On June 9, President Obama announced numerous initiatives related to federal student loans and signed a presidential memorandum directing the Education and Treasury Departments to execute certain of those initiatives. The central directive instructs the Education Department to initiate a rulemaking that will allow students who borrowed before October 2007 or who have not borrowed since October 2011 to cap their payments at 10 percent of their monthly incomes. The Education Department aims to finalize the program by December 2015. In addition, the President announced that, among other things, (i) the Education Department will renegotiate its contracts with federal loan servicers to alter financial incentives “to help borrowers repay their loans on time, lower payments for servicers when loans enter delinquency or default, and increase the value of borrowers’ customer satisfaction when allocating new loan volume”; (ii) the Education Department will proactively apply SCRA protections by reducing interest rates automatically for eligible servicemembers and will also provide additional guidance to Federal Family Education Loan program servicers to provide for a similar streamlined process; (iii) Treasury and the Education Department will work with tax preparation companies to communicate information about federal student loan repayment options; and (iv) the Education Department will expand other existing efforts to identify borrowers who may be struggling to repay and provide them with information about repayment options. The President also called on Congress to pass federal student loan refinance legislation championed by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). On June 11, the Senate failed to advance that bill, which was designed to allow federal loan borrowers to reat rates set last year by the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, and allow private loan borrowers to refinance loans into the federal program at the same rates.
Fannie Mae Offers Alternative To Repurchase For Mortgage Insurance Rescission, Announces Numerous Other Servicing Policy Updates
On July 1, Fannie Mae issued Servicing Guide Announcement SVC-2014-13, which describes a new alternative to repurchase, an “MI stand-in.” The MI stand-in is defined as the full mortgage insurance (MI) benefit that would have been payable under the original mortgage insurance policy if the mortgage loan liquidates. The alternative was first announced earlier this year as part of broader updates to Fannie Mae’ representation and warranties framework. Fannie Mae will not require immediate repurchase when the MI is rescinded on mortgage loans acquired on or after July 1, 2014, and instead will offer the MI stand-in if: (i) the responsible party meets Fannie Mae’s eligibility criteria; and (ii) the only defect Fannie Mae identifies in the mortgage loan is the rescission of MI; or (iii) the responsible party cures all defects identified, except the MI rescission defect, during the required cure period. A mortgage loan will not be eligible for the MI stand-in if: (i) Fannie Mae identifies other defects during the full file quality control review which the responsible party fails to cure during the required cure period, or (ii) the responsible party does not respond in a timely manner or submit all of the required documents within the timeframes required by Fannie Mae. If the responsible party cures the defects that made the mortgage loan ineligible for the MI stand-in, Fannie Mae will review the mortgage loan and responsible party for this alternative to repurchase. On July 9, in Servicing Guide Announcement SVC-2014-14, Fannie Mae announced that servicemembers can use alternatives to Fannie Mae’s form for documenting active duty orders. The announcement also updates policies regarding (i) ordering a property valuation for short sales, Mortgage Releases, and foreclosure sale bidding instructions; (ii) submitting financial statements and reports; and (iii) loan modification monthly principal and interest payment requirements.
On June 3, Freddie Mac announced revisions to numerous servicing policies, including policies regarding, among other things, short sales and deeds-in-lieu of foreclosure (DILs), the CFPB’s mortgage servicing rules, and unemployment forbearance. Bulletin 2014-10 advises servicers that for new short sale and DIL evaluations conducted on and after August 1, 2014 (or sooner if a servicer chooses), Freddie Mac will permit a servicemember to qualify for a short sale or DIL provided the mortgaged property is or was previously the borrower’s primary residence. When such a short sale or DIL is approved for a servicemember as provided above, the servicemember will receive the existing benefits afforded to a service member with PCS orders. In addition, for any borrower seeking a short sale or DIL, Freddie Mac is establishing a new lookback period that requires the servicer to review the borrower’s credit report to determine that the borrower did not obtain a new mortgage in the six months preceding the delinquency or in the six months preceding the evaluation of the borrower for a short sale or DIL. In addition, Freddie Mac (i) is now requiring servicers to investigate any inquiries by mortgage creditors that appear on the borrower’s credit report to determine if the borrower obtained a mortgage in the lookback period; and (ii) soon will require the servicer to rely solely upon the results of the cash reserves and promissory note payment capacity formulae to determine when to request a contribution from a borrower who is 31 days or more delinquent. The Bulletin also includes revisions to the following requirements introduced in response to the CFPB’s mortgage servicing rules: (i) trial period payment adjustments after the borrower exercises the right to appeal; (ii) delay in referral to foreclosure or proceeding with the next legal action; (iii) foreclosure sale date timing; and (iv) borrower solicitation letters. Finally, among several other policy revisions, the announcement details unemployment forbearance policy changes similar to those announced by Fannie Mae on June 4, 2014.
On May 21, Fannie Mae issued Servicing Guide Announcement SVC-2014-08, which announced that the extended stay of foreclosure and other legal proceedings that is set to expire at the end of this year will continue indefinitely for eligible servicemembers, and that servicers can no longer obtain written servicemember consent or petition the court to continue or commence foreclosure proceedings. Fannie Mae also announced that, effective September 1, 2014, for loans originally purchased at a premium or discounted price that experienced negative amortization, Fannie Mae will limit both the purchase discount and the purchase premium to the amount of the original purchase discount or premium, and the price used to calculate the repurchase amount will be expressed as a percentage of par. Finally, Fannie Mae also (i) announced updated documents used to evaluate and apply for a full or partial release of a property securing a loan; and (ii) clarified that servicers must oversee all outsourcing and third-party vendors, and that both servicers and vendors must implement and maintain business continuity plans.
Recently, the Department of Defense (DOD) published a report on the Military Lending Act (MLA), as requested in the House report that accompanied the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (FY 2013 NDAA). The MLA generally covers short-term, small dollar loans, including payday, car title, and refund-anticipation loans, but current DOD regulations exclude credit cards, overdraft loans, military installment loans, and all forms of open-end credit. Consumer advocates, state attorneys general, and others have called for the MLA regulations to be expanded to cover other products. The DOD report provides a summary of responses the DOD received in response to a 2013 advance notice of proposed rulemaking related to the potential expansion of the MLA regulations, and reviews state and federal policy developments, as well as changes in the markets for small dollar products. The DOD concludes that the MLA regulations need to be amended, but that simply extending the definition of covered credit products is not sufficient. The DOD is therefore “redrafting” the MLA regulations and plans to take a more “comprehensive approach” that could cover all short-term, small dollar credit products under the MLA regulations and provide exceptions as appropriate. Notably, the FY 2013 NDAA also clarified the CFPB’s enforcement authority under the MLA and granted the CFPB an opportunity to influence the content of the MLA regulations by adding the CFPB to the list of agencies with which the DOD must consult regarding implementation of the MLA’s protections.
On March 27, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed HB 2171, which amends the Washington Service Member’s Civil Relief Act (WSCRA) to provide that a violation of the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is a violation of the WSCRA and applies in proper cases in all Washington courts. The bill also provides a private right of action for servicemembers or their dependents to enforce the WSCRA, and grants the state attorney general civil litigating authority, with penalties of up to $55,000 for a first violation and up to $110,000 for each subsequent violation. The changes take effect on June 12, 2014.
On March 6, the CFPB released a “snapshot” of servicemember complaints prepared by the Office of Servicemember Affairs (OSA), which analyzes the military consumer complaints received since July 2011. According to the report, servicemembers, veterans, and their families have submitted 14,100 complaints to the Bureau since its opening and have recovered more than $1 million. The volume of servicemember complaints has continued to increase over time, rising 148% from 2012 to 2013.
Notably, although “debt collection” was not added as a complaint category until July 2013, approximately 3,800 complaints received relate to collection practices. Nearly half of these complaints concern attempts to collect non-existent debts, with the remainder concerning improper collection tactics and procedural issues related to collection. The category that received the most complaints—approximately 4,700—was mortgage. Concerns raised relate primarily to practices undertaken when a borrower defaults, but also to loan origination and making payments. The remainder of the complaints received relate to consumer loans, private student loans, payday loans, credit cards, credit reporting, banking services, and money transfers. Along with debt collection practices, the report identifies payday loans—and specifically, compliance with the Military Lending Act’s interest-rate restrictions—as a point of focus for OSA.
On February 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the attempted collection of past due foreclosure-related fees from a borrower in active duty military service is a violation of section 533 of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Brewster v. Sun Trust Mortg., Inc., No. 12-56560, WL No. (9th Cir. Feb. 7, 2014). The district court dismissed an active duty servicemember’s suit against the current and former servicer of his mortgage loan after the current servicer failed to remove fees associated with a foreclosure initiated, but then withdrawn, by the prior servicer. SCRA section 533 bars the “sale, foreclosure, or seizure of property” for the breach of certain obligations relating to a mortgage made before a servicemember’s military service, unless such action is pursuant to a court order or a valid SCRA waiver, and also establishes criminal penalties for a person who knowingly makes, causes to be made, or attempts to make such a prohibited sale, foreclosure, or seizure of property. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the failure to remove the fees incidental to the previous foreclosure’s Notice of Default was a continuation of the previous “foreclosure proceeding,” and, therefore, a violation of section 533. The court did not consider whether the Notice of Default had been initially filed in violation of section 533. The court’s reasoning hinged on its reading of what the word “foreclosure” encompassed and based its interpretation on (i) a state-law statutory definition of foreclosure that the court determined included the attempted collection of foreclosure fees as part of the foreclosure proceeding, and (ii) the U.S. Supreme Court’s unambiguous requirement that courts broadly construe the statutory language of the SCRA. The court declined to determine whether SCRA allows punitive damages, as the DOJ had urged it to do in an amicus brief. The court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the borrower’s suit and remanded for further proceedings.
On January 30 the CFPB, the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the FTC, and other federal agencies announced the launch of a new online system designed to collect information from veterans, current servicemembers, and their families regarding negative experiences at education institutions and training programs administering the Post-9/11 GI Bill, DOD Military Tuition Assistance, and other military-related education benefit programs. The new system is modeled after the CFPB’s complaint system and is intended to help the government identify and address unfair, deceptive, and misleading practices. The complaint system, which is comprised of the DOD’s Postsecondary Education Complaint System and to the VA GI Bill Feedback System, was developed in accordance with the April 2012 Executive Order 13607, Establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members. That order required, among other things, the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs to “create a centralized complaint system for students receiving Federal military and veterans educational benefits to register complaints that can be tracked and responded to by the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Justice, and Education, the CFPB” and other relevant agencies.
On January 28, the GAO issued a report on SCRA mortgage protections required by the 2012 legislation that extended those protections. Using data from three large mortgage servicers and a large credit union, the GAO examined changes in the financial well-being of servicemembers who received foreclosure-prevention and mortgage-related interest rate protections under SCRA, including the extent to which they became delinquent and the impact of protection periods. The report states that the number of servicemembers with mortgages eligible for SCRA mortgage protections is unknown because servicers have not collected this information in a comprehensive manner. For those identified as SCRA-eligible at the two servicers, delinquency rates ranged from 16 to 20 percent and from four to eight percent for other military borrowers. Delinquencies at the credit union were under one percent. GAO concluded that some servicemembers appeared to have benefitted from the SCRA interest rate cap of six percent, but that many eligible borrowers had not taken advantage of the protection. GAO also determined that the data were insufficient to assess the impact of SCRA protections after servicemembers left active duty, although it believes one institution’s limited data indicated that military borrowers had a higher risk of delinquency in the first year after leaving active duty. GAO also reviewed documentation on DOD’s partnerships and relevant education efforts related to SCRA mortgage protections and found relevant information to be limited because DOD has not undertaken any formal evaluations of the partnerships’ effectiveness. Given its finding that many servicemembers did not appear to be taking advantage of the SCRA interest rate cap, GAO concluded that DOD’s SCRA education efforts could be improved and that an assessment of the effectiveness of these efforts is still warranted.
On October 3, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden (DE AG) announced that his office sent letters to nearly 30 lending institutions asking for information about their compliance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The letters ask the financial institutions to provide by October 16: (i) documentation of any internal SCRA compliance review, including the findings of any such review; (ii) all written policies, procedures and practices in place used to verify SCRA compliance; (iii) the number of customer files reviewed for SCRA compliance, both in Delaware and nationwide; (iv) documentation concerning any SCRA violations identified during reviews; (v) all written policies, procedures, and practices in place concerning the provision of remediation to account owners to address any judgments obtained in error or other actions taken in violation of the SCRA; (vi) documentation of steps taken to prevent future SCRA violations; and (vii) all SCRA employee training materials. The DE AG also sent a letter to the chairmen of the U.S. House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees, urging the lawmakers to change federal to allow state attorneys general to prosecute SCRA violations.
On September 17, the CFPB released revised short-term, small-dollar lending Examination Procedures that incorporate the regulations issued by the Department of Defense (DoD) to implemente the Military Lending Act (MLA), which addresses alleged predatory lending practices by lenders that operate near military bases. The CFPB was given explicit power to enforce the MLA in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013.
The revised Procedures note that the MLA covers active-duty military members and their dependents and applies to “consumer credit,” defined as closed-end loans that are payday loans with a term of 91 days or fewer and an amount financed of $2,000 or less as well as certain vehicle title loans and tax refund anticipation loans. The revised Manual notes the special requirements of the MLA, including: (i) capping the Military Annual Percentage Rate (the APR under TILA plus other charges such as credit insurance premiums and fees for certain credit-related ancillary products) at 36 percent; (ii) prohibiting a lender from holding a post-dated personal check, debit authorization, or title to a vehicle for repayment or security; (iii) prohibiting mandatory arbitration clauses and waivers of legal rights under the SCRA or other consumer protection laws; (iv) prohibiting lenders from rolling over loans, unless the new transaction results in more favorable terms for the consumer; (v) prohibiting lenders from requiring consumers to pay through the military wage allotment system; and (vi) prohibiting prepayment penalties.
The CFPB’s press release notes the Bureau’s ongoing coordination with the Department of Defense on servicemember protection, as described in the agencies’ 2012 Joint Statement of Principles on small-dollar lending.
On September 19, the CFPB and the OCC announced parallel enforcement actions against a national bank to resolve allegations that the bank engaged in the unfair and deceptive marketing, sale, and billing of “add-on products” across multiple consumer products, and the OCC announced a separate order that resolves claims related to the bank’s non-home loan debt collection litigation practices and compliance with the SCRA.
Under the CFPB’s consent order, the bank will pay a $20 million penalty to resolve allegations that over a seven year period ending in March 2012, the bank, through its vendor, enrolled customers in credit monitoring and identify theft products, and charged some customers for these products without or before having received written authorization to perform the monitoring services. The CFPB order also requires restitution to affected customers, and numerous requirements to enhance compliance, including with regard to vendor oversight. Under the OCC’s parallel action, the bank entered a consent order similar to the one entered with the CFPB, and consented to pay a $60 million penalty.
The CFPB order acknowledges the bank’s representations that it no longer offers the scrutinized products and that it already has credited or refunded affected customers. The bank’s press release also reaffirms its commitment to holding its vendors to high standards.
In a separate action announced by the OCC on the same day, the bank also entered a consent order to resolve allegations of unsafe or unsound practices with regard to its non-mortgage debt collection litigation practices and its non-mortgage SCRA compliance. As the bank pointed out in a press release, the consent order relates to only a slight percentage of credit card, student loan, auto loan, business banking and commercial banking customers who defaulted on their loan or contract and the resulting collections litigation that followed several years ago. The press release explains that the bank uncovered the issue in internal reviews that began in 2010 and took several steps in response, including: (i) halting new credit card collections litigation in 2011, (ii) dismissing the impacted lawsuits, and (iii) improving SCRA controls.
On September 6, California enacted AB 526, which, among other things, expands certain financial protections for military reservists. Current state law allows U.S. Military Reserve and National Guard members who are called to active duty as a result of the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts, to defer payments on mortgages, credit cards, retail installment accounts and contracts, real property taxes and assessments, and vehicle leases for the period of active duty, plus 60 calendar days, or 180 days, whichever is the lesser. AB 526 extends those deferral provisions to a reservist who is called to active duty on and after January 1, 2014, and to a spouse or legal dependent, and authorizes deferral of payments on any obligations owed to a utility company. The bill limits the deferment period on financial obligations to not more than 180 days within a 365-day period and requires covered reservists seeking deferral to provide a copy of the activation or deployment orders and any other information that substantiates the duration of the service member’s military service.
On August 15, Freddie Mac issued Bulletin 2013-05, which, among other things, revises requirements relating to the SCRA and similar state laws and explains servicer responsibilities to effectively implement military relief legal protections. Specifically, Freddie Mac eliminated the requirement that servicers collect and report official documentation of a servicemember’s disability or death and available government benefits in the event a servicemember dies or becomes disabled while on active duty. In addition, Freddie Mac added a new guide section to include the additional foreclosure relief Freddie Mac provides to servicemembers and their dependents, and repurposed another guide section to remind servicers of their responsibilities to evaluate servicemembers and their dependents for the most appropriate relief or workout option from Freddie Mac’s existing options when a servicemember or dependent: (i) does not qualify for mortgage relief under the provisions of the SCRA or similar state laws; or (ii) qualifies for mortgage relief under the provisions of the SCRA or similar state law, but chooses to explore other relief options.