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On March 19, the OCC announced that a national bank has agreed to pay a $25 million civil money penalty to resolve alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act. According to the OCC’s consent order, (i) from August 2011 to April 2015, the bank did not properly train loan officers about available mortgage discounts under its Relationship Loan Program (RLP); (ii) from August 2011 to November 2014, the bank failed to provide explicit instructions within their written guidelines that employees should offer those discounts to all eligible customers; and (iii) from August 2011 to November 2014, the bank did not require loan officers to document the reason for a customer’s rejection. Moreover, according to the OCC, the bank did not require loan officers to inform customers about potential mortgage discounts from August 2011 to January 2015. As a result, the OCC stated that certain borrowers allegedly did not receive RLP benefits for which they were eligible and were adversely affected on the basis of their race, color, national origin, and/or sex. The bank—which did not admit nor deny the allegations and self-reported the problems in 2015—initiated and has nearly completed a reimbursement plan, which will deliver roughly $24 million in restitution to the approximately 24,000 borrowers who may have missed out on the appropriate RLP benefit.
On March 1, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut signed an order dismissing with prejudice a Fair Housing Act complaint filed by the Connecticut Fair Housing Center through its legal counsel, the National Consumer Law Center, against a Connecticut-based bank. The bank denied all allegations of wrongdoing and liability. Under the terms of the stipulation of dismissal, the bank agreed voluntarily to resolve the claims and, among other things, to (i) revise its fair lending policies and procedures and conduct fair lending training for all employees; (ii) open a loan production office in Hartford; (iii) spend $230,000 on targeted marketing and advertising to minority communities, and provide additional consumer financial education opportunities; (iv) invest $300,000 for subsidies to promote home ownership and enhance access to credit in identified communities; (v) identify a Community Development Officer within the bank; and (vi) expand its community development loan program by investing $5 million over the next three years.
On March 1, the CFPB released its latest Quarterly Consumer Credit Trends report titled, “Mortgages to First-time Homebuying Servicemembers,” which analyzes mortgages made to first-time homebuying active duty servicemembers and veterans (collectively defined as “servicemembers”). The report, using data from the Bureau’s Consumer Credit Panel (CCP) supplemented with data on military service, offers information on the mortgage choices and mortgage performance outcomes of servicemembers who bought homes between 2006 and 2016. Key findings include:
- The share of first-time homebuying servicemembers using the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) guaranteed home loan program significantly increased, from 30 percent before 2007 to 63 percent in 2009. By 2016, 78 percent of servicemembers relied on a VA mortgage for their first home loan.
- Conventional mortgages, which accounted for approximately 60 percent of loans among first-time homebuying servicemembers in 2006 and 2007, declined to 13 percent by 2016. During this period, the use of conventional mortgages among non-servicemembers also decreased, as the use of FHA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) increased.
- In 2016, the median servicemember first-time homebuyer VA loan amount was $212,000, increasing from $156,000 in 2006.
- Early delinquency rates for nonprime servicemember first-time VA-loan borrowers decreased from an average of 5 percent to 7 percent in 2006 and 2007 to slightly above 3 percent in 2016. Notably, early delinquency rates were lower for active duty VA-loan borrowers than for veteran VA-loan borrowers.
Department of Education forgives roughly $150 million in student loans eligible for automatic closed school discharge
On December 13, the Department of Education announced it will automatically discharge approximately $150 million in student loans for roughly 15,000 eligible borrowers as part of implementing the Department’s Final Regulations (81 FR 75926) (also known as the “Borrower Defense Regulations” or “regulations”), which took effect in October following a decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that the Department’s move to delay the regulations—finalized in 2016 and originally set to take effect July 1, 2017—was procedurally invalid (see InfoBytes coverage on the ruling here.) The Borrower Defense Regulations are designed to protect student borrowers against misleading and predatory practices by postsecondary institutions and clarify a process for loan forgiveness in cases of institutional misconduct. Of the $150 million, approximately $80 million of the amount is attributable to loans taken out by students who attended now bankrupt, for-profit Corinthian schools. (See InfoBytes coverage on matters related to Corinthian schools here.) The announcement also provides information for loan holders, guaranty agencies in the Federal Family Education Loan program, and schools concerning new closed school discharge requirements.
On December 14, Maxine Waters (D-CA) and 22 other House Democrats issued a letter urging the new CFPB Director, Kathy Kraninger, to resume supervisory examinations of the Military Lending Act (MLA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, according to reports citing “internal agency documents,” the Bureau ceased supervisory examinations of the MLA, contending the law does not authorize the Bureau to examine financial institutions for compliance with the MLA. In response, a bipartisan coalition of 33 state Attorneys General sent a letter to then acting Director, Mick Mulvaney, expressing concern over the decision (covered by InfoBytes here).
The letter from Waters, who is expected to be the next chair of the House Financial Services Committee, and the other 22 Democratic members of the Committee, argues that “there is no question the [CFPB] has the authority and the responsibility to supervise its regulated entities for compliance with the MLA.” As support, the letter cites to the Bureau’s authority to oversee a “wide range of regulated entities,” the establishment of the Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs, and the 2013 amendments to the MLA, which gave the Bureau the authority to enforce the act. The letter also points to the Bureau’s work obtaining $130 million in relief for servicemembers, veterans, and their families through enforcement actions, as well as the 109 complaints the Bureau has received from military consumers since 2011.
On December 7, as part of Operation Game of Loans—a coordinated effort between the FTC and state law enforcement—the FTC announced settlements with operators of two student loan debt relief operations to resolve allegations that the defendants violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule by, among others (i) charging consumers who purchased the debt relief services illegal upfront fees; and (ii) falsely promising to assist consumers in enrolling in government programs that would reduce or forgive their student loan debt.
Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants are permanently banned from advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, or selling any type of debt relief product or service—or from assisting others in doing the same. Combined, the settlements total more than $36 million, though judgments have been partially suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay.
On October 30, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida filed a lawsuit against a Florida legal services provider and two of its officers (defendants) for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act by “intentionally discriminating against Hispanic homeowners by targeting them with a predatory mortgage loan modification and foreclosure rescue services scheme.” Specifically, the complaint alleges that the defendants, among other things, (i) targeted borrowers through the use of Spanish-language advertisements that allegedly promised to cut mortgage payments in half; (ii) promised payments would be lowered “in a specific timeframe in exchange for thousands of dollars of upfront fees and continuing monthly fees of as much as $550,” without delivering the promised loan modifications; (iii) instructed borrowers to stop making monthly mortgage payments and to stop communicating with their lenders; and (iv) had borrowers sign English-language contracts while only translating the provisions regarding payment. The complaint seeks to enjoin the defendants from participating in discriminatory activities on the basis of national origin, and requests monetary damages and civil penalties.
On October 29, the FTC announced a settlement with an online student loan refinance lender resolving allegations the lender violated the FTC Act by misrepresenting in television, print, and internet advertisements how much money student loan borrowers can save from refinancing their loans with the company. The complaint alleges that the lender inflated the average savings consumers have achieved refinancing through the lender, in some instances doubling the average savings by selectively excluding certain groups of consumers from the data. The complaint also alleges that in some instances, the lender’s webpage misrepresented instances where a loan option would result in the consumer paying more on a monthly basis or over the lifetime of the loan, simply stating the savings would be “0.00.” Although the lender did not admit or deny any of the allegations, it agreed to a consent order that requires it to cease the alleged misrepresentations and agree to certain compliance monitoring and recordkeeping requirements.
Notably, Commissioner Rohit Chopra issued a concurring statement in this matter suggesting that in instances where the FTC is unable to obtain monetary remedies, it should seek to partner with other enforcement agencies that have the additional legal authority to obtain monetary settlements from the targets of the FTC enforcement action.
New York City Department of Consumer Affairs sues for-profit college for deceptive and predatory lending practices
On October 19, New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) announced that it filed suit in New York County Supreme Court against a for-profit college alleging deceptive and predatory lending practices that violate NYC Consumer Protection Law and local debt collection rules. The DCA alleges that college recruiters engaged in deceptive practices such as (i) masquerading federal loan applications as scholarships; (ii) steering students towards college loans and referring to them as “payment plans”; and (iii) deceiving students about institutional grants by failing to disclose that they require students to obtain the maximum amount of federal loans available before a grant can be awarded. DCA also alleges that the for-profit college violated debt collection laws by concealing its identity on invoices when collecting debt, and seeking payments from graduates for debts not owed.
FHFA launches clearinghouse for mortgage industry to assist borrowers with limited English proficiency
On October 15, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae announced the joint launch of the Mortgage Translations clearinghouse, a collection of online resources designed to help lenders and servicers assist borrowers with limited English proficiency. The clearinghouse currently provides Spanish-language resources, and will add resources in Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Tagalog in the coming years. Mortgage Translations also includes a Spanish-English glossary developed in collaboration with the CFPB to help standardize translations across the mortgage industry.