CFPB Files Complaint Against Student Financial Aid Consulting Company for Allegedly Illegal Sales and Billing Practices

On July 23, the CFPB announced that it had entered into a proposed consent order with a Sacramento-based company that provides fee-based student financial aid counseling and preparation services. The CFPB’s simultaneously filed complaint alleges that the company violated the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act by engaging in deceptive sales tactics through its websites and call center representatives. The complaint claims that from at least July 21, 2011 to present (recognizing that the company no longer operates one of the websites effective July 13, 2015), the company offered consumers certain services “as an upgrade from its ‘standard’ service level at ‘no additional cost.’” However, consumers were allegedly charged future annual fees of $67 to $85 for such upgrades. The Bureau also alleges that the company violated the Electronic Fund Transfer Act by enrolling consumers in automatic, recurring payments without their knowledge or consent: “The Company did not provide consumers a copy of the consumers’ authorization for electronic fund transfers in which the terms of the preauthorized transfers – including automatic, recurring charges going forward – were clear and readily understandable.” The proposed consent order would require the company to pay $5.2 million in consumer relief and cancel all automatic and recurring charges currently in place. Due to the company’s limited financial resources, the proposed order seeks a civil money penalty of $1.00.

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CFPB Settles with Bank and its Two Affiliates for $18.5 Million over Alleged Faulty Student Loan Servicing Practices

On July 22, the CFPB announced that a major bank and its two affiliates agreed to pay $18.5 million to resolve allegations that the entities engaged in inadequate private student loan servicing practices. According to the consent order, the CFPB alleged that the bank and its affiliates (i) failed to provide clear information regarding the student-loan interest consumers paid; (ii) overstated the minimum amount due in student-loan billing statements; (iii) initiated collection phone calls to student loan borrowers that were non-compliant with certain provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act; and (iv) failed to provide students with defaulted student loans with information about the amount and source of the debt and the consumers’ right to contest the debt’s validity, as required by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Under terms of the settlement, the bank agreed to provide $16 million in restitution to affected borrowers, improve its student loan servicing and collections practices, and pay a $2.5 million civil money penalty. The announcement comes as the CFPB, along with the Department of Education and Department of Treasury, concluded its comment period for public feedback on ways to improve borrower service, reduce defaults, develop best practices, implement consumer protections, and spur innovation in the student loan servicing market.

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CFPB Reaches $700 Million Settlement to Resolve Credit Card Ancillary Products Investigation

On July 21, the CFPB announced a nearly $700 million settlement against a leading financial institution and its subsidiaries.  According to the consent order, the Bureau alleges that the entities engaged in deceptive marketing, billing, and collection practices related to various credit card ancillary products, including debt protection and credit monitoring services. Specifically, the Bureau alleges that the institution or its vendors marketing practices, consisting of telemarketing calls, online enrollment, point-of-sale application, and direct enrollment at retailers, mislead consumers into enrolling for certain ancillary products. The Bureau further alleges that, in some instances, telemarketers failed to accurately disclose the cost and fees associated with the ancillary products. With respect to the unfair billing allegations, the Bureau contends that the institution or its vendors improperly charged consumers, without authorization, for services that were not rendered, and failed to provide full product benefits of the services marketed to consumers. In addition, the Bureau alleges that the institution misrepresented payment fee information to consumers by failing to disclose the actual purpose of the fee associated with making payments by phone on delinquent credit card accounts. Under terms of the settlement, the institution and its subsidiaries agreed to (i) provide $479 million in consumer relief related to its marketing practices; (ii) pay roughly $220 million in restitution related to its payments collection practices and for consumers not receiving the full benefits of services promised; and (iii) pay a $35 million civil money penalty.

In a parallel enforcement action, the OCC imposed a separate $35 million civil money penalty against the institution for engaging in similar practices, and requires the institution to strengthen its oversight of third-party vendors and develop a comprehensive risk management program for ancillary products marketed or sold by the bank.

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Special Alert: CFPB Officially Delays TRID Rule Until October 3

The CFPB finalized a rule today that delays the effective date of the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (“TRID”) rule, including all amendments, from August 1 to October 3, 2015. This is consistent with the proposed rule issued last month, which we wrote about here.

The CFPB considered implementing a “dual compliance period” that would have permitted creditors to voluntarily comply with the TRID rule early, but it ultimately declined to do so, citing concerns that “dual compliance could be confusing to consumers and complicated for industry, including vendors, the secondary market, and institutions who act both as correspondent lenders and originators.”

In addition, although the CFPB declined to create a “hold harmless” or “safe harbor” period following the effective date, it stated that it “continues to believe that the approach expressed in Director Cordray’s letter to members of Congress on June 3, 2015,” which we wrote about here, remains fitting:

[O]ur oversight of the implementation of the Rule will be sensitive to the progress made by those entities that have squarely focused on making good-faith efforts to come into compliance with the Rule on time. My statement . . . is consistent with the approach we took to implementation of the Title XIV mortgage rules in the early months after the effective dates in January 2014, which has worked out well. Read more…

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CFPB and DOJ Reach $24 Million Settlement with Indirect Auto Lender to Resolve Discriminatory Pricing Allegations

On July 14, the CFPB and DOJ announced a $24 million settlement with an indirect auto lender to resolve allegations that the lender offered higher interest rates to minority borrowers compared to white borrowers with a similar credit risk profile. Specifically, both agencies contended that the lender allowed their partnering dealers excessive discretion to increase the lender’s base interest rate with a “dealer markup” on auto loan contracts, which resulted in discriminatory pricing. Under terms of the settlement, the lender agreed to, among other things, (i) pay $24 million in restitution to affected borrowers, (ii) impose dealer markup rate caps on auto loans, and (iii) improve its policies and procedures related to auto loan pricing and compensation program. Notably, the Bureau did not impose a civil money penalty due to the lender’s responsible conduct. The Bureau filed its consent order in an administrative enforcement action. In a separate announcement, the DOJ filed its complaint and consent order in federal court, which will require judicial approval.  The lender was represented in the matter by BuckleySandler.

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Special Alert: CFPB Launches First Monthly Complaint Report Providing Snapshot of Consumer Trends

On July 16, 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”) launched the first in a new series of monthly complaint reports highlighting key trends from consumer complaints submitted to the CFPB. Importantly, its monthly report provides significant detail on the complaints the CFPB has received, including the names of the companies that received the largest number of complaints.

Currently, the most-complained-about companies are also the largest bank and nonbank financial institutions in the country. Since these institutions have the highest numbers of customers, it is only natural that they have received the highest number of complaints. On the same day as the monthly report’s release, CFPB Director Richard Cordray provided remarks at an Americans for Financial Reform event in Washington, D.C. Director Cordray noted that in future monthly reports, the CFPB hopes to “normalize” its consumer complaint data by accounting for financial institutions’ respective size and volume. To that end, the CFPB issued a Request for Information seeking input on ways to enable the public to more easily understand company-level complaint information and make comparisons. The comment period closes August 31, 2015. Read more…

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CFPB Readies Guidance to Help Prevent Elder Financial Exploitation

On July 13, CFPB Director Richard Cordray delivered remarks at the White House Conference on Aging, expressing the need to protect older consumers in light of recent studies that have found that financial exploitation is the most prevalent form of elder abuse. Accordingly, Cordray revealed that the Bureau intends to issue an advisory “later this year” to assist financial institutions with preventing, recognizing, and reporting elder financial abuse, adding that “[f]inancial institutions are especially well-positioned” to prevent fraud, scams, or theft that victimize seniors.

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CFPB Director Set to Testify at Senate Banking Hearing on July 15

On July 15, CFPB Director Richard Cordray will deliver testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs focusing on “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Semi-Annual Report to Congress.” The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.

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CFPB Recommends Consumer Protection Principles for Faster Payment Networks

On July 9, the CFPB issued a set of guiding principles aimed to help private industry better protect consumers as new, faster electronic payment systems continue to emerge. “While American consumers benefit from and make use of these payment systems, there remain opportunities to improve efficiency, reduce transaction costs for consumers, and reduce credit and fraud risks,” the CFPB’s announcements stated. Accordingly, the principles advocate for more secure, transparent, accessible, and affordable networks for consumers, and recommend proposals concerning funds availability, fraud and error resolution, and privacy concerns. The Bureau’s announcement comes as the Federal Reserve is currently engaged in an initiative to improve the U.S. payment systems network.

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CFPB, 47 State AGs, and District of Columbia Announce $216 Million Settlement to Resolve Credit Card Debt-Buying Investigation

On July 8, the CFPB along with 47 state attorneys general and DC announced an agreement with a major bank to resolve allegations that it sold faulty credit card “zombie debts” to third-party debt buyers, which included accounts with unlawfully obtained judgments, inaccurate or paid-off balances,  and debts owed by deceased borrowers. The federal and state investigators also claimed that the bank filed deceptive debt-collection lawsuits against borrowers using robo-signed or illegally sworn affidavits to obtain false or inaccurate judgments for unverified debts. Under terms of the consent order, the bank agreed to, among other things, pay (i) $106 million to 47 state attorneys general, (ii) a $30 million civil money penalty to the CFPB, and (iii) provide at least $50 million in restitution to affected borrowers. The bank also agreed to cease collections on more than 528,000 accounts, and require that third-party debt buyers be prohibited from reselling debts purchased from the bank, unless they are sold back to the bank.

In a related announcement, the OCC imposed a $30 million civil money penalty over allegedly illegal non-home debt collection litigation practices and Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) compliance practices. The OCC’s action stems from the bank’s practices related to the preparation and notarization of sworn documents used in debt litigation proceedings, and inadequate policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the SCRA.

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CFPB Report Details Ongoing Challenges Between Servicemembers and Student Loan Servicers

On July 7, the CFPB released a report detailing the continued challenges military servicemembers experience related to the servicing of their student loans, particularly when trying to invoke certain rights granted under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). This report follows the CFPB’s May announcement seeking public comment on student loan servicing practices related to servicemembers. Based on over 1,300 complaints received, the report details how both private and federal student loan servicers continue to make mistakes handling servicemembers’ student loan repayments, leading to wrongful denial of legal benefits and negative credit reporting for military families. Specifically, the report highlights servicemembers’ difficulties in (i) obtaining the SCRA’s 6-percent interest rate cap; (ii) receiving adequate information or having requests properly processed, especially regarding deferment plans (leading to unwarranted delinquencies, defaults, and debt collections); and (iii) discharging the debts of severely injured veterans or the families of deceased servicemembers.

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CFPB Tackles Credit Card Vendors For Alleged Unfair Billing of Ancillary Products

Today, the CFPB filed proposed consent orders against two credit card add-on product vendors for allegedly billing consumers for credit monitoring and identity theft protection services they did not receive. Under the proposed consent orders, one vendor will provide nearly $7 million in restitution to the holders of approximately 73,000 accounts, and pay a $1.9 million civil money penalty. The other vendor will provide almost $55,000 in restitution to consumers who were incorrectly billed for identity theft or credit monitoring services, and pay a $1.2 million civil money penalty. The Bureau specifically noted that today’s announcement is the “first time the Bureau has brought actions directly against the companies” that market or administer ancillary products.

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Special Alert: Disparate Impact Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act After Inclusive Communities

On June 25, the Supreme Court in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. held that disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The Court, in a 5-4 decision, concluded that the FHA permits disparate-impact claims based on its interpretation of the FHA’s language, the amendment history of the FHA, and the purpose of the FHA.

Applicability to ECOA

When certiorari was granted in Inclusive Communities, senior officials from the CFPB and DOJ made clear that they would continue to enforce the disparate impact theory under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) even if the Supreme Court held that disparate-impact claims were not cognizable under the FHA. It is reasonable to expect that the Court’s decision will embolden the agencies, as well as private litigants, to assert even more aggressively the disparate impact theory under ECOA. Read more…

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CFPB Consumer Complaints Database Goes Live with Option to Publish Narratives

Today, the CFPB expanded its consumer complaint database, publishing for the first time over 7,700 consumer narratives which provide descriptive details of issues consumers face with respect to mortgages, bank accounts, credit cards, and debt collection, among other topics. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the Bureau finalized its Policy earlier this year requiring consumers who file complaints to “opt-in” to have the actual narrative of the complaint disclosed in the CFPB consumer complaint database. In addition, the Bureau issued a Request For Information seeking feedback on how complaint information contained within the database can be more easily identified and “normalized.” The Bureau also announced that it had received more than 627,000 complaints as of June 1, with mortgages and debt collection among the most frequent sources of complaints.

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Special Alert: CFPB Issues Proposal to Delay TRID Rule Until October 3

The CFPB issued a proposed rule today to delay the effective date of the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (“TRID”) rule, including all amendments, from August 1 to October 3, 2015. The proposed delayed effective date is two days later than the date announced last week so that the effective date falls on a Saturday. The CFPB chose Saturday because it “may allow for smoother implementation by affording industry time over the weekend to launch new systems configurations and to test systems. A Saturday launch is also consistent with existing industry plans tied to the Saturday August 1 effective date.”

The proposed rule explains that, due to “an administrative error on the Bureau’s part in complying with the [Congressional Review Act]…, the [TRID] Rule cannot take effect until at the earliest August 15, 2015.” Because “some delay in the effective date is now required, the Bureau believes that a brief additional delay may benefit both consumers and industry more than would allowing the new rules to take effect on [August 15].” The Bureau stated that the additional delay is being proposed to avoid challenges associated with a mid-month effective date and to allow more time to implement the rule in light of recent information the CFPB received that “delays in the delivery of system updates have left creditors and others with limited time to fully test all of their systems and system components to ensure that each system works with the others in an effective manner.”

The proposed rule does not include any substantive changes to the TRID rule, other than changes to reflect the new proposed effective date. Despite requests by many in industry, the Bureau did not propose to allow lenders to begin complying with the rule before the effective date.

Comments must be received on or before July 7, 2015.

For additional information and resources on the TRID rule, please visit our TRID Resource Center.

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Questions regarding the matters discussed in this Alert may be directed to any of our lawyers listed below, or to any other BuckleySandler attorney with whom you have consulted in the past.

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