Compliance Blog

Feb 28, 2018

Obtaining A Consensual Security Interest For Credit Cards

Last week, I had the pleasure of going through the CFPB's credit card agreement database to find my creditor's credit card agreement. This research project was not just for fun… I was specifically looking for similarities in the language financial institutions use to obtain a consensual security interest in their members' or customers' deposit accounts. Seeing just how different credit card agreements can be made me wonder what drive some of the disclosure language and format in this area. So let's review the regulatory requirements to obtain a consensual security agreement for credit cards.

To begin, Regulation Z has a general blanket prohibition against offsetting a member's deposit funds to cover the member's delinquent credit card. See12 C.F.R. § 1026.12(d)(1). This means that financial institutions cannot automatically take funds from their customer's deposit account if the customer is delinquent on their credit card.

However, the rule has an exception that permits creditors to obtain a consensual security interest. To ensure the consensual security is not a functional equivalent of a right of offset, the regulation requires the following things: (1) member must affirmatively agree to the security interest (i.e., the consensual requirement); (2) creditor must disclose security interest in account-opening disclosures; and (3) creditor must be able to evidence the member is aware and intended to provide the security interest. The regulation also suggests three ways of meeting the last requirement. Basically, the credit union can ensure its members are aware and intend to provide a security interest by doing something substantially similar to one or more of the following:

  1. Obtain a separate signature or initials on the agreement indicating that a security interest is being given;
  2. Place the security agreement on a separate page, or otherwise separate the security interest provisions from other contract and disclosure provisions; or
  3. Make reference to a specific amount of deposited funds or to a specific deposit account number.

12 C.F.R. § 1026, Supp I, 1026.12(d)(2)—1. While the regulation provides examples of how to demonstrate awareness and intent, the appropriateness of the format a credit union chooses will be a question of fact. For example, in reviewing publicly available credit card agreements, it seems that many financial institutions are emphasizing the security lien provision by placing a text box or by highlighting/bolding the security lien provisions. While this is not a manner explicitly stated by Regulation Z, this could be one way to ensure the member is aware and consents to giving the credit union a security lien. As there has been litigation on the sufficiency of these methods, credit unions may want to consult their legal counsel or document providers to ensure the method selected will satisfy the security interest requirements of Regulation Z. For more information on the litigation side of things, see this article published in the 2016 January-February Edition of the NAFCU Journal.  

Another thing to note is that unlike the right of offset, credit unions that properly disclose the security interest as outlined above may have a security interest in after-acquired property. See, 12 C.F.R. § 1026, Supp I, 1026.12(d)(2)—2. Meaning, funds deposited after the credit card account is opened are not excluded from the credit union's security interest and these funds could be used to pay for a delinquent credit card.

Finally, credit unions wishing to obtain a security interest in currently opened credit cards may want to look at section 1026.9(c)(2)(i)(A) which requires a change in terms notice at least 45 days prior to the effective date of a significant change in account terms for credit cards. A “significant change in account terms” means “a change to a term required to be disclosed under [sections] 1026.6(b)(1) and (b)(2), an increase in the required minimum periodic payment, a change to a term required to be disclosed under [section] 1026.6(b)(4), or the acquisition of a security interest.” 12 C.F.R. § 1026.9(c)(2)(ii) (emphasis added).