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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Federal government directs agencies to eliminate medical debt as an indicator of creditworthiness

Federal Issues Medical Debt Consumer Finance OMB Underwriting Department of Veterans Affairs CFPB

Federal Issues

On August 25, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memo directing “agencies with direct loan and loan guarantee programs that focus on consumer loans or small and medium businesses where a consumer’s credit history is a factor, to whenever possible and consistent with the law take actions to reduce the impact of medical debt in the underwriting of Federal credit programs.” Although OMB recognized that some agencies such as the Department Veterans Affairs and the CFPB have already taken some steps to lessen medical debt burdens, it found that these prior efforts have been insufficient. Instead, the memo stresses that “[t]he collective efforts of the Federal Government, working with the private sector” are necessary to “remedy the impact of the issue of medical debt as an indicator for creditworthiness.” The memo outlines guidance for agencies to develop a plan to eliminate medical debt as a factor for underwriting in credit programs. These steps include (i) “[i]dentifying any statutory, regulatory, or administrative changes that would be required to modify criteria and consideration factors, exclude medical debt, or otherwise lessen the impact of medical debt consideration or underwriting in Federal lending programs”; (ii) conducting an “[i]nitial qualitative assessment and cost-benefit analysis of any statutory or regulatory changes” or any anticipated changes; (iii) conducting an “[a]ssessment of whether model updates are required for FCRA cost estimation, especially if the exclusion of medical debt would explicitly or implicitly affect particular underwriting requirements such as debt-to-income ratios, etc.”; and (iv) incorporating stakeholder input and assessing known risks that may impact an agency’s goal of achieving its plan.