CFPB Seeks Comments on New Initiative Intended to Increase Transparency in Student Loan Servicing Market

On February 16, the CFPB announced a request for comments on an information collection plan titled “Student Loan Servicing Market Monitoring.” The proposed plan will collect student loan data from the largest student loan servicers in order to provide the Bureau “with a broader and deeper look into the student loan market, with a focus on key areas that might put consumers . . . at risk.” Key areas of examination will be: (i) the total size of the student loan market; (ii) borrowers who seek to repay their loans based on how much money they have (Income-Driven Repayment plans); (iii) borrowers who face the greatest risk of default; and (iv) borrowers with private student loans who experience financial distress. Comments must be submitted on or before April 17, 2017.

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Fannie Mae Reports Earnings of $5 Billion for Fourth Quarter; $12.3 Billion for 2016

On February 17, Fannie Mae announced that it had reported net income of $5 billion for the fourth quarter of 2016 and $12.3 billion for fiscal year 2016. These figures exceeded previous earnings of $3.2 billion for the third quarter of 2016 and $11.0 billion for fiscal year 2015. According to a company statement, “fair value gains in the fourth quarter of 2016 were due primarily to increases in longer-term interest rates positively impacting the value of the company’s risk management and mortgage commitment derivatives.” The fourth quarter 2016 net income, while higher than in the third quarter, was “partially offset by a shift to a provision for credit losses in the fourth quarter compared with a benefit for credit losses in the third quarter.” Fannie attributed its year-over-year net income increase to “a higher benefit for credit losses and lower foreclosed property expense” and “[l]ower fair value losses in 2016 compared to 2015.”

Following the strong results, Fannie said it would pay a $5.5 billion dividend to the U.S. Treasury in March, bringing its total dividend payments to $159.9 billion since it entered federal conservatorship in 2008.

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Legislation Introduced in Both Houses Seeking to Curb Authority of the CFPB and Other Financial Regulators

On February 14, Senator Mike Rounds, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, introduced S. 365, which seeks to amend the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 to bar the transfer of funds from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to the CFPB. The bill also would require the CFPB to turn over all penalties it obtains to the United States Treasury. Sen. Rounds also reintroduced the “Taking Account of Institutions with Low Operation Risk (TAILOR) Act” (S. 366)–a bill intended to ease regulatory burden on local banks and credit unions. Specifically, the TAILOR Act would require financial regulators to take into consideration the risk profile and business models of individual financial institutions and tailor those regulations accordingly. The TAILOR Act also would require regulators–including the OCC, the Fed, the FDIC, the NCUA and the CFPB–to conduct a review of all regulations issued since the 2010 passage of the Dodd-Frank Act and revise any regulations that do not conform to the TAILOR Act’s requirements. In addition, the regulatory agencies would be required to provide an annual report to Congress outlining the steps they have taken to tailor their regulations.

On February 15, Senator David Perdue (R-Ga.), along with Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), have introduced legislation S. 387 to amend the Consumer Financial Protection Act so that the CFPB would be subject to the regular appropriations process.

Senator Ted Cruz and Representative John Ratcliffe also introduced legislation in their respective chambers that would abolish the CFPB. The pair of bills–S. 370  and H.R. 1031–would “eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by repealing title X of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, commonly known as the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010.” As explained by Senator Cruz in a joint press release, the proposed legislation would give “Congress the opportunity to free consumers and small businesses from the CFPB’s regulatory blockades and financial activism, which stunt economic growth.”

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House Financial Services Committee Chairman Called for End of CFPB; Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Responds

In a February 10 blog post, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling called for the abolition of the CFPB, and recommended that the President “immediately fire CFPB Director Richard Cordray.” Specifically, Rep. Hensarling expressed his belief that the CFPB is “arguably the most powerful, least accountable agency in U.S. history,” and his concern that the agency “defines its own powers and can launch investigations without cause, imposing virtually any fine or remedy, devoid of due process.” For these reasons, Rep. Hensarling  stated  he believes that “even with good policy, the CFPB would still be unconstitutional.” Ultimately, he argued that the CFPB “must be functionally terminated,” which he said could be achieved by ending the Bureau’s funding through a reconciliation bill.

The same day, Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Sherrod Brown issued a statement responding to Rep. Hensarling’s proposal to abolish the Dodd-Frank Act. Senator Brown’s response noted, among other things, that “71 percent of Americans approve of the [CFPB]’s mission,” and that “[t]he Hensarling proposal would transform the Bureau from an effective watchdog into a toy poodle.”

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CFPB to Explore “Alternative Data” as Means to Measure the “Credit Invisible”

On February 16, the CFPB published a Request for Information seeking information about the “use or potential use” of “alternative data” and/or modeling techniques that might help increase access to credit for consumers who otherwise lack sufficient credit history. As explained by the Bureau in a press release, and as previously covered by InfoBytes, millions of Americans have insufficient credit history to produce a credit score. Accordingly, the Bureau is seeking public feedback on the benefits and risks of utilizing alternative sources of information–such as bills for mobile phones and rent payments–that may be used to make lending decisions involving consumers whose lack of credit history might otherwise exclude them from lending opportunities.

In prepared remarks delivered at a field hearing on alternative data, CFPB Director Richard Cordray noted, among other things, that

Equal access to credit means even more if overall access to credit is expanded and not constrained by lingering uncertainty about how regulators intend to apply fair lending laws. So we have crafted this Request for Information to help us better understand whether and how such uncertainty may be hindering credit access for disadvantaged populations. We also want to learn more about how the Consumer Bureau might reduce that uncertainty while holding fast to the anti-discrimination principles that are the cornerstones of federal law.

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