Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

Pay-by-phone fees continue to attract the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s attention. Compliance Bulletin 2017-01, issued on July 27, 2017, indicates that the following acts or practices may constitute unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices (“UDAAP”) or contribute to the risk of committing UDAAPs:

  1. Failing to disclose the prices of all available phone pay fees when different payment options carry materially different fees;
  2. Misrepresenting the available options or that a fee is required to pay by phone;
  3. Failing to disclose that a phone pay fee would be added to a consumer’s payment, which could create the misimpression that there is no service fee; and
  4. Lack of employee monitoring or service provider oversight, which may lead to misrepresentations or failure to disclose available options and fees.

The Bureau has previously raised concerns about phone pay fees. In a 2014 enforcement action, the Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission alleged that a mortgage servicer engaged in deceptive acts or practices by misrepresenting that the only payment method consumers could use to make timely payments was a particular method that required a convenience fee. In 2015, the Bureau took action against a bank for allegedly misrepresenting that a phone pay fee was a processing fee rather than a fee to enable the payment to post on the same day. The bank also allegedly failed to disclose other no-cost payment options. This week’s Bulletin 2017-01 suggests that companies should disclose such fees in writing to consumers, as opposed to relying solely on phone representatives to  explain the fees to consumers.

Bulletin 2017-01 also reiterates that certain practices in connection with phone pay fees may conflict with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). For example, Bureau examiners have found alleged violations of the FDCPA where the underlying consumer debt contract did not expressly permit the charging of phone pay fees and where the applicable state law was silent on the fees’ permissibility. The Bureau indicated last year that it may propose rules under the FDCPA to clarify that debt collectors may charge convenience fees only where state law expressly permits them or the consumer expressly agreed to them in the contract that created the underlying debt.

The Bulletin recommends that companies review their phone pay fee practices, including reviewing applicable state and federal laws, underlying debt contracts, service provider procedures, other consumer-facing materials, consumer complaints, and employee incentive plans for potential risks.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced a final rule to clarify the TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure requirements. The rule finalizes many of the CFPB’s earlier proposals, some with modifications. However, the agency still has not formally addressed important issues (like a lender’s ability to cure errors and the disclosure of title insurance premiums where a simultaneous discount applies), and it offers a new proposal to address the “black hole” on resetting fee tolerances. The final regulations will take effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Mayer Brown’s Legal Update discusses the CFPB’s latest attempt to strike a balance between the disclosure burdens on lenders or closing agents and ensuring consumers receive clear and useful information.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a proposed rule that would raise the threshold temporarily for institutions that will be required to collect and report data on home equity lines of credit (HELOCs).

Financial institutions that must collect and report data under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) will start to feel the brunt of the CFPB’s HMDA overhaul relatively soon. Beginning January 1, 2018, new thresholds for determining which institutions must collect and report HMDA data (including the extensive set of new data elements) are set to become effective. As it stands, those institutions will include those that, in addition to other criteria, originated at least 25 closed-end mortgage loans or 100 open-end lines of credit in each of the two preceding calendar years. Accordingly, in connection with HELOCs, if the institution did not originate 100 open-end lines of credit in both of those past two years, the Bureau will not require the institution to collect and report data on those loans.

As indicated in the Bureau’s recent proposed rule, it has learned that the 100-HELOC threshold may be too low, and may impose significant costs on relatively small HELOC lenders. The Bureau indicated that the number of open-end loan originations is continuing to rise, so the threshold may capture more institutions than previously estimated. Further, while the Bureau previously thought that the start-up costs of implementing new technology for capturing and reporting data on HELOCs are sometimes not quite as overwhelming for small institutions (since they may not be as burdened by legacy systems), the Bureau now believes it may have underestimated those costs. HMDA reporting on HELOCs has historically been voluntary – many lenders originate those loans through separate business units using separate systems, and have not needed to consolidate those processes or otherwise collect that data until now. Accordingly, the Bureau is proposing to relieve those institutions that originate fewer than 500 open-end lines of credit in either of the preceding two years from having to collect and report data on those loans.

This higher threshold applies both to whether an institution is a reporting “financial institution,” and with regard to the types of transactions a reporting “financial institution” must report.

The proposed rule would raise the HELOC threshold to 500 open-end lines of credit just for two years, until January 1, 2020, at which time the threshold will revert back to 100 such loans. The agency will use that time to reassess whether it should adjust the threshold permanently.

Comments on the proposed rule are due in just two weeks (by July 31, 2017) – arguably indicating that the Bureau does not expect much opposition to this proposal. The Bureau reportedly hopes to finalize this rule along with the technical corrections it proposed in April 2017.

On June 22, 2017, the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman put out its annual report on student loans, as required by the Dodd-Frank Act. The report analyzes complaints submitted by consumers about student loan servicers between March 2016 and February 2017. Many of the complaints relate to practices, such as payment processing, customer service and borrower communication, and income-based repayment plan enrollment, that the CFPB has frequently scrutinized in the past through supervision and enforcement activities.

However, the majority of the report focuses on complaints from consumers related to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which allows those who enter careers in public service to have their student loans forgiven after a decade. The CFPB’s report criticizes servicers’ alleged failures to actively advise borrowers on how to qualify for PSLF, track their progress toward PSLF completion, and inform them about the requirements of the PSLF program. In conjunction with the report, the CFPB updated its education loan examination procedures to include additional questions about the PSLF program. Continue Reading CFPB Issues Report on Student Loan Servicing and Updated Examination Procedures

UPDATE June 8:
The House of Representative approved the Financial CHOICE Act, with a vote largely on party lines of 233 to 186.  While the Senate Banking Committee is and has been considering financial reform proposals, it is unlikely that the Financial CHOICE Act as passed by the House will progress in the Senate.

UPDATE June 7:
As expected, House Rules Committee approved a rule on June 6 allowing 90 minutes of general debate that will permit the Republicans to offer 6 amends. Floor consideration expected to start this afternoon or first thing tomorrow morning.

The House Rules Committee has scheduled a meeting on the CHOICE Act for 5:00 PM Tuesday, June 6, to consider the amendments that have been submitted as well as a rule for floor consideration. It is expected that the Committee will issue a rule to bring the bill to the House floor on Wednesday, and that rule is likely to provide for debate and floor consideration of amendments.

There is some speculation that Democratic members may withdraw their amendments in a show of opposition to the bill, similar to their decision last Congress not to participate in the Committee mark-up.  We understand that the Majority Whip, Rep. McCarthy (R-CA), has placed the bill on the calendar for Wednesday, June 7th, subject to the Rules Committee completing its work. Depending on the final number of amendments to be considered (if any), and the time provided for debate, it is possible that the bill could pass as early as Wednesday evening.

*John Mirvish is not admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia.

The long awaited en banc oral argument in the PHH v. CFPB appeal was heard this morning.  Based upon the questions asked by the judges, and with the caveat that such questioning is not always an indicator of how a court will rule, it seems likely that the D.C. Circuit will not find the CFPB to be unconstitutionally structured.  While Judge Kavanaugh, author of the roughly 100-page 3-judge panel decision last October, tried mightily to defend his position that a single director removable only for cause thwarts the President’s Article II authority, most of the judges did not seem to share his views.  Some judges, like Judge Griffith, implied that the Court was bound by the Supreme Court’s decision in Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, which upheld the constitutionality of removal-for-cause provisions as pertains to the multi-member Federal Trade Commission.  Other judges appeared to believe there was sufficient accountability for the CFPB Director because he or she can be removed for cause.  Judge Pillard defended the independence of financial regulatory agencies such as the CFPB.  On the whole, fewer judges seemed inclined to declare the for-cause provisions unconstitutional than to keep the status quo.

Notably, only about 60 seconds of the 90 minute oral argument addressed RESPA concerns, in particular Section 8(c)(2).  The judges’ RESPA-related questions concerned whether the industry had notice that RESPA prohibited the conduct in question (which had been blessed by a 1997 Letter from HUD permitting captive reinsurance if the Section 8(c)(2) safe harbor provisions were met) and whether the CFPB was bound by RESPA’s 3-year statute of limitations.  Questions about both issues were directed to CFPB counsel.  He stated that the statute itself provided ample notice of its prohibitions in Sections 8(a) and 8(c)(2). He also said the Bureau was bound by the generally-applicable 5-year statute of limitations at least insofar as penalties are concerned, but he did not concede the Bureau was otherwise bound by RESPA’s limitations period in an administrative proceeding.  That said, given how little attention was directed to the RESPA questions, it is likely that the full 11-member panel will affirm the 3-judge panel’s views on RESPA expressed last October.

It would appear that Director Cordray will remain at his desk until his term expires in July 2018.  He may, however, need to revise his interpretation of Section 8(c)(2).

 

One week before the en banc D.C. Circuit is scheduled to hear oral argument regarding the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) structure in CFPB v. PHH, the Ninth Circuit has taken up the issue as well. In an order issued May 17, 2017, the Ninth Circuit granted permission for interlocutory appeal to address the question of whether the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional and, if it is, what the proper remedy is.  Continue Reading CFPB Constitutionality Question Headed to 9th Circuit

Once again, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) is providing compliance tips through its Supervisory Highlights for lenders making non-Qualified Mortgages (“non-QMs”). In its latest set of Highlights, the CFPB addresses how a lender must consider a borrower’s assets in underwriting those loans, and clarifies that a borrower’s down payment cannot be treated as an asset for that purpose, apparently even if that policy has been shown to be predictive of strong loan performance.

The Dodd-Frank Act and the CFPB’s Ability to Repay Rule generally require a lender making a closed-end residential mortgage loan to determine that the borrower will be able to repay the loan according to its terms. A lender may choose to follow the Rule’s safe harbor by making loans within the QM parameters. Alternatively, a lender may opt for more underwriting flexibility (and somewhat less compliance certainty). When making a non-QM, a lender must consider eight mandated underwriting factors and verify the borrower’s income or assets on which it relies using reasonably reliable third-party records. As one of those eight factors, the lender must base its determination on current or reasonably expected income from employment or other sources, assets other than the dwelling that secures the covered transaction, or both. Continue Reading CFPB Prohibits Considering Down Payments for Non-QMs

Dealing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) another setback, on April 21, 2017, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals refused to enforce a Civil Investigative Demand (CID) issued by the CFPB. The decision is likely to have broad implications for how the CFPB identifies the nature and scope of its investigations in its CIDs, which to date have provided investigation subjects with little information about the nature of the CFPB’s concerns. More precisely defined investigations could provide significant benefits to CID recipients, as well as establish a basis to challenge the requests set forth in CIDs. To learn more about the ruling and its implications, read our Legal Update.

 

In March 2017, the CFPB issued a special edition of its Supervisory Highlights addressing consumer reporting from the perspective of consumer reporting companies (“CRCs”) (commonly referred to as credit bureaus or consumer reporting agencies) and furnishers. This follows the CFPB’s February 2017 Monthly Complaint Report, which focused on complaints related to credit reporting. These publications, along with recent statements by Director Robert Cordray, suggest that the CFPB will be placing additional supervisory focus on credit reporting for both CRCs and furnishers of consumer information. Continue Reading Time for Some Spring (Credit Reporting) Cleaning