Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hooray for Bank of America's New Overdraft Rules?

Is the end of the $39 cup of coffee in sight (See How Your $4 Cup of Coffee Can Cost You)? Today, Bank of America announced that it is doing away with debit card overdraft fees and will just decline consumer transactions that result in an overdraft on their debit card (See Bank of America to End Bank Overdraft Fees). Seems that is just what consumer groups have said for some time that banks should do, but that some banks claimed they couldn't technologically do. Bank of America is crediting itself with listening to consumer preferences on debit cards and their desire to help customers avoid unexpected fees. Bank of America has turned into the kinder, consumer friendly bank? Apparently, they are even notifying customers now when an ATM withdrawl will result in an overdraft (and a $35 fee), rather than just pushing the transaction through. But not to worry, Bank of America will continue to have overdraft coverage that most consumers want on their checks and routine account payments. Rather than trying to convince customers that they really want the $39 cup of coffee, Bank of America has apparently caved on this one. Good for them. Doing the right thing by customers (even if under pressure from the Federal Reserve) is a big step. Hopefully, this will set the tone for other large banks to follow suit. Apparently Citibank has stopped charging overdrafts on debit and ATM transactions.

For those banks not doing away with these fees, the Federal Reserve's new opt-in rules on debit cards are due to come into effect on July 1, 2010. The Federal Reserve’s Final Rules came down on the side of the consumer on many issues. Because the Truth-in-Lending Act applies to credit cards, but does not apply to debit cards, the Federal Reserve’s Final Rules are under the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (15 U.S.C. 1693 et seq.) (EFTA). The thrust of the Final Rules is primarily disclosure and consent based, rather than tackling some of the troublesome banking practices involved in the processing of overdrafts for enrolled customers and the amount banks charge for overdraft services. Specifically, the Final Rules ensure that:
(1) banks cannot enroll customers in overdraft services for ATM and one time debit card transactions without their consent (an opt-in);
(2) banks do not condition the payment of overdrafts on other items, such as checks and ACH transactions, on the customer opting-in for ATM and debit card services and cannot decline overdrafts on checks and ACH transactions for this reason;
(3) banks provide the same account terms, conditions and features to customers whether or not they opt-in; and
(4) the opt-in approach applies to existing and new accounts beginning July 1, 2010.
The Final Rules specifically declined proposals regarding the practice of debit card holds, suggesting instead that banks, networks, and merchants should address this problem.

With any luck, we'll see other large banks doing away with the debit and ATM overdrafts over the coming months. Seems easy enough just to deny the transaction at the counter. Not sure I'd say this, but good job Bank of America.


Thursday, March 4, 2010 Presidential Reunion

In case you've not seen it, former Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush, Ford, Carter and Reagan wake up President Obama in the middle of the night to urge him to pass the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). One of the funniest parts is President Bush commenting that he had no idea that when he put the Iraq war on his credit card, he'd be paying 28%! Here it is:


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New Sales Survey Available!

I've just put the new Sales Survey up on SSRN. It will be out in the Business Lawyer sometime next summer. An excerpt regarding a a fun warranty case, Nigro v. Lee, 63 A.D.3d 1490 (N.Y.A.D. 3 Dept. 2009) about a car sold on Ebay:
Whether a seller’s statements made during negotiations or through advertising constitute an express warranty is a common point of contention between disgruntled buyers and their sellers. The Supreme Court, Appellate Division, of New York upheld summary judgment in favor of the defendant seller from Nevada who advertised a 1995 Mercedes Benz automobile on Ebay as “gorgeous” and with just minor blemishes, but sold the car “as is.” Upon arrival of the car to the buyer in New York, the buyer discovered the car had been damaged in an accident and had been painted, the upholstery was stained, the undercoating was worn out and parts were rusted, and that body work would cost $1,741.66. While the court recognized that any description of the goods could create an express warranty, the seller’s generalized expression was merely the seller's opinion of the car and constitutes “no more than ‘puffery,’ which should not have been relied upon as an inducement to purchase the vehicle,” particularly in light of the fact that this was a used car transaction. Moreover, the plaintiff could have discovered any deficiencies in the car by performing a routine inspection, which he did not do.
See U.C.C. 2-313.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

New Credit Card Rules Go Into Action

Happily, the CARD act provisions are in full effect now. So, what to look for on your statements? I think the disclosure about how long it will take you to pay off your credit card if you only pay the minimum is helpful, especially when coupled with how much you need to pay in order to pay off the debt in just three years. But, consumers must actually read the statements to get the disclosure . . .

CNN has a good piece on credit card reform (click here, as I could not embed it). With card companies increasing rates, there has been a greater proliferation of high rate cards. First Premier has a card for high risk customers that carries a 59.9% interest rate! Yikes! Interestingly, the National Credit Union Administration caps credit unions at 18% interest on credit union cards by law, but private card companies have no such similar limit (See LA Times, Seattle Times). Of course, its all about access to credit, according to the American Banker's Association. While I can understand access to credit and the need for people to build credit, 59.9% is over-the-top and at that rate perhaps some people should not be getting credit, as the cost is too high. Perhaps there is a role for the traditional usury statutes again.

Whose to blame for all this mess? Well, the Supreme Court had a part to play with its 1978 decision in Marquette vs. First Omaha Services making it legal under the National Bank Act for banks to locate in states without interest rate restrictions. Although the Court recognized that this would impair the effectiveness of state usury laws, the problem is "better addressed to the wisdom of Congress than to the judgment of this Court." Despite the passage of the CARD Act, Congress has not addressed the interest rate differential. Perhaps the increases in rates after the CARD Act might provide some impetus for changes to the extent banks overreach in their charging of customers.


UCC Legislative Update

It has been a fairly quiet eight months on the UCC legislative front since my last update.

Revised Article 1

As of March 1, 2010, Revised Article 1 was in effect in thirty-seven states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

State legislatures continue to grapple with the definition of "good faith," although the uniform § R1-201(b)(20) definition has the upper hand. Of the 37 enacting states, 26 have adopted the uniform definition, while 11 have retained the pre-revised definition that, in conjunction with § 2-103(1)(b), imposes a different good faith standard on merchants and non-merchants. Effective July 1, 2010, one of those eleven minority states (Indiana) will join the majority as SB 501, enacted in 2009 primarily for the purpose of amending Articles 3 and 4, also revises Ind. Code § 26-1-1-201(19) to require all parties to act honestly and to observe reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing. (At present, Indiana's Revised Article 1 requires only “honesty in fact.”) This change will take effect July 1, 2010, and further tip the balance among enacting states in favor of the unitary good faith definition in uniform R1-201(b)(20).

With many state legislatures occupied with more pressing issues of the moment, 2009 yielded only three new adoptions -- Alaska, Maine, and Oregon -- down from five in 2008, and seven in 2007. While a downward trend in new enactments eventually becomes inevitable once two-thirds of the states have signed on, 2009's three enactments were the fewest in a year since 2003 (when Idaho became the third state overall to enact Revised Article 1).

As of March 1, only two states -- Mississippi and Wisconsin -- appear to be serious candidates to enact Revised Article 1 in 2010.

Mississippi SB 2419, introduced and amended (to replace a choice-of-law provision that appeared to have derived from the original § R1-301 that all 37 enacting states have declined to adopt and the ALI and NCCUSL have disavowed with one that reflected the substitute § R1-301 the ALI and NCCUSL promulgated in 2008) in January, unanimously passed the Mississippi Senate on February 10. It is presently before the House Judiciary Committee.

Wisconsin AB 687, introduced on January 25 and amended on February 16 to replace the uniform R1-201(b)(20) "good faith" definition with the pre-revised 1-201(19) version, received the Assembly Committee on Financial Institutions's unanimous approval on February 26. It is presently before the Assembly Rules Committee.

Two other bills, Massachusetts HB 89 and Washington SB 5155, seem less likely to produce results.

Massachusetts HB 89, the fifth attempt to enact Revised Article 1 in the Commonwealth, was assigned to the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies on January 20, 2009. No further action had been reported as of March 1, 2010.

Washington SB 5155, introduced on January 15, 2009, appeared to be drawn directly from the language of official Revised Article 1 circa 2001, including the original version of § R1-301. At an initial public hearing on January 23, 2009, all those testifying in support of and in opposition to the bill opposed the choice-of-law provision. The Washington Senate appears to have taken no further action except to "reintroduce and retain [the bill] in present status" on January 11, 2010.

Article 2 and 2A Amendments

As of March 1, 2010, only three state legislatures (Kansas, Nevada, and Oklahoma) have considered bills proposing to enact the 2003 amendments to UCC Articles 2 and 2A. The Kansas and Nevada bills died on the vine.

In 2005, Oklahoma amended Sections 2-105 and 2A-103 of its Commercial Code to add that the definition of “goods” for purposes of Articles 2 and 2A, respectively, “does not include information,” see 12A Okla. Stat. Ann. §§ 2-105(1) & 2A-103(1)(h) (West 2009), and amended its Section 2-106 to add that “contract for sale” for purposes of Article 2 “does not include a license of information,” see id. § 2-106(1). The net effect is similar to having enacted Amended §§ 2-103(k) & 2A-103(1)(n), both of which exclude information from the meaning of “goods” for purposes of Article 2 and 2A, respectively. Otherwise, no state has enacted any of the 2003 amendments.

While the list of states enacting any of the 2003 amendments may not change in the near future, the number of amendments Oklahoma enacts may. Introduced on February 1, 2010, Oklahoma HB 3104 proposes amendments to forty-nine sections of Article 2 and four sections of Article 2A. The bill includes neither the reformulation of Sections 2-206 and 2-207 nor the addition of Sections 2-313A and 2-313B included in the 2003 Article 2 amendments. Many of the amendments appear designed to facilitate electronic signatures and transactions and to accommodate the terminology surrounding them that grows out of UETA, E-SIGN, and Revised UCC Articles 1 and 7, or to otherwise align Article 2 and 2A terminology with that used in Revised Articles 1 and 7. That is not to say that HB 3104 proposes only cosmetic changes to Oklahoma's versions of Articles 2 and 2A. Several of the proposed amendments alter existing substantive rights, obligations, or remedies. Some of those alterations (e.g., raising the § 2-201 floor from $500 to $5,000) do not seem to be inherently controversial; some (e.g., granting/recognizing a right to cure after a justifiable revocation) may or may not be controversial depending on how courts have interpreted the current Article 2; and some (e.g., giving sellers the right to recover consequential damages) do seem inherently controversial. More on this if the bill progresses.

Article 3 and 4 Amendments

As of March 1, 2010, the 2002 amendments to Articles 3 and 4 were in effect in eight states: Arkansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma (for a second time), South Carolina, and Texas. They will take effect in Indiana on July 1, 2010.

As of March 1, 2010, the only pending Articles 3 and 4 bill is Massachusetts HB 90, which has been languishing for more than a year.

Revised Article 7

As of March 1, 2010, Revised UCC Article 7 was in effect in thirty-six states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Additional bills are currently pending in Georgia, Massachusetts, Washington, and Wisconsin; but only the Wisconsin bill appears to be making any progress.

First introduced on February 18, 2009, Georgia HB 451 won unanimous approval in the Georgia House on March 12, and the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended passage on March 26. However, the legislature adjourned on April 3 without a third reading and final action in the senate. HB 451 was "recommitted" to the Georgia Senate on January 11, 2010. No further action has been reported.

Massachusetts HB 89, which also proposes adopting Revised Article 1, was assigned to the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies on January 20, 2009. No further action has been reported.

Washington SB 5154 was introduced on January 15, 2009, scheduled for a public hearing on January 23, 2009, and then stalled, like its Revised Article 1 counterpart, but without as compelling a reason. It was "reintroduced and retained in present status" on January 11, 2010. No further action has been reported.

Wisconsin AB 688 was introduced on January 25, 2010. On February 22, the Assembly Committee on Jobs, the Economy and Small Business unanimously recommended passage. The bill is now before the Assembly Rules Committee.

ESPN on How to Create Markets

Humorous link on supply and demand. Though I must agree. Mike Greenberg is far more valuable than Kenny Mayne!