CFPB and FTC Announce Settlement with National Mortgage Servicing Company

On April 21, the CFPB and the FTC announced a joint enforcement action against a national mortgage servicing company, ordering the company to pay roughly $63 million in relief and penalties for allegedly mishandling home loans for borrowers who were trying to avoid foreclosure. Both regulators allege that from 2010 to 2014, the servicing company failed to honor modifications made to loans it acquired from other firms. According to the complaint, the company allegedly insisted that homeowners make the higher monthly payments and also make payments before providing loss mitigation options. Moreover, the CFPB and FTC claim the company illegally harassed borrowers who fell behind, made false threats, and revealed debts to the borrowers’ employers. The servicing company will pay $48 million in relief to eligible homeowners and a $15 million civil money penalty to the CFPB.

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CFPB Tackles Payment Processor for Charging Servicemembers Hidden Fees, Orders Over $3 Million in Consumer Relief

On April 20, the CFPB announced an enforcement action against a Kentucky-based third-party processor of military allotments and its subsidiary – together “Respondents” – for allegedly charging servicemembers millions of dollars in hidden fees. According to the Bureau, servicemembers set up allotment arrangements with the Respondents, and the Respondents were to pay creditors – auto lenders, installment lenders, and retail merchants – on behalf of deployed servicemembers. The Bureau alleges that from 2010 to 2014, the company violated UDAAP provisions of the Consumer Financial Protection Act by failing to (i) adequately disclose information about various fees associated with the Respondents’ services; and (ii) inform servicemembers when they were being charged residual-balance fees. The consent order requires that the Respondents pay approximately $3.1 million in relief to the affected servicemembers.

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FHFA: G-Fees to Remain at Current Levels

On April 17, FHFA released the results of its Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Guarantee Fee Review. The FHFA’s review considered the public responses to its June 2014 request for input, and according to the agency’s fact sheet, sought to reach a balance of (i) ensuring the safety and soundness of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; and (ii) fostering a liquid national housing market. Because the analysis of the fees showed that “the current average level of guarantee fees appropriately reflects the current costs and risks associated with providing [Fannie and Freddie’s] credit guarantee,” the agency will make only minor adjustments to the fees and does not expect the changes to impact Fannie and Freddie’s loan volume. The fee adjustments will fall into two categories: (i) elimination of the 25 basis point upfront adverse market charge; and (ii) addition of small fee increases for certain loans with risk-layering attributes, such as loans with secondary financing or investment properties.

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POSTED IN: Consumer Finance, Federal Issues

FHFA Announces Fannie and Freddie’s Revised Requirements for Private Mortgage Insurances Companies

On April 17, the FHFA announced that Fannie and Freddie have revised the requirements for private mortgage insurance companies insuring mortgage loans that Fannie and Freddie either own or guarantee. By setting financial and operational standards for the mortgage insurers seeking approval with Fannie and Freddie, the new requirements are designed to reduce risk to the GSEs. The new requirements are effective immediately for new applicants and will become effective December 31, 2015 for existing insurers already approved by Fannie and Freddie.

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DOJ and International Investment Bank Enter Into Plea Agreement to Resolve LIBOR Manipulation Claims, Bank Agrees to Pay $2.5 Billion Penalty

On April 23, the DOJ announced that an international investment bank and its subsidiary agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud for its alleged conduct, spanning from 2003 through 2011, in manipulating the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), which is used to set interest rates on various financial products. In addition, the DOJ announced that the bank entered into a deferred prosecution agreement to resolve wire fraud and antitrust claims for manipulating both the U.S. Dollar LIBOR and Yen LIBOR. Under terms of the agreement, the $2.5 billion in penalties will be divided among U.S. and U.K. authorities – $800 million to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, $775 million to the DOJ, $600 million to the New York Department Financial Services, and roughly $340 million to the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority. The authorities also ordered the bank to install an independent compliance monitor.

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Former Export-Import Bank Loan Officer Pleads Guilty to DOJ Charges of Accepting Bribes

The DOJ released a statement regarding a plea agreement made with a former loan officer of the Export-Import Bank. According to the DOJ, the former loan officer accepted bribes totaling over $78,000 in exchange for providing favorable action on loan applications. From June 2006 through December 2013, the former loan officer managed the review of credit underwriting for companies and lenders submitting financing applications to the Export-Import Bank and admitted to recommending the approval of unqualified loan applicants on 19 different occasions. In addition, the former loan officer also pleaded guilty to improperly expediting the process of certain applications. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 20, 2015.

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U.S. Senate Confirms Lynch As Next Attorney General

On April 23, the U.S. Senate confirmed Loretta Lynch to be the next U.S. Attorney General with a 56-43 majority vote, succeeding current Attorney General Eric Holder. With the confirmation, Lynch, who currently serves as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, becomes the first African-American woman to lead the DOJ.

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SEC Announces Whistleblower Award to Compliance Officer, Over $1 Million Dollars

On April 22, the SEC announced an award of more than $1 million to a compliance officer for providing the agency with information on the company’s misconduct. The Dodd-Frank Act whistleblower regime is designed to encourage employees to submit evidence of securities fraud. When sanctions of a successful enforcement action exceed $1 million, the program allows for up to 30 percent of the money collected to be provided to the whistleblower. Since the program began in 2011, 16 whistleblowers have received upwards of $50 million from an investor protection fund, which was established by Congress and is financed through the monetary sanctions the SEC receives from securities law violators.

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CFPB and Navajo Nation Partner in UDAAP Action Against Companies Involved in Alleged Tax Refund Scheme

On April 14, the CFPB along with the Navajo Nation jointly announced an enforcement action against two companies and their respective owners (Defendants) for running an alleged tax-refund scheme, marking the CFPB’s “first enforcement action taken in conjunction with a tribal government.” According to the complaint, the Defendants operated several tax-refund franchises in New Mexico and in the Navajo Nation territory in which clients were offered short-term, triple-digit APR loans secured by the consumer’s anticipated tax refund, also known as refund anticipation loans (“RALs”). The CFPB and Navajo Nation contend, among other things, that the Defendants (i) steered low-income and vulnerable consumers toward high-cost RALs; (ii) understated the APR of the RALs in disclosure agreements to consumers; and (iii) failed “to disclose that consumers’ tax refunds had been received and would soon be available, but instead persuaded consumers to take out additional RALs.” Under the terms of the proposed consent order, the Defendants would, among other things, (i) pay approximately $438,000 in total consumer redress, which consists of $256,267 in redress fees in addition to roughly $184,000 that has already been paid to affected consumers; (ii) incur $438,000 in civil money penalties; and (iii) be barred, for five years, from offering products associated with tax refunds. The consent order also would prohibit the Defendants from investing, financing, or working for an entity that offers tax refund products.

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CFPB Issues Guidance on Housing Counselor Requirement

On April 15, the CFPB issued an interpretive rule clarifying requirements for providing a list of housing counselors to mortgage borrowers, as required under the Bureau’s 2013 Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act final rule. Among other things, the interpretive rule expounds upon how to provide applicants living abroad with homeownership counseling lists, permissible geolocation tools, conditions under which the homeownership counseling list may be combined with other disclosures, and determining which of the borrower’s addresses (e.g. current address, mailing address, or the address of the property securing the mortgage) should serve as the loan applicant’s location for purposes of generating the list. In addition to clarifying counselor qualifications for high-cost mortgage counseling and parameters, the interpretive rule also provides guidance regarding lender participation during the borrower’s housing counseling sessions to ensure that counselor independence and impartiality is preserved and to prevent violation of anti-steering provisions.

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CFPB Grants Credit Card Issuers One-Year Suspension From Filing Card Agreements

On April 15, the CFPB issued a final rule temporarily suspending credit card issuers’ obligation to submit their card agreements to the CFPB, as required by the Credit Card Accontability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act (CARD Act). The CARD Act, as implemented by TILA and Reg. Z (12 C.F.R. 1026.58), requires credit card issuers to submit credit card agreements to the Bureau on a quarterly basis. The first submission was set to be the first business day on or after April 30, 2015, but under the one-year reprieve, credit card issuers will not be required to begin submitting credit card agreements to the Bureau until April 30, 2016. According to the CFPB, during the temporary suspension, the regulator will “work to develop a more streamlined and automated electronic submission system.” The CFPB contends that the new system will allow for easier submission of credit card agreements than the manual submission system currently in place. Other requirements in Section 1026.58, including the requirement that credit card issuers post their credit card agreements on their own public website, remain unaffected by the temporary suspension.

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CSBS Announces $5.2 Million Multi-State Enforcement Action Against Maryland-Based Mortgage Lender To Resolve Allegations Of Misconduct Relating To Continuing Education And Testing Of Mortgage Loan Originators

On April 13, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (“CSBS”) announced a settlement agreement and consent order following a coordinated enforcement action launched by 43 states against a non-bank mortgage lender after finding that the lender’s mortgage professionals shared test information from mandatory compliance examinations and the lender’s compliance staff routinely completed continuing education and examination requirements for other employees. The case developed after state financial regulators in New Hampshire and Maryland discovered the misconduct and reported it to the Multi-State Mortgage Committee (“MMC”)—a group composed of state regulators charged with supervising mortgage lenders that operate in multiple states—which opened an investigation. Joined by 41 other states, the settlement agreement also found that many of the lender’s employees dishonestly completed continuing education requirements for other employees, including the mortgage lender’s chief executive officer and chief operating officer. The settlement agreement and consent order issued by the MMC for the breach of these duties included the imposition of a $5.2 million fine and commanded the removal and replacement of the lender’s chief operating officer. The agreement also ordered the lender to (i) prepare a comprehensive plan of improved corporate governance policies approved by the lender’s parent’s board of directors within 270 days, with a follow-up reported to the MMC on implementation of the plan required 270 days later, and (ii) hire an independent auditor to evaluate the lender’s training and education program. The same mortgage lender was also subject to a different and unrelated enforcement action in February 2015. The CFPB recently imposed a $2 million penalty against the lender for deceptive marketing practices and paying kickbacks to customer referrals.

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POSTED IN: Banking, Federal Issues

OCC Issues Updated RESPA Examination Guidance to Supervised Institutions

On April 14, the OCC issued the “Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act” booklet as part of the Comptroller’s Handbook, which is prepared for use by OCC examiners in connection with their examination and supervision of national banks and federal savings associations (collectively, “banks”). The revised booklet, which replaces a similarly titled booklet issued in October 2011, reflects updated guidance relating to mortgage servicing and loss mitigation procedures resulting from the multiple amendments made to Regulation X over the past several years. Notable revisions reflected in the revised booklet include: (i) the transfer of rulemaking authority for Regulation X from HUD to the CFPB; (ii) new requirements relating to mortgage servicing; (iii) new loss mitigation procedures; (iv) prohibitions against certain acts and practices by servicers of federally related mortgage loans with regard to responding to borrower assertions of error and requests for information; and (v) updated examination procedures for determining compliance with the new servicing and loss mitigation rules. The OCC notified its applicable supervised financial institutions of the changes affecting all banks that engage in residential mortgage lending activities by distributing OCC Bulletin 2015-25.

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FTC Settles With Debt Brokers For Leaking Sensitive Consumer Information

On April 13, the FTC announced that two debt brokers agreed to settle two separate cases filed last year involving the leaking of over 55,000 consumers’ personal information. The brokers allegedly shared consumers’ personal information online – including credit card numbers, names, addresses, and bank account numbers – via unencrypted documents. Although the information was geared towards members of the debt collection industry, it was available to anyone with an internet connection. According to the FTC, the publicly available information put consumers at risk of identity theft and/or phantom debt collection. Under the terms of both proposed settlement agreements (Orders), the brokers would be required to: (i) implement and effectively maintain security programs that will protect consumers’ information; and (ii) have their respective security programs examined initially by a certified third party and again, thereafter, every two years for a duration of 20 years after service of the Orders. The FTC unanimously approved the proposed Orders and has filed them in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for final court approval.

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DOJ Submits 2014 Equal Credit Opportunity Act Annual Report to Congress

On April 13, the DOJ released its 2014 Annual Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) Report highlighting its activities to address credit discrimination. The twenty-page report highlights discrimination lawsuits and settlements in the automobile lending and credit card industry, as well as a consent order resulting from alleged discrimination on the basis of disability and the receipt of public assistance. It also includes information on the DOJ’s work under other federal fair lending laws including the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA). According to Vanita Gupta, Acting Assistant AG for the Civil Rights Division, in the five years since the Fair Lending Unit was established, the Civil Rights Division has filed or resolved 37 lending matters under the ECOA, FHA, and SCRA. Total settlements in these matters, including enforcement actions from 2014, have resulted in over $1.2 billion in monetary relief for affected borrowers and communities.

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