the signatories of the Statement at their home institutions or:
Norman I. Silber
Professor of Law
Hofstra Law School
Professor of Law
St. John's University School of Law
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
According to the N.Y. Times, both banks described their actions as responsive to their customers. “We made the decision that we had to help customers now and help those most stretched by the economy,” said Brian T. Moynihan, president of Bank of America’s consumer and small-business banking operations. “They found themselves getting hit by too many fees, and they said, ‘Help us out.’ ” There is little doubt, however, that threatened legislation has played a role. According to Michael Moebs, an economic advisor for many banks and credit unions, the banks understandably oppose this legislation because many of them collect more in overdraft fees than they earn in profits. Moebs argues that many banks would not be able to replace the revenue soon enough to stay in business.
So, have Chase and BofA, done enough to forestall legislation? While the changes they plan to implement are certainly a step in the right direction, they hardly eliminate many concerns.
For example, the exception for small overdrafts may only protect the cardholder if they deposit sufficient funds to cover the overdraft before making additional charges. But if the cardholder is not notified of the overdraft situation, how often will that happen?
The limits on the number of overdraft fees also hardly eliminate the seeming unconscionability of the arrangement. As an initial matter, they will apply only to purchase at stores, not ATM withdrawals. Second, the amount of fees will continue to bear no reasonable relationship to amount of the overdraft. Bank of America is limiting its cards to no more than four overdraft fees per day. But the fee remains $35 per overcharge, regardless of the amount. So, a customer that makes four purchases over the limit that total just $11 or $12 dollars would pay $140 in fees. The result at Chase is only marginally better. It will impose a limit of three fees per day, but they would total $89 on three overcharges that could amount to as little as $5.01. As Brad Tuttle wrote on the Time website, "[s]o the poor saps who are dumb enough to spend more than they have in their accounts—and who do so more than three or four times a day—are thrown a bone." I would add, a very small bone at that.
I have not seen any justification for these fee levels. Surely, a bank providing overdraft protection should be entitled to a reasonable return on the money it effectively lends to its customer as well as a reimbursement for the incremental administrative fees it incurs because a charge results in an overdraft. These fees appear to exceed the bounds of reason by several orders of magnitude. And surely, the banks would produce the data necessary to justify them if it existed.
Even the proposed new opt out provisions are less than they seem. They will require the customer to forgo overdraft protection for check writing as well as debit card use, a risky proposition given that many vendors charge their own penalty fees for bounced checks.
One doubts that these steps will satisfy the concerns of those in Congress who have proposed legislation to limit overdraft fees.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Peer Review of General Law Review Articles. Brian Leiter this morning posted a link to PRSM -- A consortium of law reviews engaging peer review processes. Journals that have signed on to the consortium include The South Carolina Law Review, The Mississippi Law Journal, Stanford Law Review, and the Wake Forest Law Review. It will be curious to see if this is successful.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Happily, Bernanke stated today at the Brookings Institute that he believes that the growth we are seeing in the economy suggests that the recession is technically over. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate, currently around 9.7%, will be slow to come down. This will leave many still struggling with the pace of a slower recovery. This is good news, for sure. Since last fall we were bracing for another "Great Depression," pehaps we can be contented with simply riding out slow economic growth. And, of course, Bernanke emphasized yet again the need for regulatory overhaul of some type. Perhaps the more times we hear this, the more likely it might be that action will follow. Let's hope.
Monday, September 14, 2009
This one wasn't hard to predict: credit card issuing banks are already making lemons out of lemondate with the new regulations aimed at curbing abuses. Business Week reports (no link available) that issuers are expecting new fee income (especially from cardholders who pay off their balances in full every month or don't use their cards very often) to more than make up for the losses caused by the new regs. Prohibit them from raising rates without 45 days' notice, and they all switch to variable rates (jumping throung one huge loophole in the regs). Prohibit marketing to college students "near" campus, and they set up tables two blocks away, say near a fraternity or sorority house. For those of us teaching commercial law and regulation, consumer protection, and administrative law, this is one more chapter in the saga of regulators' introducing rules that both fail to curb the real abuses, as well as increasing the abusive potential of the work-arounds put in place by the industry. When are we going to learn?
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Israeli claimed unconscionability should prevent the application of the forum clause since: (1) he did not read the price list and (2) it was in Italian, which he could not read, even if he tried. The court, agreeing that there was some procedural unconscionability, rule that the forum selection clause was not substantively unconscionable. Not only was Israeli's claim that he did not read the contract a "nonstarter," his claim that the price list was in Italian was also a loser:
Equally unpersuasive is plaintiff's argument that the forum selection
clause was written in a foreign language. "[Plaintiff] makes much of
the fact that the written order form is entirely in Italian and that [Plaintiff]
. . . neither spoke nor read Italian. This fact is of no assistance
to [Plaintiff's] position. We find it nothing short of astounding
that an individual, purportedly experience in commercial matters, would sign a
contract in a foreign language and expect not to be bound simply because he
could not comprehend its terms. We find nothing in the CISG that might
counsel this type of reckless behavior and nothing that signals any retreat
from the proposition that parties who sign contracts will be bound by them
regardless of whether they have read them or understood them.
Id. (quoting MCC-Marble Ceramic Center, Inc. v. Ceramica Nuova D'Agostino, 144 F.3d 1384, 1389 n.9 (1998)).
This outcome holds no surprise to me. Quite simply, the party who chooses to do business in a language that they do not understand bears the risk of having done so. Israeli did not speak Italian and did not arrange for a translation. As such, he bore the risk of having done so. While this is not a case where both parties subjectively understood they chose to resolve all disputes in Turin, Italy, the forum selection clause is easily allocated to Israel who could have avoided the misunderstanding. Off to Turin, Italy he should go!