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Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) recently introduced Senate Bill 3401 to facilitate access to residential mortgage loans for consumers who are self-employed or otherwise receive income from nontraditional sources. The lawmakers indicated that lenders have shied away from loans to those consumers due to overly strict or ambiguous federal requirements for documenting the consumers’ income. The bill would, if enacted, provide mortgage lenders greater flexibility in documenting income during the underwriting process. They call the bill the Self-Employed Mortgage Access Act.

Federal regulations require that for most closed-end, dwelling-secured loans, a lender must make a reasonable and good faith determination that the consumer will have a reasonable ability to repay the loan, based on (among other factors) the consumer’s verified income. To take advantage of a presumption of compliance with that requirement, most lenders follow the regulations’ Qualified Mortgage (QM) guardrails, described in part in Appendix Q of the regulations. Appendix Q generally dictates the type of income documentation a lender must obtain.

For example, for a self-employed individual (any consumer with a 25 percent or greater ownership interest in a business), Appendix Q requires that a lender seeking to make a QM must get the consumer’s signed, dated individual tax returns, with all applicable tax schedules, for the most recent two years. For a corporation, “S” corporation, or partnership, the lender must get signed copies of the federal business income tax returns, with all applicable tax schedules, for the last two years. Finally, the lender must get a year-to-date profit-and-loss statement and a balance sheet. Appendix Q does not expressly provide for any flexibility in those documentation requirements. Continue Reading Qualified Mortgages for Self-Employed Borrowers; Bill on the Hill

The Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (the Bureau) issued an interpretive rule on August 31, 2018, explaining how depository institutions that originate fewer than 500 open- or closed-end home mortgage loans annually may take advantage of data collection and reporting relief.

The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) has for decades required mortgage lenders to collect and report significant data on their applications for, and originations or purchases of, residential mortgage loans. In 2015, in response to the Dodd-Frank Act, the Bureau significantly amended the regulations under HMDA, revising which institutions must collect and report the data, what data those institutions must report and in connection with which transactions, and how the institutions must submit the data to the government. Those expansive changes, requiring significant systems updates and hours of training, have already largely become effective. For applicable institutions, the bulk of the changes kicked in on January 1, 2018

However, in May 2018, Congress enacted the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (EGRRCPA), amending HMDA to allow certain depository institutions to avoid the collection and reporting of so-called “new” data elements. While those institutions may have wished this relief had come before they were forced to implement all the changes needed to collect the new data, the actual reporting deadline for that data is still months away. In the meantime, those institutions (and their regulators) had many questions about what exactly they could or should do now. The Bureau’s interpretive rule attempts to provide them some guidance. Continue Reading HMDA Clarification: Relief for Lower-Volume Banks, Credit Unions

Foreign statutory trusts that acquire delinquent residential mortgage loans are NOT required to be licensed under the Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Act (the “Act”), based on an opinion released today by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The opinion reverses lower court rulings that called for such licensing. According to the opinion, the Act’s plain language is ambiguous as to whether the Maryland General Assembly intended foreign statutory trusts, acting as a special purpose vehicle in the mortgage industry, to obtain a license as a collection agency. The court conducted a fulsome review of the original legislative history, subsequent legislation, and related statutes to discern legislative intent.

Finding that the original impetus for licensing was to address abuses in the debt collection industry, the court held that the General Assembly did not intend for foreign statutory trusts to obtain a collection agency license under the Act before their substitute trustees filed foreclosure actions in various circuit courts. As a result, the court held that the lower courts improperly dismissed foreclosure actions (which the courts had done simply because the two foreign statutory trusts that had acquired the delinquent mortgage loans were not licensed under the Act before the substitute trustees instituted the foreclosure proceedings).

Of particular interest in the opinion is the conclusion that a foreign statutory trust is not “doing business” as a collection agency. The court wrote:

 Applying that definition of “business” as used in [the Act] to the consolidated cases before us presents further ambiguity. Specifically, the foreign statutory trusts that own the mortgage loans in the cases sub judice do not have any employees or offices, do not have any registered agent, and do not have any specifically identified pursuit in the State of Maryland. Instead, [the trusts] both act solely through trustees and substitute trustees. Therefore, it would be hard for this Court in the first instance to conclude that the foreign statutory trusts engage, either directly or indirectly, in the business of a collection agency when it is hard to deduce if these entities are even conducting “business” under Funk and Wagnall’s definition.

The earlier, now overturned, opinions had set off a frenzy within the Maryland foreclosure bar and the delinquent loan holders they represent. Many foreclosure law firms simply were unwilling to pursue foreclosures unless the owner of a loan that had been acquired in a delinquent status was licensed as a collection agency, and Maryland had to create an entirely new process to license trusts. Underlying the confusion was the view that a trust simply is not “doing business” as a matter of law, and thus a state did not have jurisdiction to require the licensing of the trust. The earlier Maryland opinions followed a twisted logic that a trust may not be “doing business” in the state as a matter of Maryland law on foreign qualifications, but is “doing business” as a collection agency. The plain speaking Maryland Court of Appeals concluded that doing business means doing business, and not doing business means not doing business — a logical conclusion that is elegant in its simplicity.

On July 30, 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued its much-anticipated report on reshaping Fintech regulation.  “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities — Nonbank Financials, Fintech, and Innovation,” available here, focuses on the regulation of financial technology and makes more than 80 recommendations related to Fintech and nonbank financial policy, including:

  • endorsing so-called regulatory sandboxes;
  • ending the CFPB’s small-dollar lending rule;
  • increasing consumers’ control over their data;
  • establishing a national data breach notification standard; and
  • endorsing the OCC’s Fintech charter proposal.

The report also proposes an approach to conforming some of the differences in state-by-state financial regulation and advocates for greater legal certainty in nonbank lending.  Stay tuned for Mayer Brown’s forthcoming analysis of the key aspects of the report.

 

On June 20, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (“ANPR”) that seeks public comment on whether and how to amend its 2013 rule under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). The ANPR follows HUD’s May 10 announcement of its intention to formally seek public comment on the rule in light of the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., in which the Court recognized disparate impact as a cognizable theory under the FHA, but imposed meaningful limitations on the application of the theory.

The ANPR, together with the statement of Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Acting Director Mick Mulvaney this spring that the Bureau would be “reexamining the requirements of ECOA” in light of “a recent Supreme Court decision” (i.e., Inclusive Communities), signals that the Trump administration is likely seeking to retreat from the Obama administration’s enthusiastic use of disparate impact liability in lending discrimination cases.

The Disparate Impact Rule and Inclusive Communities

HUD finalized its disparate impact rule in February 2013. The rule codified HUD’s Obama-era view that disparate impact is cognizable under the FHA. In contrast to disparate treatment claims, in which a plaintiff must establish a discriminatory motive, a disparate impact claim challenges practices that have a disproportionately adverse effect on a protected class that is not justified by a legitimate business rationale. The rule states that a practice has a “discriminatory effect” where “it actually or predictably results in a disparate impact on a group of persons or creates, increases, reinforces, or perpetuates segregated housing patterns because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” HUD explained that it had “consistently concluded” that facially neutral policies that resulted in a discriminatory effect on the basis of a protected characteristic violated the FHA, and that the rule merely “formalize[d] its longstanding view.” The rule also formalized a three-part burden-shifting test for determining whether a practice had an unjustified discriminatory effect.

At the time HUD issued the rule, the nonprofit Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. was embroiled in a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, in which it brought a disparate impact claim under the FHA. After HUD issued the disparate impact rule, the Texas Department filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court on whether the FHA recognized disparate impact claims. In its 2015 decision, the Supreme Court held that disparate impact claims are cognizable under the FHA, but the Court articulated a rigorous standard for a successful claim. The Court did not explicitly address the merits of HUD’s rule, nor did the rule form the basis of its holding.  Continue Reading HUD Seeks Public Comment on Disparate Impact Rule

Nearly seven months into Mick Mulvaney’s tenure as Acting Director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (Bureau), the agency issued just its second enforcement action under his leadership on June 13, 2018. You may have missed it, as the press release was not pushed out through the Bureau’s email notifications and the cursory press release may have flown under your radar. The settlement is with a parent company and its subsidiaries that originated, provided, purchased, serviced, and collected on high-cost, short-term secured and unsecured consumer loans. The consent order contains allegations of violations of the prohibition on unfair practices under the Consumer Financial Protection Act and of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and requires the respondents to pay a $5 million civil money penalty. Notably, the consent order does not require any consumer redress, despite Mr. Mulvaney’s stated intent to only pursue cases with “quantifiable and unavoidable” harm to consumers.

Debt Collection Practices

The Bureau alleges that respondents engaged in unfair in-person debt collection practices, including discussing debts in public, leaving the respondents’ “field cards” (presumably identifying the respondents) with third parties (including the consumers’ children and neighbors), and visiting consumers’ places of employment. The Bureau alleges that these practices were unfair because they caused substantial injury such as humiliation, inconvenience, and reputational damage; consumers could not reasonably avoid the harm because consumers were not informed of whether and when such visits would occur and could not stop respondents from engaging in the visits; and any potential benefit in the form of recoveries were outweighed by the substantial injury to consumers. The consent order notes that respondent attempted 12 million in-person visits to more than 1.3 million consumers over a five-year period, and requires respondents to cease in-person collection visits at consumers’ homes, places of employment, and public places. Continue Reading Mulvaney’s Bureau Issues Second Enforcement Action: Debt Collectors Beware?

Mayer Brown partner Jon Jaffe will present at an American Bankers Association webinar on June 13, entitled “How Can Your Bank Compete in the Age of the Digital Mortgage? Industry Experts Explain.” The webinar for ABA members is the first in a series intended to explore innovative mortgage business strategies in the age of “fintech.” This session will provide an overview of the evolving digital loan process, from customer acquisition to electronic closing and beyond. Jon will address legal and regulatory issues arising in connection with eMortgages and eClosings.

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

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.

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!