With only 100 days until the new Military Lending Act (MLA) rule takes effect on October 3, 2016, many financial institutions have begun enacting procedures to ensure they are compliant with the new regulation by the effective date. With the implementation of this new rule, financial institutions continue to work towards full compliance with the requirements imposed by the Department of Defense (DoD), but there are growing pains. As this deadline draws near, there are several important compliance concerns that financial institutions must keep in mind and a number of issues where the industry is concerned about unclear language.

What types of credit are covered by the new MLA rule?

The 2007 MLA rule was limited to three specific types of products: payday loans, vehicle title loans, and refund anticipation loans. However, under the new rule, the MLA will cover a far broader range of products. The DoD sought to match the definition of credit under the Truth in Lending Act’s (TILA) implementing regulation—Regulation Z—so the new MLA rule will cover any credit that is (i) primarily for personal, family, or household purposes, and (ii) either subject to a finance charge under Regulation Z or payable by written agreement in more than four installments.

However, the new MLA rule excludes four specific types of transactions:

  • Residential mortgages, which are defined as credit transactions secured by an interest in a dwelling. This includes purchase money home mortgages, as well as construction mortgages, refinance mortgages, home equity loans, home equity lines of credit, and reverse mortgages.
  • Motor vehicle purchase loans that are secured by the vehicle being purchased. Importantly, motor vehicle refinance loans are not excluded, and therefore are covered by the new MLA rule.
  • Personal property purchase loans that are secured by the personal property that is being purchased. As with motor vehicle refinance loans, any refinance or other non-purchase loan secured by personal property is not exempt from MLA compliance.
  • Any transaction exempt from TILA (other than pursuant to a state exemption under 12 CFR § 1026.29) or otherwise not subject to disclosure requirements under Regulation Z (such as business-purpose loans).

How do I determine if a customer is a covered borrower under the MLA? What is the MLA safe harbor?

The MLA only applies to “covered borrowers,” a term that includes individuals who are servicemembers or the dependents of servicemembers at the time a qualifying loan was originated. Under the new MLA rule, there are four different safe harbors that a creditor may use to determine if a customer is a covered borrower:

  • Online MLA Database (Individual Record Request): This is a free resource provided by the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) that requires the lender to manually enter a customer’s last name and date of birth/Social Security number to obtain a single result from a website. It provides a results certificate in seconds if the database is operational.
  • Online MLA Database (Batch Record Request): This is a free resource provided by the DMDC that permits a creditor to upload a spreadsheet with identifying information for up to 250,000 individuals, and the system provides results within 24 hours if the database is operational.
  • DMDC Direct Connection: This is a free resource provided by the DMDC that will permit certain large creditors to access the DMDC through a direct data link and obtain results instantaneously. The DMDC is still working to set this up and there will only be a handful of connections available to the largest creditors.
  • Consumer Reporting Agency: Under the MLA rule, a code in a consumer report received from a consumer reporting agency can also provide safe harbor protection. Although there are many benefits to this approach, there will be a cost associated with it, and it is unclear if it will be available prior to the October 3, 2016 implementation deadline.

As long as a creditor retains the results of the safe harbor search, these results are “legally conclusive,” even if the customer was in fact on military service at the time of origination or account opening.

What is the Military APR (MAPR)?

The new MLA rule, like its 2007 predecessor, applies a MAPR cap of 36 percent to any debt that is covered by the MLA. The MAPR includes both the finance charges that are included under the Regulation Z APR calculation, as well as credit insurance premiums, debt suspension fees, ancillary product fees, and certain application and participation fees, among other costs and fees.

The MAPR need not be disclosed. However, in many instances, creditors need to refine their existing systems—or create a new system—to calculate the MAPR on a billing period-by-billing period basis to ensure that the MAPR never exceeds 36 percent in any billing cycle for as long as the customer remains a covered borrower.

What other protections are provided by the new MLA rule?

In addition to the 36 percent MAPR limit, the MLA rule also places several other limits on the terms of an extension of credit to a covered borrower. Under the MLA, a creditor may not:

  • Roll over, renew, repay, refinance or consolidate any consumer credit extended to the covered borrower by the same creditor with the proceeds of other consumer credit extended by that creditor to the same covered borrower
  • Require the borrower to waive his or her right to legal recourse under any state or federal law
  • Require the borrower to submit to arbitration or impose onerous legal notice requirements in the event of a dispute
  • Demand unreasonable notice from the borrower as a condition for a legal action
  • Use a check or other method to access a consumer’s financial account, with certain exceptions
  • Use a vehicle title as a security for an obligation, with certain exceptions
  • Require the consumer to establish an allotment to repay the debt
  • Prohibit the consumer from prepaying the credit or impose a prepayment penalty

What disclosures must be provided under the new MLA rule?

The MLA rule requires three different written disclosures to the consumer before or at the time the borrower becomes obligated on the account: (1) a statement regarding the MAPR (which is not a disclosure of the numeric MAPR and may be satisfied using a model statement provided in the rule itself); (2) any disclosures required by Regulation Z; and (3) a clear description of the payment obligation of the borrower (which may be a payment schedule for closed-end credit or an account opening disclosure for open-end credit).

In addition, the MAPR statement and the description of the payment obligation must also be offered to the consumer orally before or at the time the borrower becomes obligated on the account. A creditor can satisfy this requirement by either providing the information to the customer in person, or by providing a toll-free telephone number that the consumer may call to obtain this information.

Are credit cards covered under the new MLA rule?

Yes, credit cards are covered under the new MLA rule. However, credit card issuers have an additional year to comply with the MLA rule’s requirements and need not have their compliance plans in place until October 3, 2017.

As we approach the October 3, 2016 implementation date, what are some areas of uncertainty under the MLA rule?

As it is currently written, there are several loan products and scenarios covered by the new rule where it is unclear how regulators and the courts will apply the MLA’s protections. Among the areas where there is some uncertainty under the MLA are the following:

  • How can creditors ensure full compliance with the oral notice requirements under the MLA? Is it necessary to provide account-specific disclosures orally before the loan has been made and boarded onto the lender’s system?
  • For creditors issuing credit based upon a telephone call from a consumer, how can they best comply with the requirement to provide written disclosures before the borrower becomes obligated?
  • How can creditors best structure their account agreements so that they can use one account agreement for both MLA and non-MLA customers?
  • If a creditor assigns an account to a third party, can the third party also enjoy the protections of the MLA covered borrower safe harbor?
  • If the consumer reporting agencies have not reached an agreement with the DMDC to provide active duty information, how can financial institutions determine military status when issuing credit through instantaneous, automated (e.g. online or retail point-of-sale) channels?