Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

June 17, 2013

Why We Need The CFPB

By David Reiss

Judge Illston (N.D. CA.) has preliminarily approved a settlement of a class action in Jordan et al. v. Paul Financial LLC et al., No. 3:07-cv-04496 (June 14, 2013). The class action arises from lender practices during the Subprime Boom of the early 2000s.  The class is composed of

All individuals who within the four-year period preceding the filing of Plaintiffs’ original complaint through the date that notice is mailed to the Class (the “Class Period”), obtained an Option ARM loan from Paul Financial, LLC that either (a) was secured by real property located in the State of California, or (b) was secured by real property located outside the State of California where the loan was approved in or disseminated from California, which loan had the following characteristics: (i) the yearly numerical interest rate listed on page one of the Note is 3.0% or less; (ii) in the section entitled “Interest,” the Promissory Note states that this rate “may” instead of “will” or “shall” change, (e.g., “The interest rate I will pay may change”); (iii) the yearly numerical interest rate listed on page one of the Note was only effective through the due date for the first monthly payment and then adjusted to a rate which is the sum of an “index” and “margin;” and (iv) the Note does not contain any statement that paying the amount listed as the “initial monthly payment(s),” will definitely result in negative amortization or deferred interest. (2)

Of the problems alleged by the lead plaintiffs and given credibility by the judge’s order, the most disturbing is that the lender described a rate that was fixed for only one month as a “yearly” one. It is hard to see how consumers can parse the language of a mortgage note on their own, especially in California where borrowers typically are not represented by counsel in a residential real estate transaction.

Many commentators claim that more disclosure and financial education are all that are necessary to ensure that consumers have access to credit on reasonable terms.  But residential finance transactions are too complex under the best of circumstances. And they  become just plain abusive when lenders describe an interest rate that adjusts after one month as “fixed.”  And they become too predatory when an interest rate that adjusts monthly is described as a “yearly” one.

This case, arising from lender behavior during the Boom, reminds us why we now have the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, post-Bust.  When pundits inevitably claim that even reasonable consumer protection regulation initiatives are too paternalistic and too restrictive of credit, let’s remind them of this case and the many others like it.

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