Third Circuit Reverses Lower Court Decision, Rules Envelope Revealing Consumer’s Account Number Violates the FDCPA

Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed a lower court’s holding that the disclosure of a consumer’s account is not a “benign” disclosure and, therefore, violates the FDCPA. Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, No. 13-3588, 2014 WL 4235570 (3d Cir. Aug. 28, 2014). In this case, a debt collector sent a consumer a dunning letter in a window envelope, and the consumer’s account number was visible through the window.  The consumer brought a claim under § 1692f(8) of the FDCPA, which bars debt collectors from using any language or symbol other than the collector’s address on any envelope sent to the consumer.  The debt collector contended that the claim must fail because the account number was “benign language” that was not prohibited by § 1692f(8) of the FDCPA. The Third Circuit held that even if “benign language” was exempt from § 1692f(8)’s prohibition (a question that the court declined to decide), the consumer’s account number was not benign.  In particular, the court noted that the disclosure of the account number threatened the consumer’s privacy because it was a “core piece of information pertaining to the status as a debtor and the debt collection effort.”

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Webinar Recap: The CFPB’s Expanding Oversight of Auto Finance, Part I

On October 1, 2014, BuckleySandler hosted a webinar, The CFPB’s Expanding Oversight of Auto Finance, Part One. Through an examination of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) authority, recent enforcement activities, and discussion of the exam process, Kirk Jensen, John Redding, Michelle Rogers, Marshall Bell and Lori Sommerfield explored the different areas of the auto finance industry coming into the CFPB’s focus.

BuckleySandler will present The CFPB’s Expanding Oversight of Auto Finance, Part Two on October 30, 2014.

Explaining the Larger Participant Rule

Since its creation, the CFPB has held statutory authority to supervise nonbank institutions who are “a larger participant of a market for other consumer financial products or services.” On September 17, 2014, the CFPB proposed a rule defining a market for “automobile financing” and “larger participants” within that market. Under this proposed rule:

  • A nonbank institution is a larger participant in the auto finance market if it “has at least 10,000 aggregate annual originations,” which includes:
    • Credit granted for the purpose of purchasing an automobile
    • Refinancings
    • Automobile leases
    • Purchases of extensions of credit and leases
  • An “automobile” includes any self-propelled vehicle used primarily for a consumer purpose for on-road transportation, except for certain identified vehicle types, including recreational vehicles, motor scooters and limited others
  • Affiliates are included in calculations but dealers are excluded

Read more…

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Proposed Changes to the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure Rule

On October 10, the CFPB issued a proposal to modify and make technical amendments to the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure Rule, issued in November of 2013. Specifically, the CFPB proposes to (i) relax the timing requirements associated with the redisclosure of interest rate dependent charges and loan terms after consumers lock in a floating interest rate, such that creditors would have until the next business day after a consumer locks in a floating interest rate to provide a revised disclosure; and (ii) add language to the Loan Estimate form that creditors could use to inform a consumer that the consumer may receive a revised Loan Estimate for a construction loan that is expected to take more than 60 days to settle. In addition, the Bureau proposes non-substantive changes such as technical corrections and corrected or updated citations and cross-references in the regulatory text and commentary, minor word changes throughout the regulatory text and commentary, and an amendment to the 2013 Loan Originator Rule, to provide for placement of the NMSR ID on the integrated disclosures. The CFPB is accepting comments on the proposed changes through November 10, 2014. The CFPB noted its intention to finalize the proposed amendments quickly in order to provide the industry adequate time to implement any resulting changes by August 1, 2015, the effective date of the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure Rule.

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CFPB Updates Dodd-Frank Mortgage Rules Readiness Guide

Recently, the CFPB published an updated mortgage rules Readiness Guide for financial institutions to assist them in complying with new mortgage lending requirements. The Guide contains: (i) a summary of the mortgage rules finalized by the CFPB as of August 1, 2014; (ii) a readiness questionnaire to help perform self-assessments; (iii) a section on frequently asked questions; and (iv) a section on further tools to assist with compliance with the new rules. The guide discusses, among other rules, the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure rule that integrates the mortgage loan disclosures currently required under TILA and RESPA. That rule requires a new Loan Estimate form that combines two existing forms, the Good Faith Estimate and the initial Truth-in Lending disclosure. The Loan Estimate must be provided to consumers no later than the third business day after they submit an application. The rule also requires a Closing Disclosure form, which combines the current Settlement Statement (“HUD-1”) and final Truth-in Lending disclosures forms. The Closing Disclosure must be provided to consumers at least three business days before consummation of the loan. The new requirements are effective for loans where the lender receives an application on or after August 1, 2015.

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CFPB Report Analyzes Private Student Loan Borrowers’ Complaints

On October 16, the CFPB announced the findings of its annual student loan ombudsman report. Analyzing over 5,000 private student loan complaints that the CFPB received from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014, the report highlights the struggle private loan borrowers face in repaying their loans, noting that many are driven into default because practical repayment options are not available to them. The report outlines three main reasons why many private student loan borrowers default: (i) they are unaware of the loan modifications available to them; (ii) they do not have the same affordable options that federal student loan borrowers are entitled to by law; and (iii) the temporary forbearance options that some lenders offer often result in “burdensome enrollment fees and processing delays.” In connection with the report, the CFPB released a sample letter that consumers can edit and send to servicers to request lower monthly payments and information on available repayment plans, as well as a sample financial worksheet to assist borrowers to determine maximum funds available to pay their student loans.

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CFPB And FTC To Hold Roundtable On Debt Collection In The Latino Community

On October 23, the CFPB and the FTC will hold a roundtable to discuss the effects of debt collection and credit reporting in the Latino community. The event will focus on the customers with limited English proficiency, and is scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Long Beach, CA.

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CFPB Publishes Proposed Policy Regarding No-Action Letters

On October 10, the CFPB published for comment a proposal for a limited No-Action Letter policy, which appeared in the Federal Register on October 16. The proposed policy aims to “create a process to reduce the regulatory uncertainty that may exist for certain emerging products or services which stand to benefit consumers.” Specifically geared towards financial products and services for which existing statutes and regulations are vague, the proposed policy allows for a CFPB staff member to inform a company that “staff has no present intention to recommend initiation of an enforcement or supervisory action against the requester” by sending a No-Action Letter. The proposed policy requires that the financial product or service that is the subject of a No-Action Letter have substantial consumer benefit when issues of uncertainty regarding certain provisions of statutes implemented by the Bureau arise.

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NCUA To Join Fair Lending Webinar Hosted By The Federal Reserve Board

On October 15, the NCUA released a statement noting that Jamie Goodson, Director of Consumer Compliance Policy and Outreach in the National Credit Union Administration’s Office of Consumer Protection, will participate in the scheduled webinar, “Fair Lending Hot Topics.” Regulators from the Federal Reserve, the CFPB, the FDIC, the OCC, the Justice Department, and HUD are also scheduled to participate in the webinar on October 22. Webinar topics include, among others, auto lending enforcement, fair lending risk assessments, and mortgage pricing risks. The webinar is part of an ongoing series of consumer compliance events.

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Special Alert: Class Action Suit Filed Based on CFPB Consent Order

In what may be the first action of its kind, a consumer who received restitution under the CFPB consent order has filed a class action lawsuit based on the same alleged violations.  While this litigation is still in its early stages, it serves as an important reminder that an institution’s exposure does not end when it reaches a public settlement with a regulator and may, in fact, increase.

Settlement of CFPB Action

As previously discussed in a BuckleySandler webinar, on July 24, 2013, the CFPB filed suit against Castle & Cooke Mortgage LLC, its President, and its Senior Vice President of Capital Markets, alleging that the defendants “developed and implemented a scheme by which the Company would pay quarterly bonuses to loan officers in amounts that varied based on the interest rates of the loans they originated” in violation of the Truth in Lending Act’s loan originator compensation rules.

On November 7, 2013, the defendants entered into a consent order with the CFPB, agreeing to pay $9.2 million for restitution and a $4 million civil penalty to resolve the allegations.  Consistent with current CFPB practice, the consent order stated that “[r]edress provided by the Company shall not limit consumers’ rights in any way” – in other words, affected consumers are not required to sign releases in order to receive remediation. Read more…

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Federal Register Publishes Proposed Rule On CFPB Oversight Of Nonbank Auto Finance Companies

On October 8, the CFPB published a rule proposing oversight of larger nonbank auto finance companies for the first time at the federal level. The proposed rule will “amend the regulation defining larger participants of certain consumer financial product and service markets by adding a new section to define larger participants of a market for automobile financing.”  Under the new section, a market would be defined to include: (i) grants of credit for the purchase of an automobile, refinancings of such credit obligations, and purchases or acquisitions of such credit obligations (including refinancings); and (ii) automobile leases and purchases or acquisitions of such automobile lease agreements. Previously, on September 17, the CFPB released information regarding its resolve to supervise and enforce auto finance companies’ compliance with consumer financial laws, including fair lending laws. Comments on the proposed rule must be received on or before December 8, 2014.

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CFPB And FDIC Develop Spanish-Language Tool To Stop Financial Exploitation of Older Adults

On October 7, the CFPB and the FDIC announced a Spanish-language version of Money Smart for Older Adults, a free financial resource tool intended to prevent the elder financial exploitation that is affecting millions of senior citizens each year. The English-language version, which “includes practical information that can be put to use right away,” was jointly developed by the two agencies last year. The Spanish-language participant/resource guide and power point slides can be downloaded for free at the FDIC’s website, or can be ordered as hard copies on the CFPB’s website.

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CFPB Holds Forum On Access To Checking Accounts

On October 8, the CFPB held a forum on consumers’ access to checking accounts. The event featured remarks from Director Cordray, as well as presentations from federal and local government officials, consumer groups, and industry representatives. Director Cordray noted the following three main issues of concern regarding the checking account application process, specifically in connection with the reports generated by specialty consumer reporting agencies and sold to banks and credit unions for use in determining whether to approve or reject a consumer for a checking account: (i) the accuracy of the information in the reports; (ii) the consumer’s ability to access the reports and dispute any inaccurate information; and (iii) the use of the reports to exclude consumers from basic financial services.  According to Cordray, while credit reporting agencies are required to report accurate information, the “institutions vary in their abilities to conduct the careful investigations needed to differentiate between accountholders who perpetrate fraud versus those who are victims of fraud.” The Bureau plans to explore alternative procedures for screening consumers, hopeful that better data might enable a financial institution to make more nuanced decisions in account screening rather than simply reaching a “yes or no” result.

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FCC Settles With Large Mobile Telephone Company In Connection With Hidden Third-Party Charges

On October 8, the FCC announced a $105 million settlement – the largest in the agency’s history – with a mobile telephone company to resolve allegations that the company engaged in unauthorized billing practices. According to the FCC, the company charged customers for third-party services, such as subscriptions for ringtones, wallpapers, and certain premium text messages, for which they did not sign up. Many customers contested the charges, only to discover that the company either refused to issue refunds or refunded them for only one or two months. Under the terms of the settlement, which the FCC negotiated with the FTC and the attorney generals of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the company must pay $80 million to the current and former customers affected by its billing practices, $20 million to the state governments involved in the settlement, and $5 million to the U.S. Treasury.

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CFPB RESPA Enforcement Action Targets Marketing Services Agreements

On September 30, the CFPB announced a consent order with a Michigan-based title insurance company to address allegations that the company’s marketing services agreements (MSAs) with several real estate brokers violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act’s (RESPA) prohibition against kickbacks in connection with real estate settlement services. According to the CFPB, the MSAs provided that the company would pay the real estate brokers for performing marketing services promoting the company. Specifically, although the MSAs provided for payment to the brokers based on the marketing services provided to the company, according to the CFPB the brokers were actually paid, in part, based on the number of referrals to the company they generated. Also, the CFPB asserted that the company entered the MSAs “as a quid pro quo for the referral of business.” In addition, the CFPB alleged that brokers that had entered into a MSA with the company referred a “statistically significant” higher amount of business than brokers who had not entered into a MSA. According to the terms of the consent order, the company must pay a $200,000 civil monetary penalty, immediately terminate any existing MSAs, and not enter into any MSAsthe future, providing a very broad and novel definition of MSAs that includes agreements with any person in a position to refer business providing for endorsements, joint advertising, access to counterparty and its employees, or marketing of the company’s services to others. However, the company may still purchase consumer-oriented advertising from companies that do not offer settlement services such as newspapers or television or radio stations, provided that the publisher does not endorse the company as part of the advertisement.

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CFPB Publishes White Paper On Manufactured-Housing

On September 30, the CFPB published a white paper claiming that manufactured-home owners typically pay higher interest rates for their loans than site-built borrowers. The white paper cites data in support showing that a greater share of manufactured-housing loans are classified as higher-priced mortgage loans or “high-cost” loans. The white paper further discusses the CFPB’s findings that: (i) manufactured homeowners are likely to be older, live in a rural area, and have a lower net worth than site-built borrowers; (ii) manufactured homes typically cost less than site-built homes; (iii) about three-fifths of manufactured-housing residents who own their home also own the land it is sited on; (iv) approximately 65 percent of borrowers who own their land and financed the purchase of their manufactured home between 2001 and 2010 did so using a chattel loan (rather than a manufactured-housing loan); and (v) manufactured-housing production contracted in the 2000s. The white paper does not propose any formal rule or guidance related to manufactured-housing. Rather, it indicates that the CFPB will continue to analyze facets of the manufactured-housing market to identify ways to fill in gaps in available data about that market. For example, the white paper states that the CFPB is considering adding a data field to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act’s reporting requirements that would indicate whether a manufactured-housing loan is secured by real or personal property.

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