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USAA FSB to pay $3.5M fine and make restitution

San Antonio, TX
01/02/2019
Fine Amount: 
$3.5 million plus restitution
Penalty Type: 
Issued by: 

The CFPB has announced a settlement with USAA Federal Savings Bank, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. The Bureau's Consent Order, issued on January 2, 2019, identifies violations of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, Regulation E, and the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010. The Order states "USAA violated EFTA, its implementing Regulation E, and the CFPA by failing to properly stop Preauthorized Electronic Fund Transfers and failing to initiate and conduct adequate error resolution investigations. Respondent also engaged in unfair acts or practices prohibited under the CFPA by reopening closed consumer deposit accounts in certain circumstances without providing timely notice. USAA consented to the issuance of the Order by the Bureau without admitting or denying any of the findings of fact or conclusions of law except the facts establishing the Bureau's jurisdiction.

The Bureau found that:

  • On numerous occasions prior to 2015, USAA failed to enter stop payment orders after account holders notified the Bank of their desire to stop payment on Preauthorized EFTs, including by refusing to enter stop payments or by requiring consumers to contact the merchants initiating the EFTs as a prerequisite to implementing stop payment orders. In some of these instances, USAA failed to enter stop payment orders because consumers requested to stop payments to payday loan lenders. These actions were found to be in violation of section 907(e) of EFTA and section 1005.10(c) of Regulation E.
  • Prior to May 2013, USAA did not consistently honor oral stop payment requests for 14 days. Under EFTA and Regulation E, an oral stop payment request for a Preauthorized EFT is binding on the institution for 14 days. Failure to honor such oral stop payment requests violated section 907(a) of EFTA and section 1005.10(c)(2) of Regulation E.
  • Until January 2015, USAA lacked a systemic mechanism to stop payment of preauthorized EFTs processed via a debit card, and a result , failed to vlock thousands of preauthorized EFTs for which consumers requested stop payment orders. (Since January 2015, USAA has been able to stop debit card preauthorized EFTs identified by merchants as "recurring.") USAA’s failure to stop payment on debit card Preauthorized EFTs violated section 907(a) of EFTA and section 1005.10(c)(1) of Regulation E.
  • On numerous occasions, when consumers notified USAA about suspected errors regarding EFTs that were incorrect, unauthorized, or exceeded the authorization granted by the consumer, USAA failed to promptly initiate Error Resolution Investigations. Through May 2015, as a matter of policy USAA did not investigate reported errors unless the consumer asserting the error submitted a completed WSUD (written statement of unauthorized debit) within 10 days of USAA sending the consumer the form. Through June 2016, USAA had a separate procedure for consumers who notified the Bank of a suspected error concerning a payday loan:
    • Through at least April 2013, the procedure said: “If the account holder wishes to dispute a pay day loan, instruct the account holder to contact the lender to dispute the transaction(s).” On numerous occasions, USAA representatives refused to investigate errors because they concerned payday loans.
    • The procedure further instructed USAA representatives to warn consumers about potential legal and financial consequences of proceeding with an Error Resolution Investigation. For instance, through at least April 2013, the procedure directed USAA representatives to say: “If we determine that the ACH debit in question was authorized, you will be putting your USAA membership at risk. What this means to you is that you may become ineligible to purchase additional USAA products and that existing USAA accounts may be closed. Also, please understand that it is a federal crime to make a false statement to a bank and this is punishable by a fine of up to one million dollars or imprisonment for up to 30 years, or both.” This warning was part of a general conversation with consumers about payday loan contracts. USAA would send WSUD forms only to consumers who said they wanted to proceed after hearing the warning.
    • Through March 2016, USAA required consumers contesting transactions from payday loan lenders to have their WSUDs notarized before submitting them. If a consumer contesting an error concerning a payday loan lender did not provide a notarized WSUD, USAA did not conduct an Error Resolution Investigation.

    USAA’s failure to promptly initiate and conduct Error Resolution Investigations upon notification from consumers of suspected errors violated section 908 of EFTA and section 1005.11 of Regulation E.

  • Until May 2016, USAA lacked a procedure requiring that a reasonable Error Resolution Investigation occur whenever a consumer notified the Bank about a suspected error regarding an EFT. As a result, through May 2016, USAA routinely failed to conduct a reasonable review of all relevant information within its own records prior to making a determination about whether the consumer had asserted a valid error. On numerous occasions during this period:
    • When consumers had transactions with the merchant at issue that predated the disputed transaction, the Bank made the summary determination that no error had occurred, without reasonably considering other evidence in its own records, including the consumer’s assertion that the EFT was unauthorized or an incorrect amount or the bases for the consumer’s assertion; and
    • Even when the consumer did not have a transaction history with the merchant, USAA failed to reasonably consider relevant details in its own records, including the consumer’s account history, the consumer’s assertions that the EFT was unauthorized or an incorrect amount, or the bases for the consumer’s assertion.

    In numerous instances when USAA found no error, a reasonable review of all relevant information within the Bank’s own records would have resulted in a determination in favor of the consumer. As a result of these practices, USAA failed to address adequately the unauthorized or incorrect transactions, as required by law. USAA’s failure to conduct a reasonable review of all relevant records and information in its own records when investigating an error notification violated section 908 of EFTA and section 1005.11(c)(4) of Regulation E.

  • Until November 2016, when USAA received certain types of debits or credits to accounts previously closed by the account holders, the Bank reopened the accounts without obtaining consumers’ prior authorization and providing timely notice to consumers informing them when their accounts had been reopened. When USAA reopened accounts to process debits, some account balances became negative and therefore potentially subject to various fees, including overdraft fees and fees for non-sufficient funds. When USAA reopened an account to process a credit, creditors had the opportunity to initiate debits to the account and draw down the funds, possibly resulting in a negative balance and the accumulation of fees. USAA’s practice of reopening accounts potentially impacted, among others, consumers who had closed their accounts because the stop payment order or error resolution process was ineffective. When USAA processed a credit through an account that USAA had reopened, those funds became available to entities attempting to debit funds from that account, including any entity related to a previous dispute or stop payment request. USAA’s practice of reopening consumer accounts without obtaining consumers’ prior authorization and providing timely notice caused substantial injury to consumers that was not reasonably avoidable or outweighed by any countervailing benefit to consumers or to competition.
  • USAA represents that (a) between July 21, 2011 and November 1, 2016, the Bank reopened 16,980 closed accounts without obtaining consumers’ prior authorization and providing timely notice to consumers; (b) of the consumers whose accounts were reopened, 5,118 incurred fees from USAA totaling an estimated $269,365 as a result of the account reopening; and (c) in July 2017, the Bank reimbursed these 5,118 consumers a total of $270,521, which included the amount of the fees plus interest. By engaging in the acts and practices relating to reopening accounts without notice or authorization, USAA violated sections 1036(a)(1)(B) [prohibiting unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices] and 1031(a) of the CFPA.

In addition to prohibiting further violations of the EFTA and Regulation E, USAA is ordered to take certain affirmative actions:

  • When communicating with consumers who express concern about future EFTs, even if they do not expressly indicate a desire to enter a stop payment, inform them of their right to enter a one-time stop payment or a permanent stop payment;
  • Grant stop payment requests to all consumers who contact the Bank seeking to stop payment on future Preauthorized EFTs within three business days of the EFT;
  • Implement consumer stop payment requests without requiring consumers to contact the merchant initiating the EFT instead of or as a prerequisite to the entry of the stop payment;
  • Inform consumers of their right to enter a stop payment order immediately whenever USAA tells consumers seeking a stop payment about the potential benefits of contacting the merchant who is originating the EFT;
  • Honor stop payment requests for EFTs free of charge for a period of two years from the Effective Date of the Order;
  • Whenever a consumer notifies USAA that a stop payment order was ineffective, refund any stop payment fees charged and reimburse any other related fees incurred in connection with the ineffective stop
    payment order;
  • Whenever a consumer requests to stop payment on a debit card Preauthorized EFT, (i) inform the consumer that the stop payment may not be effective in certain circumstances; (ii) explain that if the transaction posts to the account, the consumer may not be able to seek reimbursement unless the consumer also has revoked authorization for the transaction beforehand; and (iii) if the consumer wants to revoke authorization, advise the consumer to contact the merchant in writing to revoke authorization and provide the consumer with the last-known address for the merchant, if known to the Bank;
  • Whenever a consumer notifies USAA that a stop payment order was ineffective and the reason the stop payment was ineffective was because the merchant designated a debit card EFT as “installment” or initiated a series of one-time debit card EFTs at regular intervals, then assist the consumer in disputing the amount debited;
  • Inform consumers about their options in the event that a consumer notifies USAA that a stop payment order is ineffective, including closing the account and disputing the transaction, and, where applicable, helping the consumer revoke authorization and complete the WSUD or other required forms;
  • Conduct a prompt, thorough, and reasonable Error Resolution Investigation whenever a consumer notifies the Bank of a suspected error;
  • Promptly commence Error Resolution Investigations without requiring consumers asserting an error to contact the merchant that originated the EFT instead of or as a prerequisite to the Error Resolution Investigation;
  • Promptly investigate all errors asserted by USAA consumers, without regard to whether the consumer has submitted a WSUD;
  • Refrain from requiring that consumers who have asserted an alleged error have their WSUDs notarized;
  • During the course of an Error Resolution Investigation, reasonably consider all relevant information in the Bank’s records that pertains to the account for which the assertion of error is made, including, but not limited to, the consumer’s oral or written statements regarding the error;
  • During the course of an Error Resolution Investigation initiated due to a consumer assertion that an ACH transaction was unauthorized, request from the originating depository financial institution documentation sufficient to prove the transaction was authorized and reasonably consider the documentation provided or any failure to provide documentation in the Error Resolution Investigation;
  • Refrain from declining to enter a stop payment or conduct an error investigation related to an EFT because that EFT was or will be initiated by a payday or other small dollar lender;
  • When consumers initiate either a stop payment or error resolution request, inform them that they can simultaneously avail themselves of both;
  • Once a consumer closes an account, not process any additional transactions to that account except (i) transactions originated before the account was closed, or (ii) when USAA is required to accept and settle the transaction under card network or NACHA rules;
  • If a consumer closes an account and the Bank subsequently reopens the account consistent with the requirements of this Consent Order, then (i) forward any credits posted to that account to the consumer as soon as practicable; (ii) ensure that the consumer knows the account has been reopened as soon as practicable after the account has been reopened; and (iii) reclose the account as soon as practicable; and
  • For each account that USAA reopened during the Account Reopening Redress Period without obtaining the consumer’s prior authorization and providing timely notice to the consumer, notify any consumer reporting agency to which USAA furnished information on or with respect to the reopened account to delete such information.

USAA was further directed to reserve an amount of $12,028,522 for providing redress to "WSUD Affected Consumers" and at least $270,521 for redress to consumers affected by the account reopening practices of the bank (both as detailed in the Order), paying the balance of those sums to the Bureau if not paid out in consumer redress payments. The Bureau also assessed a $3.5 million civil money penalty on the bank.

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