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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • CFPB issues fall supervisory highlights

    Federal Issues

    On November 15, the CFPB released its fall 2022 Supervisory Highlights, which summarizes its supervisory and enforcement actions between January and June 2022 in the areas of auto servicing, consumer reporting, credit card account management, debt collection, deposits, mortgage origination, mortgage servicing, and payday lending. Highlights of the findings include:

    • Auto Servicing. Bureau examiners identified instances of servicers engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices connected to add-on product charges, loan modifications, double billing, use of devices that interfered with driving, collection tactics, and payment allocation. For instance, examiners identified occurrences where consumers paid off their loans early, but servicers failed to ensure consumers received refunds for unearned fees related to add-on products.
    • Consumer Reporting. The Bureau found deficiencies in credit reporting companies’ (CRCs) compliance with FCRA dispute investigation requirements and furnishers’ compliance with FCRA and Regulation V accuracy and dispute investigation requirements. Examples include: (i) NCRCs that failed to report the outcome of complaint reviews to the Bureau; (ii) furnishers that failed to send updated information to CRCs following a determination that the information reported was not complete or accurate; and (iii) furnishers’ policies and procedures that contained deficiencies related to the accuracy and integrity of furnished information.
    • Credit Card Account Management. Bureau examiners identified violations of Regulation Z related to billing error resolution, including instances where creditors failed to (i) resolve disputes within two complete billing cycles after receiving a billing error notice; (ii) conduct reasonable investigations into billing error notices due to human errors and system weaknesses; and (iii) provide explanations to consumers after determining that no billing error occurred or that a different billing error occurred from that asserted. Examiners also identified Regulation Z violations where credit card issuers improperly mixed original factors and acquisition factors when reevaluating accounts subject to a rate increase, and identified deceptive acts or practices related to credit card issuers’ advertising practices.
    • Debt Collection. The Bureau found instances of FDCPA violations where debt collectors engaged in conduct that harassed, oppressed, or abused the person with whom they were communicating. The report findings also discussed instances where debt collectors communicated with a person other than the consumer about the consumer’s debt when the person had a name similar or identical to the consumer, in violation of the FDCPA.
    • Deposits. The Bureau discussed how it conducted prioritized assessments to evaluate how financial institutions handled pandemic relief benefits deposited into consumer accounts. Examiners identified unfairness risks at multiple institutions due to policies and procedures that may have resulted in, among other things, (i) garnishing protected economic impact payments funds in violation of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021; or (ii) failing to apply the appropriate state exemptions to certain consumers’ deposit accounts after receiving garnishment notice.
    • Mortgage Origination. Bureau examiners identified Regulation Z violations and deceptive acts or practices prohibited by the CFPA. An example of this is when the settlement service had been performed and the loan originator knew the actual costs of those service, but entered a cost that was completely unrelated to the actual charges that the loan originator knew had been incurred, resulting in information being entered that was not consistent with the best information reasonably available. The Bureau also found that the waiver language in some loan security agreements was misleading, and that a reasonable consumer could understand the provision to waive their right to bring a class action on any claim in federal court.
    • Mortgage Servicing. Bureau examiners identified instances where servicers engaged in abusive acts or practices by charging sizable fees for phone payments when consumers were unaware of those fees. Examiners also identified unfair acts or practices and Regulation X policy and procedure violations regarding failure to provide consumers with CARES Act forbearances.
    • Payday Lending. Examiners found lenders failed to maintain records of call recordings necessary to demonstrate full compliance with conduct provisions in consent orders generally prohibiting certain misrepresentations.

    Federal Issues CFPB Supervision Examination UDAAP Auto Lending CFPA Consumer Finance Consumer Reporting Credit Report FCRA Regulation V Credit Furnishing Credit Cards Regulation Z Debt Collection FDCPA Mortgages Deposits Prepaid Accounts Covid-19 CARES Act

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  • DOE announces final rules for targeted debt relief programs

    Federal Issues

    On October 31, the Department of Education (DOE) announced final rules to streamline and improve targeted debt relief programs. (See DOE fact sheet here.) The final rules implement several changes to protect student borrowers, including:

    • Borrower defense to repayment and arbitration. The final rules establish a strong framework for borrowers to raise a defense to repayment if their post-secondary institution misleads or manipulates them. Claims pending on or received on or after July 1, 2023, can be decided individually or as a group, and may be based on one of the following categories of actionable circumstances: substantial misrepresentation, substantial omission of fact, breach of contract, aggressive and deceptive recruitment, or judgments or final secretarial actions. The final rules will only provide full relief (partial discharges will not be considered), with approved claims requiring “that the institution committed an act or omission which caused the borrower detriment of such a nature and degree that warrant full relief” based upon a preponderance of the evidence. Additionally, the final rules establish certain recoupment processes for DOE to pursue institutions for the cost of approved claims, and will allow borrowers to litigate their case “by preventing institutions that participate in the Direct Loan program from requiring borrowers to engage in pre-dispute arbitration or sign class action waivers.”
    • Closed school discharges. The final rules provide an automatic discharge of a borrower’s loan “one year after a college’s closure date for borrowers who were enrolled at the time of closure or left 180 days before closure and who do not accept an approved teach-out agreement or a continuation of the program at another location of the school.” Borrowers who accept but do not complete a teach-out agreement or program continuation will receive a discharge one year after the last date of attendance.
    • Total and permanent disability discharge. The final rules include new options for borrowers who have had a total and permanent disability to receive a discharge, including borrowers (i) who receive additional types of disability review codes from the Social Security Administration (SSA); (ii) who later aged into retirement benefits and are no longer classified by one of SSA’s codes; (iii) who have an established disability onset date determined by SSA to be at least 5 years in the past; and (iv) whose first continuing disability review is scheduled at three years. The final rules also eliminate a three-year income monitoring requirement.
    • Interest capitalization. Under the final rules, “interest will no longer be added to a borrower’s principal balance the first time a borrower enters repayment, upon exiting a forbearance, and leaving any income-driven repayment plan besides Income-Based Repayment.” Specifically, the final rules eliminate all instances where interest capitalization—which occurs when a borrower has outstanding unpaid interest added to the principal balance—is not required by law.
    • Public Service Loan Forgiveness. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the final rules will provide benefits for borrowers seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness, including providing credit toward the program for borrowers who have qualifying employment.
    • False certification. The final rules will provide borrowers with an easier path to discharge when a college falsely certifies a borrower’s eligibility for a student loan. This includes expanding allowable documentation, clarifying applicable discharge dates, and allowing for the consideration of group discharges.

    The final rules are effective July 1, 2023.

    Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Department of Education Student Lending Consumer Finance Debt Relief PSLF Discharge

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  • DOE announces PSLF changes

    Federal Issues

    On October 25, the Department of Education (DOE) announced executive actions intended to bring loans managed by the DOE closer to forgiveness, including credit toward the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program for borrowers who have qualifying employment. According to the DOE, these actions will provide borrowers with many of the same benefits already going to those who have applied for PSLF under temporary changes (known as the Limited PSLF Waiver), before its October 31, 2022 end date. The announcement further noted that borrowers with Direct Loans or DOE-managed Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) will receive credit toward forgiveness on income-driven repayment (IDR) for all months spent in repayment, including payments prior to consolidation, regardless of whether they made partial or late payments or are on a repayment plan. Borrowers will also receive credit for specific periods in deferment and forbearance. Even with these actions, the DOE encouraged borrowers to take the necessary steps to apply for the Limited PSLF Waiver by October 31. The DOE also released a Fact Sheet outlining benefits for borrowers who have Direct or DOE-managed FFEL loans as well as Direct Loan borrowers seeking PSLF.

    Federal Issues Department of Education Student Lending PSLF Income-Driven Repayment Consumer Finance

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  • CFPB seeks comments on mortgage refinance and forbearance standards

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On September 27, the CFPB issued a notice in the Federal Register requesting input from the public regarding (i) the availability of refinance loans for borrowers with smaller mortgage loan balances, and (ii) options for mortgage forbearance. Specifically, the Bureau sought ways to: (i) “facilitate mortgage refinances for consumers who would benefit from refinancing, especially consumers with smaller loan balances”; and (ii) “reduce risks for consumers who experience disruptions in their financial situation that could interfere with their ability to remain current on their mortgage payments.” The Bureau also noted that some stakeholders have suggested that changes to the Bureau’s ability-to-repay/qualified mortgage rule (ATR–QM rule) may play a role in facilitating beneficial refinances through targeted and streamlined programs, noting that the current rule references “frictions” in the refinance process tied to QM standards. Comments are due by November 28.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues CFPB Mortgages Refinance Consumer Finance Federal Register Ability To Repay Qualified Mortgage

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  • CFPB’s Supervisory Highlights targets student loan servicers

    Federal Issues

    On September 29, the CFPB released a special edition of its Supervisory Highlights focusing on recent examination findings related to practices by student loan servicers and schools that directly lend to students. Highlights of the supervisory findings include:

    • Transcript withholding. The Bureau found several instances where in-house lenders (i.e., where the schools themselves are the lender) are withholding transcripts as a debt collection practice. According to the Bureau, many post-secondary institutions choose to withhold official transcripts from borrowers as an attempt to collect education-related debts. The Supervisory Highlights states the position that the blanket withholding of transcripts to coerce borrowers into making payments is an “abusive” practice under the Consumer Financial Protection Act.
    • Supervision of federal student loan transfers. The Bureau identified certain consumer risks linked to the transfer of nine million borrower account records to different servicers after two student loan servicers ended their contracts with the Department of Education (DOE). The review, which was handled in partnership with the DOE and other state regulators, identified several concerns, such as (i) the information received during the transfer was insufficient to accurately service the loan; (ii) transferee and transferor servicers reported different numbers of total payments that count toward income-driven repayment forgiveness for some borrowers; (iii) information inaccurately stated the borrower’s next due date; (iv) certain accounts were placed into transfer-related forbearances following the transfer, instead of in more advantageous CARES Act forbearances; and (v) multiple servicers experienced significant operational challenges.
    • Payment relief programs. The Bureau found occurrences where federal student loan servicers allegedly engaged in unfair acts or practices when they improperly denied a borrower’s application for loan cancellation through Teacher Loan Forgiveness or Public Service Loan Forgiveness. The Bureau claimed that many servicers “illegally misrepresented borrowers’ eligibility dates and the number of payments the borrower needed to make to qualify for relief,” and “provided misinformation about borrowers’ entitlement to progress toward loan forgiveness during the pandemic payment suspension.” The Bureau said it will continue to monitor servicers’ practices to ensure borrowers receive the relief for which they are entitled, and directed servicers to address consumer harm caused by these actions.

    The Bureau issued a reminder that it will continue to supervise student loan servicers and lenders within its supervisory jurisdiction regardless of institution type. Student loan servicers, originators, and loan holders are advised to review the supervisory findings and take any necessary measures to ensure their operations address these risks.

    Federal Issues CFPB Supervision Examination Student Lending Student Loan Servicer Debt Collection UDAAP CFPA Consumer Finance CARES Act

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  • Chopra highlights CFPB efforts on competitive consumer financial markets

    Federal Issues

    On September 21, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra discussed Bureau efforts to ensure markets for consumer financial products and services are “fair, transparent, and competitive.” Speaking during the Exchequer Club Fireside Chat, Chopra explained that the agency’s authorizing statute specifically directs the Bureau to promote competition by consistently enforcing the law regardless of whether an entity takes deposits. He clarified that there should not be different standards for assessing when a firm violates the law, and highlighted several ways that the Bureau is working to fulfill its mandate to ensure competitive markets. One example Chopra provided relates to reshaping the Bureau’s approach to promoting new products and offerings, especially as they relate to refinancing options. He pointed to Bureau efforts to ensure both banks and nonbanks could launch products to save private student loan borrowers money as an example of making sure all potential market entrants could benefit. Chopra stated that the Bureau is also requesting feedback from investors, lenders, and the public on topics related to improving mortgage refinancing options (covered by InfoBytes here), and is working on ways to stimulate more credit card and auto loan refinancing. Additionally, Chopra touched on other areas of focus, including consumer finance offerings that rely on emerging technologies such as banking in augmented reality and the metaverse, nonbank supervision and oversight, bright-line regulatory approaches, competitive pricing and back-end fees, regulatory arbitrage, and personal financial data rights.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Competition Mortgages Nonbank

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  • CFPB seeks better refi, loss-mitigation options

    Federal Issues

    On September 22, the CFPB issued a request for information (RFI) regarding ways to improve mortgage refinances for homeowners and how to support automatic short-term and long-term loss mitigation assistance for homeowners who experience financial disruptions. According to the Bureau, refinancing volume has decreased almost 70 percent from last year as interest rates have risen. Additionally, periods of economic turmoil, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, can pose significant challenges for mortgage borrowers, the Bureau noted. Throughout the pandemic, 8.2 million borrowers entered a forbearance program, and as of July 2022, 93 percent have exited. Of those who have exited forbearance, five percent are delinquent or in active foreclosure. The Bureau is interested in the features of pandemic-related forbearance programs that should be made more generally available to borrowers. Specifically, the RFI requests information regarding, among other things: (i) targeted and streamlined refinance programs; (ii) innovative refinancing products; and (iii) automatic forbearance and long-term loss mitigation assistance. Comments are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB Consumer Finance Mortgages Refinance Forbearance Federal Register

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  • VA clarifies Covid-19 forbearance timeline

    Federal Issues

    On September 19, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a change to Circular 26-21-20 extending the rescission date to align with the end of Covid-19 pandemic, including conforming changes to VA’s expectation as to the completion of a forbearance period. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the VA issued Circular 26-21-20 in September 2021 to clarify timeline expectations for forbearance requests submitted by affected borrowers. The September 2021 Circular stated thar “[f]or borrowers who have not received a COVID-related forbearance as of the date of this Circular, servicers should approve requests from such borrowers provided that the borrower makes the request during the National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic,” and that all Covid-19 related forbearances would end by September 30, 2022. However, Change 1 stated that “September 30, 2022” should be replaced with “six months after the end of the National Emergency Concerning the Novel COVID-19 Pandemic.” The circular is rescinded March 1, 2023.

    Federal Issues Department of Veterans Affairs Covid-19 Mortgages Forbearance Consumer Finance

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  • States request extension of PSLF forgiveness waiver

    State Issues

    On July 29, a coalition of state attorneys general sent a letter to President Biden and Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, requesting the extension of the deadline for individuals to file claims under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October 2021, the Department announced several significant changes to its PSLF program, including that approximately 22,000 borrowers with consolidated loans (including loans previously ineligible) may be immediately eligible to have their loans forgiven automatically, and another 27,000 borrowers could have their balances forgiven if they are able to certify additional periods of public service employment. According to the AGs, “it is critically important to extend the waiver at least until new PSLF regulations take effect and to grandfather in waiver benefits for borrowers who miss administrative deadlines.” The AGs also asked the Biden administration to count all forbearance periods toward loan forgiveness, rather than making exceptions for servicemembers and longer periods of forbearance for everyone else. The letter stated that “[f]ailure to automatically count periods of forbearance toward loan forgiveness ignores pervasive and well-established servicing problems and inappropriately shifts the burden to borrowers to identify and prove that they were victims of servicer misconduct.” The AGs urged the Biden administration “to exercise its authority to synchronize the One-Time Adjustment and Limited PSLF Waiver into a unified adjustment policy.” The letter specifically stated that the “simplest way of doing so may be to incorporate certain critical aspects of the waiver into the One-Time Adjustment, including that qualifying employment at the time of forgiveness is not necessary and that consolidations (whether of FFEL or Direct Loans) occurring prior to the completion of the One-Time Adjustment do not negate past qualifying employment periods for PSLF.”

    State Issues Federal Issues State Attorney General Department of Education PSLF Student Lending Consumer Finance

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  • District Court issues judgment against student debt relief operation

    Federal Issues

    On May 24, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order against an individual defendant who participated in a deceptive debt-relief enterprise operation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2019, the CFPB, along with the Minnesota and North Carolina attorneys general, and the Los Angeles City Attorney (together, the “states”), announced an action against the student loan debt relief operation for allegedly deceiving thousands of student-loan borrowers and charging more than $71 million in unlawful advance fees. In the third amended complaint, the Bureau and the states alleged that since at least 2015 the debt relief operation violated the CFPA, TSR, FDCPA, and various state laws by charging and collecting improper advance fees from student loan borrowers prior to providing assistance and receiving payments on the adjusted loans. In addition, the Bureau and the states claimed that the debt relief operation engaged in deceptive practices by misrepresenting, among other things: (i) the purpose and application of fees they charged; (ii) their ability to obtain loan forgiveness for borrowers; and (iii) their ability to actually lower borrowers’ monthly payments. Moreover, the debt relief operation allegedly failed to inform borrowers that it was their practice to request that the loans be placed in forbearance and also submitted false information to student loan servicers to qualify borrowers for lower payments. Under the terms of the final judgment, the individual defendant must pay a $483,662 civil money penalty to the Bureau.

    Federal Issues Courts CFPB Consumer Finance Enforcement Student Lending Debt Relief State Issues State Attorney General CFPA TSR FDCPA Settlement

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