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Enforcement

Consumer advisory: You’ve got options when it comes to overdraft

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Today, we’re announcing an enforcement action against Alabama-based Regions Bank for charging overdraft fees to consumers who had not opted-in for overdraft coverage. We’re requiring Regions Bank to fully refund all affected consumers – hundreds of thousands of consumers have already been refunded $49 million in fees. We’re also fining the company $7.5 million for its illegal actions and its slow response to correct the errors.

We want to take this opportunity to remind you that you have a choice when it comes to overdraft protection programs and these programs can be costly.

What is an overdraft?

An overdraft occurs when you don’t have enough money in your account to cover a transaction, but the bank pays for it anyway. Transactions include ATM withdrawals and debit card purchases. Many banks and credit unions offer overdraft protection programs in which your institution will pay for the transaction and charge you a fee (in addition to requiring you to repay the overdraft amount). For most banks, the overdraft fee is a fixed amount regardless of the amount of the transaction. And, you could incur several fees in a single day.

Overdraft programs are optional

You can choose not to have debit overdraft. Knowing your status allows you to decide what is best for you. Your bank or credit union can’t charge you for overdraft fees on ATM or debit card transactions unless you’re enrolled in an overdraft protection program.

If you decide not to enroll, your bank will likely decline ATM or debit card purchases when your account doesn’t have enough funds to cover them, but you won’t be charged a fee.

You should also keep in mind that banks and credit unions are allowed to charge you overdraft fees when the bank or credit union pays a check or certain recurring electronic payments that would have overdrawn your account, even if you did not opt in to overdraft protection.

How you can reduce or eliminate overdraft fees

  • You can opt out of overdraft protection programs anytime. This means that your debit or ATM card may be declined if you don’t have enough money in your account to cover a purchase or ATM withdrawal. However, it also means you won’t be charged for these transactions.
  • Link your checking account to a savings account. If you overdraw your checking account, your bank will take money from your linked savings account to cover the difference. You may be charged a transfer fee when this happens, but it’s usually much lower than the fee for an overdraft.
  • Ask your financial institution if you’re eligible for a line of credit or linked credit card to cover overdrafts. You may have to pay a fee when the credit line is tapped, and you will owe interest on the amount you borrowed, but this is still a much cheaper way to cover a brief cash shortfall.
  • Track your balance as carefully as you can and sign up for low balance alerts to let you know when you’re at risk of overdrawing your account. If you have regular electronic transfers, such as rent, mortgage payments or utility bills, make sure you know how much they will be and on what day they occur. You also need to know when the funds you have deposited become available for your use.
  • Shop around for a different account. Get a copy of your bank or credit union’s list of account fees, or ask about them, then compare them with account fees at other banks or credit unions. Assess your habits honestly and consider penalty fees, such as overdraft and non-sufficient funds charges, as well as monthly maintenance, ATM surcharge, and other service fees. When comparing banks or credit unions, also consider factors such as the hours of operation, locations, access to public transportation, available products and services, and reputation for customer service.

You can get a printer-friendly version of this information about overdraft options to share with friends and colleagues.

You can also check out Ask CFPB for more information about overdraft protection programs and fees. If you have a problem with overdraft fees or any other financial products, you can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372.

The VA doesn’t send you mortgage ads

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We’re announcing an enforcement action against a lender that wrongfully used the logos of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). RMK Financial Corporation (also doing business as Majestic Home Loans) sent out ads to veterans and other VA-eligible borrowers that misled consumers to think that RMK’s products were endorsed by the VA, or even sent by the VA, and they misrepresented the terms and costs of the mortgages themselves. This is the fifth enforcement action we’ve completed in the past two months against companies using deceptive mortgage advertising.

Deceptive advertising to mislead consumers

RMK sent out mailings to over 100,000 consumers across the country. These ads used the name, seal, and logos of the VA, giving the impression that the VA had sent the ad or endorsed the product. Also, the ads misrepresented the price of the advertised mortgages, including whether the interest rate was fixed or variable. Sometimes, important disclosures about loan rates were hidden on the back of the ads or buried in fine print. Envelopes were plastered with warnings about “fines or imprisonment” under US law.

Two years ago, along with the Federal Trade Commission, we warned companies that were placing mortgage ads directed at consumers, some of which targeted those eligible for VA benefits. Since then, we’ve continued to investigate mortgage lenders, including RMK.

The VA won’t advertise to you

Mike Frueh, Director of the VA Home Loan Program, had this to say about mortgage offers that represent themselves as coming from the VA:

“VA will never email or mail out solicitations for our loan program. VA does not endorse or sponsor any particular lender; instead, we work to ensure all Veterans and Servicemembers can safely use the benefit they’ve earned, at the lender of their choice. If you have any questions about your home loan benefit, please visit the VA website, or call VA at (877) 827-3702.”

Here’s what you can do

While we may not reduce the volume of your junk mail as a result of today’s action, we hope that we’ve called attention to a significant problem. Here’s how you can avoid being taken in by similar offers:

  • Be a savvy consumer— look at everything an advertiser has to say about the product they’re selling. Today’s action involved a mortgage lender that placed flashy seals and logos front and center, but hid important disclosures in the fine print on the back of their ads.
  • Get information from trusted sources — even if an ad is plastered in official-looking seals and impressive endorsements, check with a trusted source to learn all you can about the product being advertised. Learn more about VA loans and refinances. Ask CFPB also has answers to some common questions.
  • Let us know about misleading ads— if you see an ad that looks deceptive or misleading, or just looks too good to be true, submit a complaint to us. We accept complaints about mortgages and other financial products marketed to veterans, such as consumer loans. Information you provide informs our work every day.

We’re suing a robo-call debt collector

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Today, we’re announcing that we filed a lawsuit against a robo-call debt collection operation, including its ringleaders, their companies, and service providers. The debt collectors allegedly sent millions of robo-calls to threaten, harass, and deceive consumers to collect debt that consumers do not owe, or were not owed to the debt collectors themselves. The complaint alleges that the scheme depended on the participation of the telemarketing company that sent the robo-calls and the payment processors that allowed the collectors to access consumers’ bank accounts.

Look for warning signs

If you don’t recognize a debt from a debt collector, ask the caller for their name, company, address, telephone number, and professional license number. If a caller is unable to provide you information about his company, or can’t verify information, do not give money to the caller or company. Learn more about warning signs that could signal a debt collection scam.

You have certain rights to ask a debt collector to verify debt. You can send a letter to the debt collector to request more information.

If you have a complaint about debt collection, you can submit a complaint online or by calling us at (855) 411-2372.

Special announcement for Corinthian students

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Along with the U.S. Department of Education, today we announced more than $480 million in forgiveness for borrowers who took out Corinthian College’s high-cost private student loans. ECMC Group, the new owner of a number of Corinthian schools, will not operate a private student loan program for seven years and agreed to a series of new consumer protections.

As part of today’s announcement, we’re also releasing a special bulletin for current and former students enrolled at Corinthian-owned schools with more information. We urge you to read it carefully so you fully understand your options and obligations on your student loans.

If you experience difficulty with your student loan you can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372. You can also find more information about options for repaying your student loan on our website.

Rohit Chopra is the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman. To learn more about our work for students and young Americans, visit consumerfinance.gov/students.

Freedom Stores to provide over $2.5 million in refunds and penalties

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Today we, along with the Attorneys General of Virginia and North Carolina, announced an enforcement action against a chain of stores doing business outside military bases across the United States. Under the terms of a proposed consent order, Freedom Stores, Inc., Freedom Acceptance Corporation, and Military Credit Services LLC, as well as their owners and chief executives will be required to provide over $2.5 million in consumer redress and penalties for unfair and abusive debt-collection practices, including illegal lawsuits, unauthorized withdrawals from third-party accounts, and calls to servicemembers’ commanding officers.

Our investigation found that the companies illegally filed thousands of lawsuits in Virginia against consumers who didn’t live or purchase goods there: over 3,500 lawsuits in Norfolk, Virginia in two-plus years, almost all resulting in default judgments against consumers, some of whom didn’t even know they’d been sued until they discovered their bank accounts had been garnished.

The companies also buried a clause in the fine print of their contracts that supposedly gave the companies permission to contact the servicemember’s commanding officer. Freedom Acceptance and Military Credit Services then went on to tell servicemember’s chain-of-command about the debts, effectively pressuring the servicemember into paying the companies. These are unfair practices against military personnel, who are afraid of losing rank, pay, or even a security clearance if their commanding officer feels they are not living up to their financial obligations. We’ve heard from a number of servicemembers that they even paid a debt they knew they didn’t owe, just to avoid getting in trouble with their commander.

Like many companies dealing with servicemembers, Freedom Acceptance and Military Credit Services used the military allotment system as a quick and convenient way to get paid. But the companies also required customers to provide them with a back-up payment source in case the allotment didn’t go through for some reason. And if the companies’ allotment processor predicted that a servicemember’s allotment might fail, they went ahead and charged the back-up account without waiting to see if the allotment went through or not. So those servicemembers, when their allotment payment did go through after all, ended up making double payments, without their advance knowledge or consent, leading to overdraft fees, insufficient funds charges and problems paying their other bills.

Additionally, the companies’ debt collectors would sometimes simply take money from checking or credit accounts they had on file of family members or friends who had previously made a payment on the servicemembers’ behalf. These debits were made without notifying the family member or friend or getting consent for the charges – simply taking the cash because the companies had the account access numbers on file from a previous transaction.

We get more complaints about debt collection from servicemembers, veterans and their families than any other issue. This case is a perfect illustration of bad practices that are perpetrated against military personnel who owe a debt.

Our military families deserve better than the treatment they received from Freedom, and I applaud the action taken today by both the CFPB and state authorities to call Freedom Stores and its affiliates and owners to account.

If you are a commanding officer who is receiving calls from someone trying to collect a debt, or a servicemember who is getting threatened or victimized about a debt, we’d like to hear from you. Your complaints can help us spotlight and stop illegal actions like the ones in this case.

Special notice for Corinthian students

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Today, we announced a lawsuit against for-profit college chain Corinthian Colleges, Inc. We allege that the company lured in tens of thousands of students to take out private loans to cover expensive tuition costs by advertising bogus job prospects and career services. Our lawsuit also alleges that Corinthian used illegal debt collection tactics to strong-arm students into paying back those loans while still in school.

Corinthian Colleges, Inc. is one of the largest for-profit college companies in the United States, operating more than 100 school campuses under the names Everest, Heald, and WyoTech.

Today, we’re also publishing a special notice for current and former Corinthian students to help you navigate your options in this time of uncertainty, including information on loan discharge options.

If you experience difficulty with your student loan you can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372. You can also find more information about options for repaying your student loan on our website.