The Office of Students and Young Consumers (Office of Students) has been an important component of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB or the Bureau) since its creation in 2011. On May 9, 2018, the CFPB’s Acting Director announced plans to fold the Office of Students into the Office of Financial Education. The Student Loan Ombudsman, a position the Dodd-Frank Act created, will also reportedly be part of the Office of Financial Education. This move could signal a major shift in the CFPB’s approach to the student loan market. 

As its name indicates, the Office of Financial Education focuses on consumer education. Specifically, its stated focus is “strengthen(ing) the delivery of financial education . . . and creat[ing] opportunities for people to obtain the skills to build their financial well being.” Given that mission, some have speculated that the recent movement of the Office of Students within the Bureau’s Office of Financial Education may lead to fewer examinations, investigations, and enforcement actions against participants in the private student loan market. Continue Reading CFPB to Eliminate Student Loan Office

Much has been written about Mick Mulvaney’s statements about how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will no longer “push the envelope” when it comes to enforcement and no longer engage in “regulation by enforcement.” But a little-noticed filing by the CFPB in the Ninth Circuit last month suggests that the CFPB is not necessarily scaling back its enforcement efforts with respect to novel claims under its authority to prevent unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices (UDAAP). Continue Reading Meet the New Boss; Same as the Old Boss? The CFPB’s Take on UDAAP Might Surprise You

 

On May 8, 2018, the United States Department of Justice and KleinBank reached a settlement agreement resolving allegations that the bank engaged in mortgage lending discrimination by failing to adequately serve predominantly minority neighborhoods (so-called “redlining”) in and around the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. The settlement resolves one of the only redlining investigations to ever land in court, and marks the Trump DOJ’s first fair lending settlement.

DOJ filed its complaint against KleinBank on January 13, 2017, one week before the inauguration of President Trump, suggesting that the Obama administration’s DOJ may have been concerned that the Trump administration would be disinclined to pursue fair lending cases aggressively. Given recent activities at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, this worry may have been well-founded.

The complaint alleges that, from 2010 until at least 2015, KleinBank intentionally avoided lending to residents of predominantly minority neighborhoods in the Twin Cities area because of the race or national origin of the residents of those neighborhoods. Specifically, the DOJ alleged that KleinBank carved majority-minority census tracts out of its Community Reinvestment Act assessment area, located its branch and mortgage loan officers in majority-white census tracts (and not majority-minority census tracts), and directed marketing and advertising predominantly toward residents in majority-white census tracts. While most targets of redlining claims have sought to settle the allegations in short order, KleinBank took the rare step of fighting the DOJ’s claims in litigation.

Prior to the settlement, on March 30, 2018, the district court handling the case adopted a magistrate’s recommendation that KleinBank’s motion to dismiss be denied. The magistrate’s report and recommendation are under seal, making it impossible to fully analyze the rationale underlying the decision. However, the court noted that contrary to KleinBank’s contention, the government had sufficiently plead the intent element of a disparate treatment claim by, among other things, alleging that the bank intentionally drew its assessment area to avoid minority areas and intentionally avoided marketing to such areas.

Under the settlement agreement, KleinBank is required to open (and operate for at least three years) one new full-service branch office in a majority-minority census tract. Redlining resolutions that require banks to open branch offices are noteworthy considering the rapid increase in online banking activities and the cost associated with opening a full service branch.

The settlement agreement also requires KleinBank to invest $300,000 through a special purpose credit program to increase the amount of credit it extends in minority neighborhoods. Further, the bank must invest another $300,000 in advertising, outreach, financial education, and credit repair in order to “assist in establishing a presence in majority-minority census tracts in Hennepin County.

A few aspects of this agreement stand out. First, the DOJ’s use of a settlement agreement rather than a consent decree is notable. Most DOJ cases are resolved using consent decrees, which are generally easier for the government to enforce. Second, many of the settlement agreement provisions are less onerous than the terms of other recent redlining settlements. For example, the agreement does not subject KleinBank to a civil money penalty, and provides for flexibility on the timing of the bank’s advertising and loan subsidy obligations.  This suggests that the Trump DOJ may be taking a more subdued approach to fair lending cases than did its predecessor.

Time will tell if the KleinBank settlement is a red herring or harbinger for more federal fair lending enforcement.

On May 8, 2018, the House of Representatives used the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”) to vote to repeal the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) March 2013 bulletin addressing indirect auto lending and compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”). That vote follows the Senate’s April 18 CRA vote to repeal the bulletin. President Trump is expected to sign the joint resolution (S.J. Res. 57) within 10 days.

In that bulletin, the CFPB (under the leadership of former director Richard Cordray) had stated that some indirect auto lenders may be subject to ECOA and Regulation B, and advised them to “take steps to ensure that they are operating in compliance” with those antidiscrimination principles. Most significantly, the bulletin noted that indirect auto lenders may have direct liability under ECOA for allegedly discriminatory pricing disparities. In an indirect auto lending arrangement, instead of providing financing directly to the consumer, the auto dealer facilitates financing through a third party. The CFPB bulletin stated that some indirect auto lenders have policies that allow dealers to mark up lender-established rates and then compensate dealers for those markups, which may result in pricing disparities on a basis prohibited under ECOA.

As explained in a prior Mayer Brown Legal Update, the CRA allows Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval of an agency rule within 60 legislative session days of the rule’s publication. Such a resolution, if passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President (or passed by a two-thirds majority in both houses to overcome a presidential veto), invalidates the rule. The CRA allows Congress to use expedited procedures that effectively prohibit filibusters in the Senate.

The 60-day clock for introduction of a disapproval resolution in Congress begins on the “submission or publication” date of the rule, which the CRA defines as the later of the date on which Congress receives the agency’s report related to the rule or the date the rule is published in the Federal Register, if it is published. Although the CFPB issued its indirect auto lending bulletin more than 60 days ago, the CFPB did not submit to Congress a report on the bulletin or publish it in the Federal Register, so arguably the 60-day clock did not begin in 2013.

Upon signing this resolution, President Trump will have used the CRA to invalidate 16 agency rules. Prior to the Trump administration, the CRA had been used only once to invalidate a rule. However, this resolution marks the first time Congress has used the CRA to invalidate agency guidance. Previously, Congress had used the CRA only to repeal rules that the respective agencies viewed as legislative rules or regulations subject to the Administrative Procedure Act’s notice-and-comment requirements. Unlike those legislative rules, the CFPB’s indirect auto lending bulletin is informal guidance that, as the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) concluded, “offers clarity and guidance on the Bureau’s discretionary enforcement approach.” Nonetheless, the GAO found that the CFPB bulletin qualifies as a “rule” subject to the CRA. The GAO has responded to requests from members of Congress to opine on the status of agency issuances by consistently noting that the scope of the definition of a rule under the CRA is broad. In a 2012 letter, the GAO explained that the “definition of a rule has been said to include ‘nearly every statement an agency may make.’”

If the CRA is available to Congress to invalidate agencies’ non-rule guidance that was not reported to Congress or published in the Federal Register, it is unclear what, if any, timing boundaries apply. This novel approach could implicate a large swath of informal agency guidance issued since the CRA’s passage. Further, a CRA disapproval extends beyond the rule (or non-rule guidance) itself, and prohibits the agency from issuing any rule that is “substantially the same” as the invalidated rule, absent subsequent statutory authorization.

It is unclear, however, what this means in the context of agency guidance. If agency guidance is an interpretation of existing statutes and regulations, and Congress repeals only the guidance/interpretation, but not the existing statutes (or regulations, if applicable), it is possible that an agency could simply attempt to return to its initial stance (for instance, a CFPB director could possibly refocus on indirect auto lenders, using an approach similar to that announced in the CFPB’s 2013 bulletin). Certainly, the actions of Congress under the CRA do not protect entities from scrutiny by the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, or the states, which also have enforcement authority under ECOA, or from private plaintiffs, who have a cause of action.

In any event, Congress definitely has clarified that it is willing to use the CRA to invalidate both agency regulations and informal guidance, and it remains to be seen which additional Obama-era regulations or guidance documents may be the CRA’s next victim.

On Monday, a federal district court judge in the District of Columbia issued an order dismissing a lawsuit brought by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) regarding a proposal of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) to issue federal charters to certain Fintech firms. In dismissing the case, US District Court Judge Dabney L. Friedrich held the CSBS did not have standing to sue because the OCC had not yet officially decided to issue charters to Fintech companies. Judge Friedrich explained that the CSBS lacks standing to bring the suit because the harms it alleges are “contingent on whether the OCC charters” a Fintech company, and “[s]everal contingent and speculative events must occur before the OCC” issues such a charter. Continue Reading Federal Court Dismisses “Speculative” and “Attenuated” Lawsuit By the Conference of State Bank Supervisors Over Proposed OCC Fintech Charter

A creditor’s inability to reset fee tolerances with a revised Closing Disclosure more than four business days before closing has been one of the more adverse unintended consequences of the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (“TRID”) regulations that became effective in October 2015. However, a fix is on the horizon. On Thursday, April 26, 2018, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) announced final amendments to TRID to eliminate the timing restrictions that have plagued creditors and, in certain cases, increased creditors’ costs to originate residential mortgage loans. With an effective date 30 days after the final amendments are published in the Federal Register, this change is a welcome relief to mortgage lenders.  Continue Reading A Ray of Light Through the “Black Hole”: TRID Amendment Permits Tolerance Reset with Revised Closing Disclosure

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision in Lusnak v. Bank of America, N.A.—holding that the National Bank Act did not preempt a California law requiring banks to pay interest on certain funds held in escrow accounts for mortgage borrowers—has received considerable attention in the consumer finance industry. Bank of America’s bid for rehearing en banc was significantly strengthened on Monday, when the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) took the unusual step of filing an amicus curiae brief in support of the petition for rehearing.

Mayer Brown’s Legal Update summarizes how, according to the OCC, the court got the preemption issue in Lusnak wrong.

Several of Mayer Brown’s Consumer Financial Services lawyers will be featured at the upcoming Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference in Los Angeles, sponsored by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

On Sunday, April 29th, Ori Lev will participate on a panel analyzing unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices (UDAAP), as part of the conference’s Applied Compliance track.

On Monday, April 30th, Kris Kully will participate in a panel attempting to look on the bright side of HMDA — how understanding that additional data will be useful not just for lenders’ compliance function, but also for production growth, and perhaps even operational efficiencies.

On Tuesday, May 1st, Krista Cooley will discuss the latest developments in False Claims Act enforcement.

In addition, Phil Schulman will address “TRID 2.0” — with the resolution of the PHH decision, how can lenders work with other service providers to market their loans to potential borrowers? Phil also will participate in the RESPA Section 8 “Deep Dive” Compliance Roundtable later that afternoon.

On Wednesday, May 2nd, Keisha Whitehall Wolfe will participate in what promises to be a lively discussion about “Compliance in Action,” discussing real life examples related to analyzing, addressing, responding to, and resolving compliance issues.

Other Mayer Brown lawyers in the group, including Debra Bogo-Ernst, Holly Bunting, Jon Jaffe, Rebecca LobenherzLarry Platt, and Tori Shinohara also will be on hand.  See you in Los Angeles!

*Daniel Pearson is not admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia. He is practicing under the supervision of firm principals.

On March 15, 2018, the State of Washington enacted Senate Bill 6029 (“SB 6029”), titled the “Washington Student Education Loan Bill of Rights,” which takes effect June 7, 2018, and amends the state’s Consumer Loan Act (the “CLA”) to expand its scope to include student loan servicers. Whereas the CLA currently regulates and licenses consumer lenders (both mortgage and non-mortgage), and mortgage servicers, when SB 6029 takes effect the CLA will also regulate and license student loan servicers. As a license is needed under the CLA to make any student loans to residents of Washington, it seems reasonable that if state legislators believed student loan servicers should be licensed in Washington, the CLA should be amended to provide for such licensing rather than enact a new and separate licensing law.¹

With that legislation, Washington becomes the latest state to license student loan servicers, joining California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and Illinois.² Continue Reading Washington Licenses Student Loan Servicers*

The ABA Business Law Section is holding its 2018 Spring Meeting in Orlando next week and will offer nearly 90 CLE programs and many more committee meetings and events.

Mayer Brown’s Matthew Bisanz will co-moderate, and Anjali Garg will participate on, a panel on April 13th discussing current developments in UDAP/UDAAP enforcement involving financial institutions, including considerations for advertising disclosures and the potential for increased state enforcement activity. Matthew and Anjali are members of Mayer Brown’s Financial Services Regulatory and Enforcement Group in Washington, DC.

Also on April 13th, restructuring partner Luciana Celidonio (Tauil & Chequer, São Paulo) will participate on a panel exploring the issues and actors involved in international bond defaults.

For more information, please visit the event webpage.