A California federal court has held that the purchaser of small-dollar consumer loans is the “true lender” and thus subject to state usury laws, even though a separate tribal entity funded and closed the loans in its own name. See Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. CashCall, Inc*. The court’s holding, which adopts the arguments of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) and renders the loans serviced by CashCall unenforceable, challenges the business model that many marketplace lending platforms use to offer alternative, unsecured loans to consumers. Generally speaking, partnerships between marketplace platforms and tribal entities, state-chartered (and federally insured) banks, or national banks are intended to protect the platforms from the substantial licensing and compliance burden of state lending and licensing laws, and also to permit loans that might otherwise exceed the borrower’s home state usury limit. The recent CashCall decision, however, is another reminder that state and federal regulators, as well as plaintiffs’ attorneys, may be able to pierce these partnerships where a court finds that the financial institution funding and closing the loan does not bear substantial risk on those loans.
Last August, we wrote about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) complaint against NDG Financial Corp. and how it represented a continuing evolution of the CFPB’s theory that certain state law violations might be predicates for federal law claims of unfair, deceptive, and abusive conduct (UDAAP). We refer to this as the “CashCall theory,” because the CFPB first articulated this novel approach to UDAAP enforcement in its complaint against CashCall, Inc. In December, the CFPB took two more steps down this road.
In 2013, the CFPB filed a complaint against CashCall, Inc. and others, alleging that their conduct in collecting on payday loans that allegedly violated certain states’ usury and/or licensing requirements constituted unfair, deceptive and abusive acts and practices (UDAAPs) under federal law. Late last week, the CFPB struck again, filing suit against NDG Financial Corp. and others, making similar claims. The complaint against NDG, however, both expands the list of states where the CFPB alleges that collecting on a usurious and/or unlicensed payday loan is a UDAAP and changes the theory of abusiveness upon which the CFPB relies.