Congress amended the Truth in Lending Act in May 2018 by directing the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau to prescribe ability-to-repay regulations with respect to Property Assessed Clean Energy (“PACE”) financing. PACE financing helps homeowners cover the costs of home improvements, which financing results in a tax assessment on the consumer’s property. Ability-to-repay regulations, which TILA and the CFPB currently impose in connection with most closed-end residential mortgage loans, would generally require a creditor to consider specific factors about a consumer’s finances, including income, assets, and debt obligations, and to verify the income and assets with reliable third-party documentation, prior to extending the financing.

On March 4, 2019, the CFPB issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPR”) seeking information regarding, and responses to specific questions related to, PACE financing.

Read more in Mayer Brown’s Legal Update.

On February 22, the Third Circuit sidestepped the Supreme Court’s 2017 holding in Henson v. Santander Consumer USA Inc. and found that a purchaser of defaulted debt qualified as a debt collector under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

In Barbato v. Greystone Alliance, the Third Circuit considered whether an entity that purchased charged off receivables and outsourced the actual collection activity was subject to the FDCPA.  In analyzing the issue, the court explained that the FDCPA’s definition of the term debt collector has two prongs, and if an entity satisfies either of them, it is a debt collector subject to the Act.  Under the “principal purpose” prong, a debt collector includes any person who “uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of is the collection of any debts.”  Under the “regularly collects” prong, a debt collector includes any person who “regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.”

The defendant in Barbato, Crown Asset Management, purchased defaulted debt and outsourced the collection function to a third party.  After being sued for allegedly violating the FDCPA, Crown argued (among other things) that under the Supreme Court’s decision in Henson, the Act did not apply to it because Crown owned the debts and thus did not regularly seek to collect debts owed to another.  In response to this argument, the Third Circuit explained that while Henson clarified the scope of the “regularly collects” definition, the Supreme Court “went out of its way in Henson to say that it was not opining on whether debt buyers could also qualify as debt collectors under [the principal purpose prong].” Continue Reading Third Circuit Holds that Debt Purchasers Can Qualify as Debt Collectors

Federal banking agencies issued a final rule, effective July 1, 2019, implementing the requirement in the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act (the “Act”) for the acceptance of private flood insurance on covered properties. The final rule largely mimics the proposal (which we addressed previously here), but with a few interesting revisions and additional details.

First, the agencies adopted the proposed definition of “private flood insurance” largely unchanged. The Act defines the term, so the agencies had little discretion. However, the agencies clarified what coverage is “at least as broad as” coverage provided under a standard flood insurance policy (“SFIP”). Specifically, the final rule removes the requirement that the policy cover both the mortgagors and mortgagees as loss payees.

The most important change from the proposed stage may be a revision to the rule’s so-called compliance aid. To assist in determining whether a particular private flood insurance policy meets the necessary criteria, the agencies initially proposed that a policy would meet the definition of “private flood insurance” if: (1) the policy includes a written summary identifying the policy provisions meeting each criterion and confirming the insurer’s licensing/approval status; (2) the regulated lending institution verifies in writing the provisions identified in the summary, and that those provisions in fact satisfy the criteria; and (3) the policy includes the following assurance clause: “This policy meets the definition of private flood insurance contained in 42 U.S.C. 4012a(b)(7) and the corresponding regulation.”

The final rule indicated that the reaction to that proposed compliance aid was largely negative. Continue Reading Acceptance of Private Flood Insurance – Final Rule

CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger has filed her first contested lawsuit as CFPB Director.  Somewhat surprisingly, the lawsuit seeks to enforce a Civil Investigative Demand (CID) issued by the CFPB in June 2017—under former Director Richard Cordray—to a debt collection law firm.  The petition to enforce the CID makes clear that the respondent law firm made a “final, partial, redacted production” in response to the CID in September 2017.  Clearly, therefore, this matter was pending at the CFPB throughout the year-long tenure of Mick Mulvaney, during which the agency took no action to enforce the CID. It is dangerous to read too much into this action, but it does suggest that Kraninger may take a more aggressive enforcement posture than Mulvaney, who was criticized for the sharp drop in the number of enforcement actions under his watch.

The CID at issue is a typically broad CFPB CID from that era. It contains 21 interrogatories with dozens of sub-parts, seven requests for written reports, 15 requests for documents, and, unusually, four request for “tangible things,” in this case phone recordings and associated metadata. Read as a whole, the CID seeks information regarding virtually every aspect of the respondent’s debt collection business over a period of three-and-a-half years. The CID’s Notification of Purpose is equally broad and limitless, Continue Reading Kraninger’s First Lawsuit

Freddie Mac is an outlier among the three primary secondary market investors with its mid-month investor reporting cycle. In an effort to standardize the marketplace, Freddie Mac is joining Fannie Mae and Ginnie Mae by shifting its investor reporting cycle to the beginning of each month. In this regard, Freddie Mac is implementing the following changes: (i) the investor reporting cycle will run from the first day of each calendar month to the last day of such month; (ii) Freddie Mac is encouraging daily loan-level reporting, with reporting of at least one loan level-transaction detailing activity submitted no later than the 15th calendar day of each month (or next business day) (the “P&I Determination Date”); (iii) servicers will report the actual principal received and the forecasted scheduled interest based on unpaid principal balance reported at the end of the current one-month period; (iv) Freddie Mac will draft principal and interest from the servicer’s custodial account two business days after the P&I Determination Date; (v) on the fifth business day following a payoff, Freddie Mac will draft payoff proceeds, provided such payoff was reported within two business days of the payoff date, subject to certain requirements; and (vi) Freddie Mac will process and settle loan modifications on a daily basis.

Freddie Mac has released several bulletins outlining the transition (2016-15, 2017-4, 2017-15, and 2018-14), summarized in the following timeline:

Continue Reading Freddie Mac’s Investor Reporting Changes

On February 6, 2019, the CFPB issued a proposal to reconsider the mandatory underwriting provisions of its pending 2017 rule governing payday, vehicle title, and certain high-cost installment loans (the Payday/Small Dollar Lending Rule, or the Rule).

The CFPB proposed and finalized its 2017 Payday/Small Dollar Lending Rule under former Director Richard Cordray. Compliance with that Rule was set to become mandatory in August 2019. However, in October 2018, the CFPB (under its new leadership of former Acting Director Mick Mulvaney) announced that it planned to revisit the Rule’s underwriting provisions (known as the ability-to-repay provisions), and it expected to issue proposed rules addressing those provisions in January 2019. The Rule also became subject to a legal challenge, and in November 2018 a federal court issued an order staying that August 2019 compliance date pending further order.

The 2017 Rule had identified 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 the loan; and (2) absent express consumer authorization, making attempts to withdraw payments from a consumer’s account after two consecutive payments have failed. Under that 2017 Rule, creditors would have been required to underwrite payday, vehicle title, and certain high-cost installment loans (i.e., determine borrowers’ ability to repay). The Rule also would have required creditors to furnish information regarding covered short-term loans and covered longer-term balloon loans to “registered information systems.” See our previous coverage of the Rule here and here. Continue Reading CFPB Announces Proposal to Revoke (Most of) the Payday/Small Dollar Lending Rule

While most of the federal government remained shuttered in mid-January, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB or the Bureau) was on the job, thinking about the Military Lending Act (MLA or the Act). On January 17, 2019, the Bureau’s Director, Kathleen Kraninger, issued a statement asking Congress to “explicitly grant the Bureau authority to conduct examinations specifically intended to review compliance with the MLA.” Director Kraninger’s predecessor, Mick Mulvaney, reportedly halted MLA-related examinations last year, citing the lack of statutory authority . It appears from the Director’s request that the CFPB may not conduct MLA compliance examinations without new legislation.

The MLA—enacted in 2006 and implemented by the Department of Defense—provides enhanced protection to active duty service members, their spouses, and their dependents when they obtain certain types of loan products. One of the main protections prevents creditors from imposing more than a 36% Military Annual Percentage Rate (an annualized rate including interest and other fees) on a covered individual for certain products. The Act also prohibits certain loan terms, such as mandatory arbitration clauses or prepayment penalties.

Congress granted the Bureau enforcement authority for the MLA’s requirements in 2013. At the time, the Bureau interpreted the scope of that new authority to include supervision—the authority to proactively examine covered institutions for violations of the Act. In its Supervisory Highlights for Winter 2013, the Bureau stated that it would ensure adherence to the MLA through both enforcement and supervision activity, and noted that it had updated its short-term, small-dollar loan examination procedures with guidance on how to identify MLA violations. The Bureau then issued a set of standalone examination procedures for MLA compliance in 2016. The Bureau has taken one enforcement action based on MLA violations—a consent order issued in 2013.

The Bureau has not issued any formal guidance regarding MLA-related supervisory activity since 2016. However, in August 2018, it was widely reported that then-Acting Director Mulvaney planned to suspend MLA-related examinations. The basis for the suspension was reportedly that, although the MLA legislation granted the Bureau enforcement authority, the Act did not grant supervisory authority. In other words, the Bureau planned to continue to exercise its enforcement authority as violations of the MLA came to its attention, but CFPB examiners would not proactively monitor covered institutions for violations.

Subsequent to those reports, Democratic members of the House Committee on Financial Services (HCFS)—including current HCFS Chair Maxine Waters—sent a letter to Director Kraninger requesting that she commit to resuming MLA-related supervisory activity. The Director responded by issuing the above-mentioned request for legislation explicitly granting the Bureau supervisory authority over the MLA. Based on the wording of Director Kraninger’s request, it appears that the Bureau may not conduct “examinations specifically intended to review compliance with the MLA” until it receives explicit legislative authority from Congress.

In conjunction with her request, Director Kraninger submitted to lawmakers proposed legislation that would grant the Bureau supervisory authority for the MLA’s requirements. A week prior to the Director’s request, Representative Andy Barr introduced House Resolution 442, which would also grant the requested authority. The prospects for either proposal are unclear in a divided Congress.

Mayer Brown’s Alex Lakatos will serve as a contributor to the new fintechpolicy.org website.  His most recent contribution is a video series on the intersection of ethics, fintech, and artificial intelligence.

Check out the latest episodes (each episode is a time-friendly 1 or 2 minutes), and note that new episodes will be released about once a week until the series is complete.

Possibly hinting toward a revival of fair lending enforcement following a recent lull, the OCC’s Ombudsman recently declined a bank’s appeal of the OCC’s decision to refer the bank to both DOJ and HUD for potential Fair Housing Act violations.

The OCC’s Ombudsman oversees an infrequently used program for banks that desire to appeal agency decisions and actions.  In 2018, a bank appealed the determination of the OCC’s supervisory office that the bank may have engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, or sex in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The Ombudsman reviewed the bank’s appeal under Section 2-204 of Executive Order 12892 and DOJ guidance from 1996 describing the circumstances that qualify as a “pattern or practice” meriting a referral.  Under Executive Order 12892, when the OCC receives “information from a consumer compliance examination…suggesting a violation of the Fair Housing Act,” it must forward that information to HUD. If the information indicates a possible pattern or practice of discrimination in violation of the Act, the OCC must also forward it to DOJ. After examining the information, HUD may choose to pursue an administrative enforcement action and DOJ may choose to pursue legal action.

Significantly, in ruling on the bank’s appeal, the Ombudsman determined that the OCC is only required to have information suggesting a possible pattern or practice of Act violations in order to forward that information to HUD  or DOJ pursuant to Executive Order 12892.  In other words, the OCC is not required to meet evidentiary standards that would otherwise be applicable in court. According to the Ombudsman’s decision, DOJ conducts its own investigation of information forwarded by the OCC and directs bank regulatory agencies that they need not have “overwhelming proof” of an “extensive pattern or practice of discrimination” before making a referral.

Appeals to the Ombudsman rarely involve fair lending matters. The last bank appeal involving fair lending occurred in 2011, and involved a community bank that the OCC believed had engaged in racial redlining. The Ombudsman agreed with the supervisory office’s referral in that case as well. More recently, banks have used the Ombudsman’s office to challenge various matters requiring attention in examination reports, with many focusing on ratings assigned during Shared National Credit examinations.

It’s difficult to predict whether this recent Ombudsman ruling is  a harbinger of more vigorous fair lending supervision.  Banks should take note, however, that the OCC is conducting Fair Housing Act examinations and willing to refer matters to HUD and DOJ based solely on information “suggesting a possible pattern or practice” of violations.

 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued final policy guidance on December 21, 2018, explaining how it will make available to the public data submitted by financial institutions under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA). The CFPB comprehensively revised HMDA reporting requirements in 2015, and extensive new data collection requirements became effective this year, with a reporting deadline of March 2019. With three months to go before that deadline, the CFPB could not have waited much longer to announce how it will publicly disclose the HMDA data while still protecting sensitive information.

Under the new HMDA requirements, reporting financial institutions must notify the public that the institutions’ data may be obtained on the CFPB’s website. The CFPB is then responsible for protecting applicant and borrower privacy, even as privacy risks evolve. The industry has expressed concern about the breadth of the data the CFPB will be collecting under the new HMDA reporting requirements, and about the increased reidentification risks that could arise upon making the data public (that is, the risk that someone could link an identified individual to his or her HMDA data). Commenters emphasized that if borrowers or applicants could be identified from the HMDA data, predators could target consumers for identity theft, fraudulently pose as the borrower’s lender, or otherwise misuse the data.

However, the CFPB declined to follow the commenters’ requests to exclude from the public all the new data required to be reported under the 2015 HMDA final rule. The CFPB recognized the inherent reidentification risk, but determined that the benefits of certain data disclosure outweigh that risk. The CFPB determined that most of the HMDA data is not sensitive and does not substantially facilitate reidentification or create a risk of harm. The CFPB reportedly employed a balancing test, requiring that HMDA data be excluded from public disclosure or modified when the release of the unmodified data would create risks to applicant and borrower privacy interests that are not justified by the benefits to the public of that release.

Accordingly, at least for 2018 data, the CFPB will modify the HMDA loan-level data to exclude the following fields: Continue Reading CFPB Issues Final Guidance on Public Disclosure of HMDA Data