CFPB Partners with Industry Group to Improve Financial Education

On January 28, the Financial Services Roundtable (FSR) announced a joint initiative with the CFPB to promote effective financial education throughout the country.  The public-private partnership will provide tools and information to develop financial education strategies in three particular areas: (i) K-12 schools; (ii) the workplace; and (iii) communities with older Americans. In prepared remarks, CFPB Director Richard Cordray noted that the Bureau’s joint efforts with the FSR will “create more visibility and focused effort to promote financial education and share promising practices around the country,” “mak[ing] a real difference in the financial lives of all Americans.”

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Eighth Circuit Rules Disputed Debt Claim Does Not Violate FDCPA

On December 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that a debt collector did not violate the FDCPA by informing a consumer reporting agency (CRA) that a consumer owed a debt without also expressly indicating that the consumer had disputed it. McIvor v. Credit Control Services, Inc., No. 14-1164 (8th Cir. Dec. 4, 2014). According to the opinion, the plaintiff brought a claim under § 1692e(8) of the FDCPA, which prohibits debt collectors from using “any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt,” and deems as a violation the conduct of “[c]ommunicating . . . to any person credit information which is known . . . to be false, including the failure to communicate that a disputed debt is disputed.” The court reasoned that no violation occurred here because (i) the CRA already knew that the debt was disputed, and (ii) the debt collector communicated with the CRA “with the purpose of complying with the FCRA, not as an elective report of credit information.”

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CFPB Finalizes TILA-RESPA Integrated Mortgage Disclosure (TRID) Amendments

As previously reported in our Special Alert on January 20, the CFPB finalized certain amendments to its TRID rule, which combines the mortgage disclosures consumers receive under the Truth in Lending Act and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.  Significant amendments include: (i) allowing three business days for providing a revised Loan Estimate after an interest rate is locked (instead of the current same day requirement and the original proposal’s one business day requirement); and (ii) permitting the inclusion of certain information about construction loans on the Loan Estimate. The final rule, as amended, takes effect August 1.  For more information, please visit our TRID Resource Center.

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CFPB and Maryland AG Bring Enforcement Action For Alleged RESPA Violations

On January 22, the CFPB and Maryland Attorney General announced an enforcement action against two banks, as well as a former loan officer and his wife, for alleged violations of RESPA and state law.  The complaint filed in the District of Maryland alleges that loan officers at the banks accepted leads and marketing assistance from a title company in exchange for the referral of settlement service business to the title company.  The parties filed Stipulated Final Judgments and Orders, under which one bank will pay approximately $10.8 million to consumers and $24 million in penalties, and the other bank will pay $300,000 to consumers and $600,000 in penalties.  The individual loan officer and his wife will pay a combined $30,000 penalty.

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House Financial Services Committee Approves Agenda for 114th Congress

On January 21, the Committee on Financial Services, in a voice vote, agreed to a new oversight plan that identifies the areas that the Committee and its subcommittees plan to oversee during the 114th Congress. Notable sections of the oversight plan include: (i) examining the governance structure and funding mechanism of the CFPB; (ii) reviewing recent rulemakings by the CFPB and other agencies on a variety of mortgage-related issues; (iii) examining the effects of regulations promulgated by Dodd-Frank on community financial institutions; and (iv) examining proposals to modify the GSEs.

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FHFA Director Set to Testify At First Committee Hearing

On January 27, FHFA Director Mel Watt is scheduled to testify before the House Committee on Financial Services. The hearing, scheduled to begin at 10am, will be the first for the Committee in the 114th Congress.

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Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on Fair Housing Act Disparate Impact Case

On January 21, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, in which Texas challenged the disparate impact theory of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). In their questions to counsel, the Justices focused on (i) whether the phrase “making unavailable” in the FHA provides a textual basis for disparate impact, (ii) whether three provisions of the 1988 amendments to the FHA demonstrate congressional acknowledgement that the FHA permits disparate impact claims, and (iii) whether the Court should defer to HUD’s disparate impact rule. The Court is expected to issue its ruling by the end of June. For more information on the oral argument, please refer to our previously issued Special Alert.

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CFPB Unveils Know Before You Owe “Owning A Home” Initiative

On January 13, the CFPB published a report based on results from its recent survey of consumers who had recently taken out new mortgages. The survey, jointly conducted by the CFPB and the FHFA, found that (i) almost half of consumers who take out a mortgage fail to shop around prior to application; (ii) three out of four consumers only apply with one lender or broker; (iii) 70% of consumers report relying on their lender or broker to get information about mortgages; and (iv) consumers who are knowledgeable about the mortgage process are more likely to shop around for loans. Along with the survey results, and as part of the CFPB’s Know Before You Owe initiative, the Bureau unveiled an interactive online tool called “Owning a Home,” which is designed to inform consumers shopping for a mortgage. The tool takes the borrower from the start of the home-buying process — with a guide to loan options, terminology, interest rates and costs — to the closing table with a closing checklist.

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CFPB Issues Request For Information on Proposed “Safe Student Account Score Card”

On January 14, the CFPB issued a press release seeking public comments on its “Safe Student Account Scorecard.” The scorecard is a tool for colleges and universities to solicit information on the fees and features of financial products before selecting a financial institution partner. It would enable colleges and universities to evaluate the costs and benefits of financial products based on a variety of different factors including fees, product features, sales and marketing practices, and how much financial institutions earn for each account opened. The Bureau is interested in receiving comments from students, parents, colleges and universities, and financial institutions by March 16, 2015.

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District Court Rules Online Agreement Does Not Bind Customers to Unknown Future Contract Terms

On December 10, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment in a class action suit filed against a large grocery chain. Plaintiff claims that the grocer’s online prices for groceries were approximately 10 percent higher than those in its stores and alleged causes of action for breach of contract and under California’s Unfair Competition Law, Consumer Legal Remedies Act, and False Advertising Law. A class was certified for the breach of contract claim on March 9, 2014. In granting summary judgment on the breach of contract claim, the Court found that the grocer breached its agreement with consumers because its terms of use promised that the online prices and in-store prices would be identical. Furthermore, the Court rejected the grocer’s claims that class members should not be allowed to recover damages for the period after it made revisions to its terms of use where it noted the pricing disparities. The Court stated, “even in light of [customer’s] agreement to the Special Terms at the time of registration, customers’ assent to the revised Terms cannot be inferred from their continued use of the [grocer’s online service] when they were never given notice that the Special Terms had been altered.” Rodman v Safeway Inc., No 11-cv-03003-JST (N.D. Cal. Dec. 10, 2014).

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CFPB Appoints Former Assistant U.S. Attorney As Head of Enforcement

On January 6, the CFPB appointed former federal prosecutor Tony Alexis as the head of its enforcement division. Alexis has served as the acting Director for over a year while his predecessor, Kent Markus, has been on medical leave. Markus is expected to return later this month to the Bureau as a senior adviser to Deputy Director Steve Antonakes.

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Connecticut Banking Regulator Fines Tribal Payday Lenders

On January 6, the Connecticut Department of Banking issued a cease and desist order against the head of an American Indian tribe and two payday loan companies owned by the tribe for allegedly violating a state cap on interest rates. The order requires (i) the two companies pay a combined civil penalty of $800,000 and (ii) that the head of the tribe pay a civil penalty in the amount of $700,000.This action is considered to be the first enforcement action ever against the leader of a Native American tribe.

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CFPB Supports DoD’s Proposal to Expand Scope of Military Lending Act

On December 29, the CFPB released a report highlighting its concern that loopholes in the Military Lending Act (MLA) have allowed companies to offer costly credit products to military personnel and their families. The report findings are included in a comment letter urging the Department of Defense to finalize its proposal to expand the scope of the MLA to include deposit advance products and more types of payday, auto title, and installment loans. Passed in 2006, the MLA protects military personnel – active and reserve – and their dependents from predatory lending practices.

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CFPB Increases Asset-Size Thresholds Under HMDA and TILA

On December 29, the CFPB published final rules adjusting the asset-size thresholds under HMDA (Regulation C) and TILA (Regulation Z). Both rules take effect on January 1, 2015.

HMDA requires certain lenders to collect and report data about mortgage application, origination, and purchase activity, and to make such data available to the public. Institutions with assets below certain dollar thresholds are exempt from the HMDA collection and reporting requirements. The final rule increases the asset-size exemption threshold for banks, savings associations, and credit unions from $43 million to $44 million, thereby exempting institutions with assets of $44 million or less as of December 31, 2014, from collecting and reporting HMDA data in 2015.

TILA, among other things, require creditors to establish escrow accounts when originating higher-priced mortgage loans (HPMLs). However, TILA exempts certain entities from this requirement, including entities with assets below the asset-size threshold established by the CFPB. The final rule increases this asset-size exemption threshold from $2.028 billion to $2.060 billion, thereby exempting creditors with assets of $2.060 billion or less as of December 31, 2014, from the requirement to establish escrow accounts for HPMLs in 2015.

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NY Department of Financial Services Settles With Auto-Dealer

On December 19, the New York Department of Financial Services announced a recent settlement with a Long Island-based auto lender to resolve allegations of violations of several consumer protection laws including the DFA, TILA, NY Banking Law, and NY Financial Services Law. According to the consent judgment, the Defendants allegedly (i) failed to notify consumers who made overpayments on their accounts; (ii) miscalculated the interest charged to customers; and (iii) endangered the security of its customer information by leaving loan files openly around common areas. As part of the settlement, the auto dealer must (i) pay $3 million in penalties; (ii) pay full restitution plus nine percent interest to all affected customers; (iii) liquidate all remaining loans; and (iv) surrender its licenses in all states.

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