Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

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.

The Bureau also alleges that the respondents made collection calls to consumers at their places of employment even after being told that the consumers could not receive calls at work, and called third parties in a manner that risked disclosing the debts. The Bureau further alleges that respondents did not heed cease-contact requests with respect to these parties. The Bureau alleges that such practices were unfair for the same reasons as the in-person collection practices described above.

Despite Mr. Mulvaney’s emphatic rejection of regulation by enforcement, the debt collection allegations in this consent order center around practices that lack any formal rulemaking. First, it appears that the Bureau is applying the guidance issued in its December 2015 bulletin, regarding unfair, deceptive and abusive acts and practices (UDAAP), which notes that in-person debt collection practices at consumers’ homes or places of employment can result in violations of the prohibition on UDAAP and the FDCPA due to the risk of disclosure of debts to third parties and the risk that such communications are at a time or place known to be inconvenient to the consumer. Second, the Bureau appears to be applying its July 2013 bulletin, which notes that prohibited practices under the FDCPA can be considered UDAAPs when employed by first-party debt collectors. Finally, the allegations suggest that the Bureau believes that debt collectors should inform consumers of their policies or practices regarding in-person collection visits despite no regulatory requirement to do so.

Credit Furnishing Practices

The Bureau alleges that respondents did not have in place any written policies and procedures regarding credit furnishing. The Bureau further alleges that the respondents furnished inaccurate information to credit reporting agencies, were slow to correct errors, overwrote corrected errors, and failed to furnish the date of first delinquency on certain accounts to credit reporting agencies. The consent order requires the respondents to consult an independent consultant to implement and maintain reasonable credit furnishing policies and procedures and to review all information furnished to a credit reporting agency since July 21, 2011.

More of the Same?

The settlement has many of the familiar trappings of the old Bureau in terms of the kind of conduct at issue and the corrective action required of the respondents (a Compliance Plan, etc.). But the consent order also reflects what appear to be new approaches to some issues. The consent order’s description of how the respondents’ actions were unfair, for example, is more fulsome than prior consent orders, including an acknowledgement that the collection tactics at issue may have a “marginal benefit in the form of more recoveries.” While this suggests that Mr. Mulvaney’s Bureau may be more thoroughly considering the third prong of unfairness (which requires a balancing of likely consumer injury with advantages to consumers or competition) than the previous leadership, the consent order still summarily concludes that the “marginal benefit” does not outweigh likely consumer injury. This conclusion is not supported by any empirical findings, notwithstanding Mr. Mulvaney’s assertion that the Bureau will engage in more quantitative analysis and his establishment of an Office of Cost Benefit Analysis. Time will tell whether the move to empirical analysis will be limited to rulemaking or will make its way to the enforcement realm as well.

Additionally, despite the allegations of substantial injury from the debt collection conduct at issue, the consent order does not require any financial consumer redress or cancellation of debts for impacted consumers. While the Bureau has been inconsistent in this regard in its past debt collection actions, it has typically required such consumer redress. For example, in a prior action involving in-person debt collection, the Bureau required that consumers be refunded any payments made within 90 days of an in-person collection visit.

It is dangerous to read too much into any one enforcement action, but what does appear clear is that the Bureau’s enforcement machinery is slowly creaking back to life after a near-freeze at the beginning of Mr. Mulvaney’s tenure. Future actions will reveal whether he was serious about there being “more math” (i.e., quantitative analysis) in the Bureau’s future and whether this action reflects a new approach to consumer redress.

Last week, we wrote about how the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (“Bureau”) under Acting Director Mick Mulvaney had surprisingly doubled down on claims of unfair, deceptive and abusive practices (“UDAAP”) brought under former Director Richard Cordray in a case against a lead aggregator (back when the Bureau referred to itself as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). As if to prove the point that the Bureau is not backing off aggressive UDAAP claims, the very next day the Bureau filed a brief  in another case similarly supporting novel UDAAP claims brought under Cordray. The Bureau’s brief was filed in opposition to a motion to dismiss by defendants Think Finance, LLC and related entities. The case involves Bureau claims that Think Finance engaged in unfair, deceptive and abusive conduct when it attempted to collect on loans that were, according to the Bureau, void under state law. Continue Reading UDAAP Strikes Again: The New BCFP Seems a Lot Like the Old CFPB

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 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.

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

On March 8, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) finalized the amendment to its 2016 Mortgage Servicing Final Rule (“2016 Final Rule”) to clarify the transition timing for mortgage servicers to provide periodic statements and coupon books when a consumer enters or exits bankruptcy.

Under the 2016 Final Rule, mortgage servicers will be required (as of April 19, 2018) to provide modified periodic statements to borrowers who file for a bankruptcy plan and to provide unmodified (i.e., regular) statements to borrowers who subsequently exit such a plan.

However, servicers need time to transition between statement formats. As we described previously, the 2016 Final Rule would have given servicers a single billing cycle to switch the statement format. The industry informed the CFPB about operational complexities with that approach, so the CFPB proposed a rule on October 4, 2017 to address those challenges.

That proposal, which the CFPB has now finalized, replaces the single-billing-cycle transition period with a single-statement transition period. As of the date that a borrower becomes a debtor in bankruptcy, a servicer is exempt from providing the modified statement or coupon book with respect to the next periodic statement or book that would otherwise have been required, but thereafter must provide the modified statement or book.  Similarly, a servicer has a single billing cycle before it must provide a borrower who exits a bankruptcy plan with an unmodified statement or coupon book.  The Official Interpretations illustrate when and how a servicer must comply with those new requirements.

While this new transition period rule may alleviate certain operational challenges with transitioning between the modified and unmodified periodic statements, certain industry trade groups have called upon the CFPB to rethink many of the bankruptcy statement requirements altogether. With the April 19 deadline fast approaching, any additional guidance must come quickly.

On February 6, 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities issued draft regulations in response to the state’s recent law requiring licensing of mortgage loan servicers. The new regulations provide a great deal of information about what servicers will be required to do, but no additional guidance on exactly which entities must obtain the new license.

As we wrote previously, Pennsylvania Senate Bill 751 (also referred to as “Act 81” of 2017) amended the state’s Mortgage Licensing Act to require a person servicing mortgage loans to obtain a license. “Servicing a mortgage loan” for that purpose is defined as “collecting or remitting payment or the right to collect or remit payments of principal, interest, tax, insurance or other payment under a mortgage loan,” without limiting that phrase (and thus without limiting the licensing obligation) to servicing activity conducted only for others. As we indicated, that could be interpreted to require licensing even of persons servicing their own portfolio, unless the servicer also originated the loans (or unless an exemption otherwise applies, such as for banking institutions, their subsidiaries, or their affiliates, which are exempt from licensing upon registering). The legislation also does not indicate whether the licensing obligation applies to an entity that merely holds mortgage servicing rights without directly servicing the loans.

Unfortunately, the Department’s recent draft regulations do not provide guidance on whether such entities must obtain the license. Continue Reading Pennsylvania Drafts Mortgage Servicing Regulations to Track RESPA Requirements

On February 7, 2018, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”) released the third installment of its call for comments on the Bureau’s functions. The latest request for information (“RFI”) on the CFPB’s enforcement processes should spark the interest of previously investigated and yet-to-be investigated entities alike. Comment letters should include specific suggestions on how the Bureau can change the enforcement process and identify specific aspects of the CFPB’s existing enforcement process that should be modified. In addition to considering the regulations governing CFPB investigations, 12 C.F.R. part 1080, commentators should consider reviewing the CFPB Office of Enforcement’s Policies and Procedures Manual, which governs the enforcement process. According to the RFI, commentators should include supporting data or information on impacts and costs, where available.

The RFI requests comments on the following topics:

Continue Reading Change is Coming: The CFPB Requests Comments on Its Enforcement Process

Since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s inception in 2011, the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity (Office of Fair Lending) has been a powerful force within the agency. This week, Acting Director Mick Mulvaney announced that the Office of Fair Lending will be transferred from where it currently resides – in the Division of Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending (SEFL) – to the Office of the Director, where it will become part of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Fairness. Despite the similar nomenclature, the priorities of the Office of Fair Lending and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Fairness are vastly different, with the latter having oversight over equal employment opportunity and diversity and inclusion initiatives within the CFPB. The move likely signals a substantial curtailment of CFPB fair lending enforcement activities.

Section 1013 of the Dodd-Frank Act mandated the establishment of an Office of Fair Lending and the statutory language provides that the Office of Fair Lending “shall have such powers and duties as the Director may delegate to the Office, including”:

  • Providing oversight and enforcement of federal fair lending laws (including ECOA and HMDA);
  • Coordinating fair lending efforts with other federal agencies and state regulators;
  • Working with the private industry and consumer advocates on the promotion of fair lending compliance and education; and
  • Providing annual reports to Congress on the Bureau’s efforts to fulfill its fair lending mandate.

The CFPB to date had in fact given the Office of Fair Lending the powers and duties listed in the statute, and Office of Fair Lending attorneys played a substantial role in overseeing fair lending examinations and bringing fair lending enforcement actions. Indeed, the Office of Fair Lending has come under fire for “regulation through enforcement” and for “pushing the envelope” through its aggressive enforcement of federal anti-discrimination statutes against lenders on the basis of statistical analyses (i.e., dealer markup and redlining). It is clear that, as a result of the restructuring, the Office of Fair Lending will no longer have supervisory or enforcement responsibilities. According to an email sent by Mulvaney to CFPB staff that was leaked to several news outlets, the Office of Fair Lending’s new focus will be on advocacy, coordination, and education. Although SEFL as a whole still maintains responsibility for fair lending supervisory and enforcement matters, this restructuring signals a de-emphasis on fair lending and likely will lead to a significant decrease in the number of fair lending examinations, investigations and enforcement actions brought by the Bureau. Indeed, Congress presumably required the establishment of a separate fair lending office out of recognition that having such an office would ensure a persistent attention to fair lending issues. Stripping the office of supervisory and enforcement responsibilities will similarly result in less of a focus on those issues. While SEFL leadership and staff are likely to continue to pursue fair lending matters, those matters will now compete for attention and resources with the myriad other issues over which the CFPB has jurisdiction.

In its Fair Lending Report released last year, the Bureau’s then-Director Cordray touted its “historic resolution of the largest redlining, auto finance, and credit card fair lending cases.” Cordray also identified redlining, mortgage loan servicing, student loan servicing, and small business lending as the Bureau’s fair lending priorities going forward. Under the Bureau’s new leadership, fair lending issues evidently will no longer be a top priority. With the rollback in the CFPB’s fair lending enforcement activities, there may be an uptick in consumer advocacy groups seeking other avenues for fair lending relief, such as class action litigation and complaints filed with HUD and state agencies tasked with enforcing state anti-discrimination laws.