Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

On October 4, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) issued an interim final rule and a proposed rule related to the 2016 Mortgage Servicing Final Rule to clarify the timing of and facilitate the provision of certain required communications with borrowers.

The CFPB amended its mortgage servicing rules in August 2016, to go into effect in large part on October 19, 2017 (the “2016 Final Rule”). One provision of the 2016 Final Rule requires mortgage servicers to send certain delinquent borrowers early intervention notices, modified for use with a borrower who has requested a cease in communication under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). The FDCPA allows borrowers to request that servicers and other companies refrain from contacting them except in certain circumstances, such as when a borrower becomes delinquent. The 2016 Final Rule exempts servicers from sending the early intervention notices only in situations where the borrower does not have a loss mitigation option available or where the borrower is a debtor in bankruptcy.

Under the 2016 Final Rule, mortgage servicers, when communicating with consumers who have invoked the FDCPA’s cease communication right, were required to provide the consumers modified early intervention notices, but only once every 180 days. Continue Reading It’s All in the Timing: CFPB Addresses Timing Challenges in 2016 Mortgage Servicing Rules

On October 5th, the CFPB finalized its long-awaited payday lending rule, reportedly five years in the making. The final rule is substantially similar to the proposal the Bureau issued last year. However, the Bureau decided not to finalize requirements for longer-term high-cost installment loans, choosing to focus only on short-term loans and longer-term loans with a balloon payment feature.

The final rule will be become effective in mid-summer 2019, 21 months after it is published in the Federal Register (except that provisions facilitating “registered information systems” to which creditors will report information regarding loans subject to the new ability-to-repay requirements become effective 60 days after publication).

The final rule identifies two practices as unfair and abusive: (1) making a covered short-term loan or longer-term balloon payment loan without determining that the consumer has the ability to repay; and (2) absent express consumer authorization, making attempts to withdraw payments from a consumer’s account after two consecutive payments have failed. Continue Reading CFPB’s Final Payday Lending Rule: The Long and Short of It

No AfBA disclosure — no safe harbor!

By Consent Order dated September 27, 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took action against Meridian Title Corporation for violating Section 8 of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 by failing to furnish affiliated business arrangement (AfBA) disclosures to consumers. Meridian, an Indiana title and settlement agent, referred over 7,000 customers to its affiliated title insurer, Arsenal Insurance Corporation, without providing written AfBA disclosures notifying consumers of the entities’ affiliation and consumers’ rights. It also received compensation above and beyond its standard allowable commission set forth in the companies’ agency agreement. Under the Consent Order, Meridian agreed to disclose its affiliation with Arsenal, implement certain compliance measures, and set aside $1.25 million for affected consumers, with any portion of that amount not ultimately provided to consumers to be paid to the CFPB.

As indicated above, the underlying basis for action in this case was Meridian’s failure to provide written AfBA disclosures to consumers it referred to Arsenal. The disclosure requirement is black and white – payments under an AfBA cannot qualify for RESPA’s Section 8(c)(4) exception to the anti-kickback and fee-splitting provisions unless the referring entity provides written disclosures to customers meeting certain form and content requirements. Failure to furnish the disclosures leaves payments between the entities subject to scrutiny to determine whether they constitute payments for referrals or qualify for some other exception, Continue Reading CFPB Requires Title Agent to Pay Up To $1.25 Million to Consumers Referred to Affiliated Title Insurer

Yesterday, the CFPB issued two HMDA-related items – a final rule amending federal Regulation B’s information collection provisions and a proposed policy document addressing which HMDA data fields the Bureau intends to make public beginning in 2019.

The Regulation B amendment is intended to facilitate compliance with the new version of Regulation C going into effect on January 1, 2018.   The final rule provides creditors with flexibility in complying with Regulation B’s information collection requirements and restrictions for certain dwelling-secured loans. This will allow lenders to use uniform information-gathering practices and consistent forms without running afoul with Regulation B, even when their loan volume or other circumstances exempts them from data collection and reporting under Regulation C.  The final rule can be found here.

The policy guidance document sets out how the CFPB proposes to balance the competing goals of making HMDA data available to the public while also protecting loan applicant privacy. The Bureau believes that public disclosure of HMDA data is critical to advancing HMDA’s goals, including the identification of possible lending discrimination.  On the other hand, there is a risk that the expanded list of HMDA fields that will be collected next year under amended Regulation C could reveal loan applicants’ identities and other personal information.  The CFPB therefore proposes to exclude certain fields from public disclosure and to modify certain others so they are less specific.  The proposed guidance can be found here. The Bureau will accept comments on the proposal for 60 following its publication in the Federal Register.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) has issued its first No-Action Letter (“No-Action Letter” or “Letter”) in response to a request from Upstart Network, Inc. (“Upstart”). The No-Action Letter means that CFPB staff currently has no intention of recommending enforcement or supervisory action against Upstart. This decision is limited to the application of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”) and its implementing regulation, Regulation B, to Upstart’s automated model for underwriting applicants for unsecured, non-revolving credit (“automated model”).

Upstart is an online lending platform that, working with a bank partner, uses alternative data to facilitate credit and pricing decisions for consumers with limited credit or work history. In addition to relying on traditional credit information, Upstart uses non-traditional sources of information to evaluate a consumer’s creditworthiness. For instance, Upstart might look at an applicant’s educational information, such as school attended and degree obtained, and the applicant’s employment to determine financial capacity and ability to repay. Upstart submitted a Request for No-Action Letter (“Request”) in relation to its automated model to the CFPB pursuant to the agency’s no-action letter policy.

According to the CFPB, the no-action letter policy is intended to facilitate consumer-friendly innovations where regulatory uncertainty may exist for certain emerging products or services. In practice, however, the process has presented significant challenges for companies that might seek to benefit from it. Continue Reading CFPB Issues No-Action Letter to Alternative Credit Lending Platform

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently announced a change in the way financial institutions, service providers, and others can obtain informal guidance on regulatory issues from the CFPB’s staff. It appears that the only change is the access vehicle to use when posing questions.

In the past, the CFPB preferred that questions be posed via email to CFPB_reginquiries@cfpb.gov. Now persons wanting answers to regulatory questions can use a new online form (https://reginquiries.consumerfinance.gov/). The new form provides a dropdown menu that allows the user to choose from the proverbial alphabet soup of regulations, along with an “Other” box. Users also can specify a particular statutory code section. However, the box provided for the user to pose the question has limited formatting options. As just one example, there is apparently no way to upload an attachment, which of course was an option when questions were sent via email. It remains to be seen whether the new formatting limits will make it more difficult to seek and obtain confirmation of an interpretation.

Other elements of the prior system seem to be unchanged. Responses to questions will still take time. The CFPB estimates an average of 10 to 15 business days, but acknowledges that longer time frames might be expected, depending on the volume of questions, the amount of time needed to research the question, and staff availability. Presumably a longer response time might also be expected if the question poses policy issues that CFPB staff must discuss and resolve prior to responding. Also unchanged is the CFPB’s position that responses will not constitute official CFPB interpretations and “are not a substitute for formal legal counsel or other compliance advice.” The CFPB notes, for example, that it will not moderate disputes, provide guidance on matters under examination or investigation, answer questions about specific business plans, or provide guidance on laws that are not under the CFPB’s authority.

While it appears the CFPB is attempting to improve its process for fielding questions concerning regulatory issues, it remains to be seen if this is truly an improvement for the public, or merely a way to simplify the process for the 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