Monday, July 22, 2013

TILA's implications for defending debt collection suits (Truth in Lending Act)


THE FEDERAL TRUTH IN LENDING ACT (TILA) 

TILA is an acronym for the federal Truth in Lending Act. This is a law passed by the U.S. Congress that requires, among other things, that the bank disclose the interest rate(s) or method of determining the interest rate(s) (such as a margin added to an index or prime rate) and other financial terms in writing when consumers open credit accounts. It applies to consumer credit, not to business accounts.

While the TILA also provides a statutory cause of action for violations, its relevance in debt collection litigation consists primarily in the fact that the written terms are a federal regulatory requirement, and that a debt claims based on accounts subject to this law are necessarily predicated on written contract terms.

The federal law mandates disclosure so as to put the consumer in a position to accept or reject those terms, and to shop around for the best offer, and the best deal, based on meaningful comparisons. This regulatory requirement tracks the elements of contract formation under state law: first the offer, then the acceptance, assuming there is an agreement (“meeting of the minds”) on the terms. (See  -- >  contract formation).

TILA does not require a signed contract; what it requires is written disclosures of credit terms. Thus, when a creditor sues, the best evidence of the contract terms are the TILA disclosures, whether embedded in the cardmember agreement or in the form of a separate document (such as a Rates and Fees Table or Schedule) or a combination of both. If the terms changed (as shown on credit card statements), there must have been a notice of change in terms pursuant to TILA.

Arguably, the required disclosures under TILA should limit the creditor to breach of contract as a theory of recovery of consumer debt, but this issue has yet to be litigated in the courts of appeal. In the meantime, some courts of appeals in Texas have approved the use of alternative theories for debt collection, even if they do not require proof of the underlying contract/TILA disclosures. Under the state-law theory of Account Stated, as modified by some Texas courts of appeals, the creditor can seek a judgment for damages in the form of accrued interest (either as part of the account balance or claimed as a separate item of damages), without proving the credit terms that were offered and allegedly accepted by the consumer. Arguably, this is inconsistent with, and undermines, federal law, but it is not a violation that gives rise to the kind claim authorized by TILA itself.

For violations actionable under TILA, i.e. the creditor’s failure to make required disclosures to the consumer, the applicable statute of limitations is quite short: one year.

TILA’S LEGISLATIVE RATIONALE (CONGRESSIONAL PURPOSES AND INTENT) 

TILA's purpose is to promote the informed use of consumer credit by requiring disclosures about its terms and costs, and regulations give consumers the right to cancel certain credit transactions that involve a lien on a consumer's principal dwelling." A person is a TILA consumer if the party to whom credit is offered or extended is a natural person, and the money, property, or services which are the subject of the transaction are primarily for personal, family, or household purposes. 15 U.S.C. § 1602(h)

The TILA requires creditors to disclose all of the credit terms to the consumer before the extension of credit is made, which allows the consumer to make an informed decision about the credit options that are available as well as serves as a way in which to prevent the consumer from being obligated to pay possible hidden and unreasonable charges unknowingly. 15 U.S.C. § 1601.

The TILA also requires lenders to issue new disclosures within a specified amount of time in the event that an interest rate adjustment occurs. 12 C.F.R. § 226.20(c)(1)-(5).

The purpose of TILA is to promote the informed use of credit by mandating a meaningful disclosure of credit terms to consumers.

The Federal Reserve Board (commonly known as "The FED") is charged with implementing and interpreting TILA. 15 U.S.C. § 1604; see also 12 C.F.R. Pt. 26 ("Regulation Z").

STATUTORY CAUSE OF ACTION UNDER TILA AND STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS

TILA is a federal consumer protection statute that provides consumers with a cause of action against creditors that fail to make required disclosures.

TILA requires a borrower who does not receive certain material disclosures to initiate an action for damages within one year of the violation. 15 U.S.C. § 1640(e).

Further, any claim under TILA for rescission of the loan transaction must be brought within three years of the violation. 15 U.S.C. § 1635(f). A failure to provide the required disclosures under TILA occurs at the time the contractual relationship between the lender and the borrower is consummated, i.e., at the time the loan documents are executed. Nondisclosure is not a continuing violation for purposes of the statute of limitations.

RECOUPMENT COUNTER-CLAIM MAY BE BROUGHT IN RESPONSE TO DEBT SUIT MORE THAN ONE YEAR AFTER TILA VIOLATION

 "A one-year statute of limitations governs claims brought under the Act, running from the date of each violation." Id. (citing 15 U.S.C.A. § 1640(e)). However, section 1640(e),

does not bar a person from asserting a violation of this subchapter in an action to collect the debt which was brought more than one year from the date of the occurrence of the violation as a matter of defense by recoupment or setoff in such action, except as otherwise provided by State law.
15 U.S.C.A. § 1640(e); see Seidner v. Citibank (S. Dak.) N.A., 201 S.W.3d 332, 336-37 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2006, pet. denied) (stating that "the thrust of subsection (e) is that a violation of the [TILA] can be raised as a defense by recoupment or set-off even after the one-year statute of limitations has expired on an affirmative claim for damages or penalties") (citing Beach, 523 U.S. at 412, 417-18) (discussing meaning of subsection (e))). In Garza v. Allied Finance Co., we defined "recoupment" as a form of counterclaim that is "a demand arising from the same transaction as the plaintiff's claim." 566 S.W.2d 57, 62 (Tex. Civ. App.-Corpus Christi 1978, no writ); see Seidner, 201 S.W.3d at 337 (explaining that the defense of recoupment allows a defendant to deduct any amounts accruing to him as a result of the same transaction that forms the basis of the action against him). "Although application of the recoupment defense will decrease the plaintiff's recovery, and may even wholly defeat any recovery, it does not act as an affirmative bar to the action." Seidner, 201 S.W.3d at 337. In Garza, we also distinguished "recoupment" from "offset," which we explained as a demand arising from "a transaction different than the one forming the basis of plaintiff's claim." 566 S.W.2d at 63.

CASELAW SNIPPETS - TILA IN TEXAS COURTS 

TILA protects consumers - business loans not covered 
One year SoL for TILA violations, but exception for recoupement claims 
Recoupement claim under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) is similar to off-set and can thereby reduce amount of damages
awardeded to the creditor in a debt collections suit 






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