On September 25, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom approved Senate Bill 908 – enacting the Debt Collection Licensing Act (DCLA). The DCLA, which takes effect January 1, 2022, requires a person or entity engaging in the business of debt collection in California to be licensed and provides for regulatory oversight of debt collectors by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI). Pursuant to the DCLA, debt collectors who submit an application by Dec. 31, 2021 may continue to operate in California pending the denial or approval of their application. On April 23, 2021, the Commissioner of the DFPI (the Commissioner) issued proposed regulations (the Regulations) to adopt procedures for applying for a debt collection license under the DCLA. On June 23, 2021, after consideration of public comments, the Commissioner issued a Notice of Modifications to the Regulations (the Modifications). On November 15, 2021, the Commissioner issued a second Notice of Modifications to the Regulations (the Additional Modifications).
The Regulations – among other things – define relevant terms, include information regarding application procedures, and contain other miscellaneous information regarding licensing. The definition of “debt collector” was substantially the same as the broad definition under the enacted DCLA (which in turn is very similar to the Rosenthal FDCPA definition) and encompasses a wide array of activity in relation to consumer debt, including mortgage debt. Likewise, the regulations define “debt buyer” identical to the existing definition in Section 1788.50 of the Civil Code, which contains an exception for purchasers of a loan portfolio predominantly consisting of consumer debt that has not been charged off. See our prior post on the DCLA for more information regarding the scope of the licensure requirement.
The Regulations designate NMLS for the submission and processing of applications and reference and rely upon uniform NMLS forms and procedures. The application process includes completion of the NMLS uniform licensing form (MU1), including by any affiliates to be licensed under the same license. The application process includes collection of information regarding other trade names, web addresses used by the applicant, contact employees, organizational information (including information on any indirect owners), a detailed statement of business activities, certificates of good standing, and sample dunning letters. Applicants do not need to provide bank account information in Section 10 of Form MU1 or information on a qualifying individual in Section 17 of Form MU1. Fingerprinting (which is processed outside of NMLS), criminal history checks, and credit report authorizations are required for certain related individuals, including officers, directors, managing members, trustees, responsible individuals, and any individual owning directly or indirectly 10% or more of the applicant. An investigative background report is also required for any such individual who is not residing in the United States. Branches must also be licensed through NMLS uniform forms (MU3). Notice and additional filing requirements apply upon any change in the information submitted. The Regulations also contain surety bond requirements and outline the Commissioner’s authority in reviewing and examining applicants.
First Notice of Modification to the Regulations
On June 23, 2021 the Commissioner issued the Modifications which made several changes to the Regulations including, revising the definition of “applicant” to make clear that an affiliate who is not applying for a license is not an “applicant” – this revision, however, does not seem to impact the ability of applicants to include affiliates under a single license. Further, the Modifications added an English language requirement for documents filed with the DFPI. The Modifications also eliminated certain requirements to provide the Commissioner with additional copies of documents submitted through NMLS and otherwise revised requirements to allow information to be processed predominately through NMLS. The Modifications also eliminated the need to file certain fingerprinting documents in NMLS. Additionally, the Modifications added a requirement to explain derogatory credit accounts for any individual subject to credit reporting requirements. The Modifications also removed requirements that applicants provide information concerning compliance reporting and audit structure, the extent to which they intend to use third parties to perform any of their debt collection functions, that applicants file a copy of their policies and procedures with the NMLS, and certain annually collected financial information. The Modifications also eliminate the Commissioner’s ability to modify surety bond amounts.
Second Notice of Modification to the Regulations
On November 15, 2021 the Commissioner issued the Additional Modifications to the Regulations which amended the definitions of “branch office” and “debt collector.” “Branch office” was amended to mean any location other than the applicant’s or licensee’s principal place of business so long as “activity related to debt collection occurs” at that location and that the location is “held out to the public as a business location or money is received at the location or held at the location.” The Additional Modifications state that “holding a location out to the public” includes the receipt of postal correspondence and meeting with the public at the location, placing the location on letterhead, business cards, and signage, or making “any other representation to the public that the location is a business location.”
The definition of “debt collector” was amended to reference the definition set forth in the DCLA, rather than actually defining the term. Thus, any future revisions to the DCLA definition will automatically apply to the regulations as well.
Debt Collection agencies and participants in California should anticipate additional regulations from the DFPI as aspects of the DCLA continue to be hammered out – in the interim any entity subject to licensing who has not done so already should submit an application before end of year to ensure continued operations.