On May 9, 2022, the CFPB issued an Advisory Opinion outlining its position that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and its implementing regulation, Regulation B, extend beyond applicants seeking credit to include those who have received credit. The 16-page Advisory Opinion lays out the Bureau’s position that the statutory text, legislative purpose and judicial
Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA)
FHFA’s Strategic Plan Reflects the Agency’s Increased Focus on Fair Lending
The U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (“FHFA”) draft strategic plan, which we discussed in an earlier post, sets forth FHFA’s goals and objectives for the next four years. Unsurprisingly, FHFA’s recent focus on fair lending issues is reflected in the plan. Over the course of the past year, FHFA has made numerous strides in…
CFPB Announces It Will Seek to Extend ECOA-Like Antidiscrimination Provisions Broadly to All Consumer Finance Activities
In an extraordinary announcement yesterday, the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB or Bureau) unveiled a broad expansion of its supervisory procedures to include examining supervised entities for discriminatory conduct that the agency alleges could constitute unfair practices in violation of the Dodd-Frank Act. Going forward, it appears that every exam for unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices (UDAAP) is likely to include an assessment of a company’s antidiscrimination programs as applied to all aspects of all consumer financial products or services, regardless of whether that company extends any credit or would otherwise be subject to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). In recent months, the Bureau has been laser focused on issues of fair lending and racial equity in the consumer credit market, including redlining, pricing and algorithmic bias, among others. With this change, the CFPB will be broadening its racial equity focus to cover every aspect of the consumer financial services sector.
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CFPB Publishes Proposals to Prevent Algorithmic Bias in AVMs
On February 23, 2022, the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”) took the first step in an eventual rulemaking by publishing an outline of proposals and alternatives under consideration to prevent algorithmic bias in automated valuation models (AVMs). AVMs are software-based tools used to determine the value of real estate as an alternative…
HUD Publishes Guidance Concluding that SPCPs Are Permissible under the Fair Housing Act
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) published guidance on the Fair Housing Act’s treatment of Special Purpose Credit Programs (SPCPs). An SPCP is a tool that lenders can use to target underserved communities without violating the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and its implementing…
Joint Agency Redlining Settlement Marks Reinvigoration of Federal Fair Lending Enforcement
Three federal agencies announced a coordinated settlement today with a Mississippi-headquartered bank for allegedly redlining predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the Memphis, Tennessee area. The action was the result of the OCC’s examination of the bank’s lending activities from 2014 to 2016. The OCC found that the bank had engaged in a “pattern or…
Re-introduced Fair Lending for All Act Proposes Stiffer ECOA Penalties and CFPB Testing Office
On January 4, 2021, Representative Al Green of Texas, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the House Financial Services Committee, re-introduced H.R. 166, titled the Fair Lending for All Act, a bill he previously introduced in 2019. The proposed bill would significantly revise the application and enforcement of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and would further expand lenders’ collection and reporting obligations under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA). …
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CFPB Issues Guidance on Doing Business with LEP Consumers
On January 13, 2021, the Bureau issued a guidance statement regarding the provision of financial products and services to consumers with limited English proficiency (the Statement). In the Statement, the Bureau defines a consumer with “limited English proficiency” or a “limited English proficient” (LEP) consumer as a person who has a limited ability to read,…
CFPB Finally Makes Progress on Implementing Small Business Lending Data Collection Requirements
On September 15, 2020, the CFPB published a detailed outline of proposed options it is considering to implement a rule under Section 1071 of the Dodd Frank Act. Ten years ago, Section 1071 amended the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) to require that financial institutions collect and report information concerning credit applications made by women- or minority-owned businesses and by small businesses. Although the CFPB was tasked with drafting rules to implement Section 1071, it did not take significant steps to meet that obligation until 2017, when it reported on some preliminary research, and then later in November 2019, when it held an information-gathering symposium.
As we previously noted, once Section 1071 is implemented, certain financial institutions will be required to collect information regarding the race, sex, and ethnicity of the principal owners of small businesses and women- and minority-owned businesses and submit this information to the CFPB, similar to what is currently required by the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act for mortgage loans. The CFPB’s outline released this week proposes several potential options for developing the small business lending data collection rule and is a precursor to any future proposed rulemaking. At this stage, the CFPB is seeking feedback on the direction of the rule. Feedback and comments on the scope of the rule can be sent to 2020-SBREFAfirstname.lastname@example.org until December 14, 2020. The CFPB is also seeking feedback on the potential impacts on small business entities and has requested submission of such feedback by November 9, 2020.
Below, we summarize the key aspects of the Bureau’s outline and its proposals regarding the scope of the rule.
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CFPB Seeks Input on Fair Lending Laws and Interpretations to Help Foster Innovation and Prevent Credit Discrimination
On July 28, 2020, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB or the Bureau) published a request for information (RFI) on opportunities for the Bureau to clarify the Equal Credit Opportunity Act’s (ECOA) implementing regulation, Regulation B, in a way that prevents credit discrimination and promotes credit access and innovation. The Bureau seeks feedback on a diverse set of topics, though the request is not limited to the below topics. Commenters are encouraged to address any aspects of ensuring fair access to credit and promoting innovation.
Arguably the most controversial topic in the RFI is the Bureau’s request for feedback on the appropriate framework for assessing disparate impact claims under ECOA. In 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a proposed disparate impact rule that purports to align HUD’s 2013 disparate impact rule with the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., a landmark Fair Housing Act case. HUD’s proposed rule has been the subject of significant controversy, with consumer advocacy groups arguing that it goes beyond the Supreme Court’s decision and that the heightened pleading standards outlined in the proposed rule would impermissibly extinguish the viability of disparate impact claims in the future. And recently, several of the largest banks and non-bank mortgage lenders, along with several trade associations, have asked HUD to hold off on finalizing the rule and bring key stakeholders together to discuss the disparate impact framework. Nevertheless, HUD has indicated that it plans to move forward with the implementation of the rule. If the CFPB outlines a framework for assessing disparate impact claims under ECOA that is different than the framework HUD ultimately implements, this could lead to significant uncertainty for the mortgage industry, because it is subject to both ECOA and the Fair Housing Act.
The RFI also seeks comments on whether and how the Bureau should clarify its interpretation of ECOA and Regulation B to facilitate innovation in the context of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), such as by modifying adverse action notice requirements in connection with credit underwriting decisions based in part on models using AI or ML. This request comes just weeks after the CFPB published a blog post addressing how adverse action notice requirements under ECOA and Regulation B apply to AI-driven credit decisions. The blog post suggests that the existing official commentary to the Regulation B allows for some flexibility in how creditors explain decisions to applicants. But the CFPB is interested in understanding how creditors are determining the “principal reasons” for a denial, and how to best convey those reasons. Accordingly, in the blog post, the CFPB encouraged institutions to use its regulatory sandbox, trial disclosure program, and no-action letter process to explore creative ways of informing consumers of the reasons for denial when using complex AI/ML algorithms. The RFI is an opportunity for entities to suggest other ways for the Bureau to clarify its interpretation of ECOA.
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