On February 8, the FTC sent the CFPB a letter summarizing the FTC’s enforcement activities related to compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and implementing Regulation B during 2015. The annual letter reviews the FTC’s responsibilities with regard to ECOA enforcement and education to most non-bank financial service providers. Highlights of the letter include, but are not limited to, (i) the FTC’s public workshop on the growing use of online lead generation in industries such as lending and education; (ii) the FTC’s Federal Register Notice seeking comments on a proposed survey of consumers regarding their experiences in buying and financing automobiles at dealerships, over which the FTC has broad authority to enforce the FTC Act and ECOA; and (iii) updates to the FTC’s Mortgage Discrimination publication, which includes information about ECOA and warns consumers of illegal practices. Finally, the FTC emphasized that, since 2011, it has brought over 25 cases in the auto purchase and financing industry, “including those in a federal-state effort that yielded more than 200 actions for fraud, deception, and other illegal practices.”
On February 10, the CFPB published a correction to amend the preamble of the Know Before You Owe (KBYO) rule. Under the former RESPA rules, prepaid property taxes, HOA dues, condo fees, and co-op fees were not subject to tolerances, and the CFPB did not intend to modify that standard under KBYO. However, KBYO’s preamble was missing a “not” where it explained applicable tolerance limitations, which reinforced existing dialogue that the aforementioned fees were within the zero tolerance category. The CFPB’s recently issued correction amends KBYO’s preamble to include the formerly missing “not”: “The final rule also mirrors current Regulation X in that property insurance premiums, property taxes, homeowner’s association dues, condominium fees, and cooperative fees are not subject to tolerances whether or not they are placed into an escrow, impound, reserve, or similar account.” The publication further explains why the CFPB believes those fees are not subject to tolerances, noting “[p]roperty taxes, homeowner’s association dues, condominium fees, and cooperative fees are all ‘[c]harges paid for third-party servicers not required by the creditor.’” The correction is effective February 10, 2016.
This week, the Obama Administration released the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Proposal. President Obama’s proposed budget for the Department of the Treasury would, through the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund, reserve at least $10 million until September 30, 2018 to provide grants for loan loss reserve funds and to provide technical assistance for small dollar loan programs under section 1206 of the Dodd-Frank Act. The Small Dollar Loan Program, according to the budget proposal, “will support broader access to safe and affordable financial products and provide an alternative to predatory lending by encouraging CDFIs to establish and maintain small dollar loan programs.” Earlier this year, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), in a letter to the President, requested that the FY 2017 budget proposal prioritize funding for small dollar loan programs, as outlined in Title XII – Improving Access to Mainstream Financial Institutions – of the Dodd-Frank Act. Read more…
On February 2, the CFPB and the DOJ announced a joint enforcement action against an indirect auto lender for alleged violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and implementing Regulation B. In April 2013, the CFPB and the DOJ began an investigation into the indirect auto lender’s compliance with the ECOA and found that its policies allowed for dealers to mark up a consumer’s interest rate on the retail installment contract above the established risk-based buy rate, known as “dealer markup.” The dealers received greater compensation from the indirect auto lender on loans with a higher interest rate. The DOJ and the CFPB determined that the respondent’s practice of allowing pricing discretion resulted in qualified African-American/Pacific Islander borrowers paying more than qualified white borrowers. To resolve the DOJ and the CFPB’s allegations, the respondent agreed to (i) reduce the amount by which loans can be marked up to only 1.25% above the established buy rate for auto loans with terms of five years or less, and 1% for loans with longer terms; (ii) pay at least $19.9 million in redress to borrowers affected by its finance practices from January 2011 to February 2, 2016, and up to $2 million more from the date of the action until it implements a new pricing and compensation structure, which must be in place by August 2016; and (iii) hire a settlement administrator to ensure that affected borrowers receive compensation.
These enforcement actions are the fourth in a series of joint CFPB and DOJ actions addressing fair lending risks in the indirect auto lending industry.
CFPB Releases Compliance Bulletin, Letter to Financial Institutions, and Consumer Resources in an Effort to Address Access to Checking Accounts Concerns
On February 3, the CFPB held a field hearing to address concerns relating to consumers’ access to checking accounts. In Director Cordray’s opening remarks at the field hearing, he announced steps the CFPB is taking to alleviate concern that (i) consumers lack options that fit their financial need and situation; and (ii) inaccurate information is used to screen potential customers. To address the first issue, the CFPB sent a letter to the 25 largest retail banks urging them to make lower-risk account offerings that promise no authorized overdrafts available to consumers. The CFPB’s letter, which the agency describes as “simply a suggestion,” further recommends that banks already offering lower-risk products more prominently “feature them among their standard account offerings both in their branches and online.” Regarding the second concern, the CFPB issued Compliance Bulletin 2016-01, warning banks and credit unions (collectively, furnishers) of their obligation under Regulation V “to establish and implement reasonable written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of information relating to consumers that they furnish to consumer reporting agencies (CRAs).” The bulletin notes that a furnisher’s failure to comply with such obligations under Regulation V could “potentially cause adverse consequences for consumers when included in a credit report, such as being denied a loan at a more favorable interest rate or being unable to open a transaction account.” Read more…
On January 28, the CFPB released its monthly complaint report focusing on a number of financial services markets, including debt settlement, check cashing, tax refund anticipation checks, money order providers, and credit repair. The report states that, since July 19, 2014, the CFPB has handled approximately 2,700 complaints relating to these other types of financial services. According to the report, debt settlement and credit repair complaints are among the more common complaints, and over a quarter of these complaints mention student loans, with borrowers selecting fraud or scam as their primary issue. Additional findings highlighted in the snapshot include: (i) consumers being charged excessive fees, including upfront fees that are generally prohibited by law, for debt settlement and credit repair services; (ii) consumers encountering problems redeeming money orders, taking issue with the amount of time it took to resolve errors with customer service representatives; and (iii) consumers complaining they were victims of fraud when using money orders and travelers checks. The CFPB identified New York State and the New York metro area as its geographic spotlight in this issue, noting that, as of January 1, 2016, the CFPB has received 50,400 complaints from New York State consumers alone. Similar to past reports, mortgages remain the most complained-about product.
On January 27, the CFPB announced that it published its 2016 list of consumer reporting companies. The list includes contact information for the three largest nationwide reporting companies and various specialty reporting companies concentrating on specific geographic market areas and consumer segments. In addition, the list provides consumers with (i) tips on determining which specialty credit reports may be important to review depending upon the particular circumstances, such as applying for a job or a new bank account; (ii) information regarding how companies confirm the identity of the consumer requesting a copy of his or her credit report; and (iii) information on which companies also provide free credit scores. The CFPB also reminds consumers of their legal rights to (i) obtain the information in their credit reports, per the FCRA; and (ii) dispute inaccuracies contained in the report.
On January 20, Republicans on the House Committee on Financial Services issued a report alleging that the CFPB removed a number of safeguards from the claims process after it secured its first settlement with an auto finance company and the company’s subsidiary bank in 2013. The Committee’s most recent report follows a November 2015 report in which the Republican staff (i) criticized the CFPB’s approach for determining discrimination in the auto lending industry; and (ii) questioned the CFPB’s authority to bring claims against banks involved in indirect auto lending under ECOA on a disparate impact theory. According to the more recently published report, the CFPB failed to confirm that funds from the 2013 settlement would be distributed to eligible recipients. Read more…
On January 21, the CFPB filed a consent order to resolve allegations that a Colorado-based subprime auto dealer violated the TILA and the CFPA by engaging in abusive financing and marketing schemes. Specifically, the CFPB alleged that, from January 2012 through May 2014, the auto dealer (i) failed to make purchase prices available to credit consumers until the very end of the transaction; (ii) hid finance charges and improperly disclosed the resulting APRs; (iii) refused to negotiate car prices with credit consumers; and (iv) used abusive marketing tactics by failing to disclose to purchasers the “complete and accurate credit terms” of the automobile financing. Read more…
On January 15, the CFPB announced that it is accepting applications for membership on its Consumer Advisory Board (Board) and two other advisory groups, the Community Bank Advisory Council, and the Credit Union Advisory Council (collectively, Advisory Councils). The Board and Advisory Councils are intended to give small financial institutions the opportunity to provide the CFPB with information regarding emerging trends and practices in the consumer financial products and services industries. In the fall of 2016, seven seats on the Board will become vacant, and eight seats on each of the Advisory Councils will become vacant. Applications are due February 29, 2016, according to the CFPB’s publication in the Federal Register.
Recently, the CFPB released a fact sheet that provides a basic outline for applying Know Before You Owe mortgage disclosures to constructions loans. Specifically, the fact sheet notes that (i) most construction loans are covered by the Know Before You Owe mortgage disclosures, with the exception of those that are open-end transactions or for commercial purposes; and (ii) Regulation Z’s existing provisions for disclosures for certain construction loans and construction-to-permanent loans continue to apply. In addition, the fact sheet provides guidance regarding a creditor’s choice to disclose a construction loan with permanent financing as one or two transactions. According to the fact sheet, the CFPB may release additional guidance to facilitate compliance with the Know Before You Owe mortgage disclosure rule, including a possible webinar regarding construction loan disclosures.
On January 7, the CFPB announced that it will request public feedback on the resubmission of mortgage lending data reported under HMDA. Upon publication in the Federal Register, the Request for Information Regarding Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Resubmission Guidelines (Request for Information) will be open for 60 days. The Bureau’s Request for Information follows the agency’s October release of a final rule amending Regulation C to expand the reporting requirements of the HMDA regulation. Among other things, the amended rule increases the number of data points collected from financial institutions that must be reported to federal regulators beginning March 1, 2019, thus potentially necessitating revisions to the resubmission guidelines, which are the guidelines that describe when supervised institutions will be expected to correct and resubmit data. In response to questions regarding whether the CFPB will adjust mortgage lending data resubmission guidelines to reflect the new data requirements under the amended rule, the Request for Information seeks public comment regarding (among other things): (i) the CFPB’s use of resubmission error thresholds and how they should be calculated; (ii) whether error thresholds should vary depending upon an institution’s LAR entry size; and (iii) whether systemic and non-systemic errors should be treated differently, and, if so, how they should be distinguished from one another.
On January 7, the CFPB named David Silberman as the agency’s interim Acting Deputy Director, replacing Meredith Fuchs, while the CFPB searches for a permanent replacement. Since 2011, Silberman has served as the CFPB’s Associate Director for Research, Markets, and Regulations, a role he will retain while he serves as Acting Deputy Director. Fuchs, who served as the CFPB’s General Counsel and Acting Deputy Director, announced her departure in 2015; Mary McLeod will replace Fuchs as the Bureau’s General Counsel.
On January 6, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, who serves on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, sent a letter to President Obama requesting that the FY 2017 budget proposal prioritize funding for programs outlined in Title XII – Improving Access to Mainstream Financial Institutions of the Dodd-Frank Act, which has yet to be implemented. According to Senator Brown, resources are needed in order to implement Title XII, which would, among other things, (i) allow the Treasury to establish partnerships with certain eligible entities to help low and moderate income individuals access accounts at banks and credit unions; and (ii) foster partnerships with non-profits, federally insured depository institutions, community development financial institutions (CDFIs), or State, local, or tribal governments to provide low-cost, small dollar loans to traditionally unbanked or underbanked Americans as a more affordable option to the more costly alternative financial services (AFS), such as payday loans, money orders, cash checking, remittances, and auto title loans.
On December 31, the CFPB issued a report to the Senate and House Committees on Appropriations to fulfill its statutory responsibility under Section 1017(e)(4) of the Dodd-Frank Act. The report covers the CFPB’s 2015 fiscal year (FY), spanning from October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015, and provides an overview of the Bureau’s operations and finances. In its report, the Bureau highlights that, during FY 2015, among other things, the CFPB (i) began to publish consumer complaint narratives in the Consumer Complaint Database and launched monthly reports to highlight trends in the complaints submitted to the Bureau; (ii) brought supervisory actions and announced orders through enforcement efforts for $209 million and $5.819 billion in consumer redress, respectively; (iii) released three editions of Supervisory Highlights Report; (iv) published new examination procedures, supervisory guidance documents and studies; and (v) published several proposed rules, final rules, and requests for information, as well as plain-language compliance guides and video presentations summarizing certain Bureau rules. During FY 2015, the Bureau collected more than $183 million in civil money penalties, and more than $108 million in Bureau Administered Redress funds. Looking ahead, the report identifies potential rulemaking initiatives, as reflected in its Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 regulatory agendas.