On August 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a debt collector’s representation to a debtor that her student loans were “ineligible” for bankruptcy discharge is a “false, misleading, or deceptive” debt collection practice in violation of the FDCPA. Easterling v. Collecto, Inc., No. 11-3209, 2012 WL 3734389 (2nd Cir. Aug. 30, 2012). The debt collector sent a collection letter to the debtor with a notice that the account was ineligible for bankruptcy discharge. The debtor sued the collector on her own behalf and on behalf of nearly 200 borrowers who also received such notices. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the debt collector, concluding that because the debtor had previously filed for bankruptcy without seeking to discharge her student loan debt, and because student loan debt is presumptively non-dischargeable, her debt was, in fact, not eligible to be discharged. The appeals court disagreed and held that the district court erred in focusing on the borrower’s circumstances instead of applying the “least sophisticated consumer” standard. In applying that standard on appeal, the court reasoned that while the bar for bankruptcy discharge is high, it is not impossible and the “least sophisticated consumer” might not seek the advice of counsel for pursuing discharge through bankruptcy after receiving the debt collector’s inaccurate notice. The court held that the debt collector’s notice did violate the FDCPA and reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.
On August 31, the FHFA announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will attempt to bring more private capital into the secondary mortgage market by increasing guarantee fees (g-fees) on single-family mortgages by an average of ten basis points. The increases will be effective on December 1, 2012 for loans exchanged for mortgage-backed securities, and on November 1, 2012 for loans sold for cash. The increases are designed to decrease the difference between g-fees charged to large volume lenders and those charged to small volume lenders, and to reduce cross-subsidies between higher-risk and lower-risk mortgages. With the announcement the FHFA released a report on guarantee fees charged in 2010 and 2011. The FHFA also stated that it soon will seek public comment on a proposal to develop risk-based pricing at the state level.
On August 30, the SEC published a study of financial literacy. The Dodd-Frank Act required the SEC to examine (i) existing financial literacy among retail investors, (ii) methods to improve disclosures, (iii) information needed to make informed investment decisions, (iv) disclosure improvements related to expenses and conflicts of interest, (v) existing efforts to educate investors, and (vi) options for increasing investor financial literacy. The report’s findings reveal that currently investors lack knowledge of elementary financial concepts. The SEC staff reports that investors (i) prefer to receive disclosures before making a decision on whether to engage a financial intermediary, (ii) consider information about fees, conflicts of interest, and investment strategy essential, (iii) have mixed preferences on method of delivery for disclosures, but generally prefer that they be written in clear and concise language presented in summary and detailed form. The study concludes that transparency about conflicts of interest may be improved through the use of specific examples, among other things.
On August 29, National Mortgage Settlement Monitor Joseph Smith, Jr. issued a progress report “intended to inform the public about the nature of the settlement, the steps that have been taken to implement it and the results to date.” The report, which was not required by the settlement, summarizes the terms of the several consent judgments that make up the national settlement, reviews the Monitor’s progress in implementing the administrative aspects of the settlement, describes relief extended to borrowers as of June 30, 2012, and updates the status of servicing standards implementation. For example, the Monitor states that as of July 5, 2012, all five servicers subject to the agreement had incorporated at least fifty-six servicing standards into their business processes, while four of the five banks reported that they had implemented more than half of all of the standards.
State Law Update: California Enacts Blight Bill As Part of Homeowner Bill of Rights, Broadens Servicemember Protections
On August 27, California enacted Assembly Bill 2314, another bill included as part of the state’s proposed Homeowner Bill of Rights. The bill extends indefinitely portions of existing state law that (i) require property owners maintain vacant property obtained in foreclosure, (ii) authorize local enforcement of vacant property maintenance requirements, and (iii) provide for notice and processes to correct or contests violations. The extended provisions were due to sunset on January 1, 2013. The bill also provides a sixty day period for purchasers of foreclosed properties to remedy any violations of state housing law or building codes. Current law only requires a thirty day period for all properties in violation. Finally, the bill requires that an entity that releases a lien on a property subject to corrective action for maintenance violations must provide notice to the enforcement agency within thirty days of releasing the lien. These changes take effect on January 1, 2013.
Also on August 27, California enacted Assembly Bill 2475, which extends from three to nine months the period following military service within which it is unlawful to sell, foreclose upon, or seize a servicemember’s mortgaged property. These changes also take effect on January 1, 2013.