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Freddie allows digital paystubs in underwriting
On May 22, Freddie Mac announced new capabilities allowing lenders to use a borrower’s digital paystub data when assessing income paid through direct deposit. Lenders will be able to access the enhancements to Freddie’s automated income assessment tool through the Loan Product Advisor (LPA) asset and income modeler (AIM). Freddie noted that in addition to providing access to direct deposit data, AIM is also able to “assess income from tax return data for self-employed borrowers as well as bank account data to identify a history of positive monthly cash flow activity” to help first-time homebuyers and borrowers in underserved communities who may not qualify through traditional methods of underwriting. AIM is also designed to notify lenders when submitting this type of account data may benefit a borrower. The new AIM capability will be available beginning June 7 to Freddie-approved sellers that use LPA.
FHA expedites claims process for HECMs
On May 17, HUD announced new policies to expedite claims processing for home equity conversion mortgages (HECM). Specifically, FHA’s policies will allow for faster payment of funds to mortgagees upon assignment of an HECM to HUD by allowing borrowers with FHA mortgages to submit a request for a preliminary title approval earlier in the process and with fewer documents. Mortgagees will now be able to assign an HECM to HUD once the HECM reaches 98 percent of the maximum claim amount (MCA) and may begin submitting required information to HUD when the HECM reaches 97 percent of the MCA (based on the value of the property at the time the HECM loan is originated). The previous percentage was set at 97.5 percent. Additionally, mortgagees will be able to submit original notes and mortgages after assignment claim payment rather than before. HUD explained that allowing for earlier claim submission and improving document submission measures will hopefully shorten the time between the HECM reaching 98 percent of MCA and FHA paying the mortgagee for the claim.
FHFA requests feedback on single-family pricing framework
Recently, the FHFA issued a request for input (RFI) on a single-family pricing framework for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs), including feedback on policy priorities and goals that FHFA should pursue in its oversight of the framework. “Through this RFI, FHFA seeks input on how to ensure the pricing framework adequately protects the [GSEs] and taxpayers against potential future losses, supports affordable, sustainable housing and first-time homebuyers, and fosters liquidity in the secondary mortgage market,” FHFA Director Sandra L. Thompson said in the announcement. The RFI also seeks input on the GSEs’ single-family upfront guarantee fees and whether it is appropriate to continue linking those fees to the Enterprise Regulatory Capital Framework. FHFA explained that guarantee fees are intended to cover the GSEs’ administrative costs, expected credit losses, and cost of capital associated with guaranteeing securities backed by single-family mortgage loans. Comments on the RFI are due August 14.
FTC proposes changes to Health Breach Notification Rule
On May 18, the FTC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and request for public comment on changes to its Health Breach Notification Rule (Rule), following a notice issued last September (covered by InfoBytes here) warning health apps and connected devices collecting or using consumers’ health information that they must comply with the Rule and notify consumers and others if a consumer’s health data is breached. The Rule also ensures that entities not covered by HIPPA are held accountable in the event of a security breach. The NPRM proposed several changes to the Rule, including modifying the definition of “[personal health records (PHR)] identifiable health information,” clarifying that a “breach of security” would include the unauthorized acquisition of identifiable health information, and specifying that “only entities that access or send unsecured PHR identifiable health information to a personal health record—rather than entities that access or send any information to a personal health record—qualify as PHR related entities.” The modifications would also authorize the expanded use of email and other electronic methods for providing notice of a breach to consumers and would expand the required content for notices “to include information about the potential harm stemming from the breach and the names of any third parties who might have acquired any unsecured personally identifiable health information.” Comments on the NPRM are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
The same day, the FTC also issued a policy statement warning businesses against making misleading claims about the accuracy or efficacy of biometric technologies like facial recognition. The FTC emphasized that the increased use of consumers’ biometric information and biometric information technologies (including those powered by machine learning) raises significant consumer privacy and data security concerns and increases the potential for bias and discrimination. The FTC stressed that it intends to combat unfair or deceptive acts and practices related to these issues and outlined several factors used to determine potential violations of the FTC Act.
CFPB issues guide on collecting small-biz data
The CFPB recently issued a compliance guide for its final rule implementing Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act. Consistent with Section 1071, the final rule (issued at the end of March) will require financial institutions to collect and provide to the Bureau data on lending to small businesses, defined as an entity with gross revenue under $5 million in its last fiscal year (covered by InfoBytes here). The guide: (i) includes a detailed summary of the final rule’s requirements, including data reporting deadlines; (ii) provides comprehensive information on the types of data financial institutions need to collect and report on small business lending applications and decisions; and (iii) includes parameters for covered institutions and covered originations. The guide further breaks down reportable data points and explains the final rule’s “firewall” provision, which states that employees and officers of a financial institution or its affiliates “involved in making any determination” on a reportable application are generally prohibited from accessing applicant demographic information relating to ethnicity, race, sex, and status as a minority-owned, women-owned, or LGBTQI+-owned business. The guide specifies that certain exceptions may apply to situations where an employee involved in decision-making must have access to the data to fulfill their assigned job duties (e.g. a loan officer or loan processor). In these situations, financial institutions are required to provide notice to applicants that employees and officers involved in decision-making may have access to their demographic data.
FHFA rescinds GSE fee based on DTI ratios
On May 10, FHFA announced it is rescinding a debt-to-income-based loan-level pricing adjustment announced in January. As previously covered by InfoBytes, FHFA made several changes relating to upfront fees for certain borrowers with debt-to-income (DTI) ratios above 40 percent. The updated and recalibrated pricing grids also included the upfront fee eliminations announced last October to increase pricing support for purchase borrowers limited by income or by wealth, FHFA said at the time. The implementation of the DTI pricing adjustment, which would have affected loans acquired by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, was delayed to August 1, but after the mortgage industry and other market participants expressed concerns about implementation challenges, FHFA made the decision to rescind the DTI-ratio based fee to provide additional transparency. The agency will issue a request for public input on the single-family guarantee fee pricing framework shortly.
CFPB: Reopening a closed account could be a UDAAP
On May 10, the CFPB released Circular 2023-02 to opine that unilaterally reopening a closed account without a customer’s permission in order to process a transaction is a likely violation of federal law, particularly if a bank collects fees on the account. “When a bank unilaterally chooses to open an account in someone’s name after they have already closed it, this is a fake account,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said in the announcement. “The CFPB is acting on all fronts to halt the harvesting of illegal junk fees.”
The Bureau described receiving complaints from consumers about banks reopening closed accounts and then assessing overdraft/nonsufficient funds fees and monthly maintenance fees. Such practices, the Bureau warned, may violate the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s prohibition on unfair acts or practices. Consumers may experience substantial injury including monetary harm by paying fees due to the unfair practice, the Bureau said, explaining that because consumers likely cannot reasonably avoid the injury, “[a]ctual injury is not required; significant risk of concrete harm is sufficient.” Aside from subjecting consumers to fees, when a bank processes a credit through a reopened account, the consumers’ funds may become available to third parties, including those that do not have permission to access such funds, the Bureau warned, adding that there is also a risk that banks may furnish negative information to consumer reporting agencies if reopening the account overdraws the account and the consumer does not quickly repay the amount owed. The Bureau further noted that deposit account agreements typically indicate that a financial institution “may return any debits or deposits to the account that the financial institution receives after closure and faces no liability for failing to honor any debits or deposits received after closure.”
The Circular explained that rather than reopening an account when a third party attempts to deposit or withdraw money from it, banks should decline the transactions. This allows customers the opportunity to update their information with the entity attempting to access a closed account while avoiding potential fees. “Reopening a closed account does not appear to provide any meaningful benefits to consumers or competition,” the Bureau said in the Circular. “While consumers might potentially benefit in some instances where their accounts are reopened to receive deposits, which then become available to them, that benefit does not outweigh the injuries that can be caused by unilateral account reopening.”
FHA implements provisions for transitioning LIBOR-based ARMs
On May 2, FHA published Mortgagee Letter (ML) 2023-09 to implement provisions of the Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARM): Transitioning from LIBOR to Alternative Indices final rule that was published in the Federal Register at the beginning of March. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The final rule replaces LIBOR with the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) as the approved index for newly-originated forward ARMs, codifies HUD’s approval of SOFR as an index for newly-originated home equity conversion mortgages (HECM) ARMs, and establishes “a spread-adjusted SOFR index as the Secretary-approved replacement index to transition existing forward and HECM ARMs off LIBOR.” The ML provides interest rate transition directions for mortgagees and announces the availability of updated HECM model loan documents, which have been revised to be consistent with the final rule and the ML. The provisions in the ML have various effective dates.
CFPB proposal would apply ATR requirements to PACE financing
On May 1, the CFPB announced a proposed rule which would prescribe ability-to-repay (ATR) rules to residential Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing and apply TILA’s civil liability provisions for violations. The proposal, required by Section 307 of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, would amend Regulation Z to address how TILA applies to PACE transactions to account for the unique nature of PACE loans. PACE loans are designed to finance clean energy improvements on a borrower’s home and are secured by that residence. The Bureau explained that the loans are repaid through a borrower’s property tax payments, which increase over time and which remain with the property even if the borrower sells the property.
If finalized, the proposed rule would require lenders to assess a borrower’s ability to repay a PACE loan and would (i) clarify an existing exclusion to Regulation Z’s definition of credit relating to tax liens and tax assessments to provide that this specific exclusion “applies only to involuntary tax liens and involuntary tax assessments”; (ii) make several adjustments to PACE financing loan estimate and closing disclosure requirements, including providing new model forms specifically designed for PACE transactions, and exempting PACE transactions from the requirement to establish escrow accounts for certain higher-priced mortgage loans and from the requirement to provide periodic statements; (iii) prescribe ATR requirements for residential PACE financing that account for the unique nature of these transactions; (iv) provide that a PACE transaction is not a qualified mortgage; (v) extend TILA Section 130’s ATR requirements and liability provisions to any “PACE company” with substantial involvement in making credit decisions for a PACE transaction; and (vi) clarify how PACE and non-PACE mortgage creditors should consider pre-existing PACE transactions when originating new mortgage loans.
The proposed effective date is at least one year after the final rule is published in the Federal Register (“but no earlier than the October 1 which follows by at least six months Federal Register publication”), with the possibility of a further extension to ensure compliance with a TILA timing requirement. Comments on the proposed rule are due July 26 or 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, whichever is later.
To accompany the proposed rule, the Bureau released several fast facts breaking down and clarifying proposed coverage and the suggested changes. The Bureau also released a data point report documenting research findings on PACE financing in California and Florida from July 2014 through June 2020. Among other things, the report found that PACE loans create an increase in negative credit outcomes for borrowers, particularly with respect to mortgage delinquency. Additionally, PACE borrowers were more likely to have higher interest rates and increased credit card balances and were more likely to live in census tracts with higher percentages of Black and Hispanic residents relative to the average for their states. The report noted that “PACE outcomes improved significantly in California after that State began requiring PACE companies to consider ability to pay before making a loan.”
CFPB warns debt collectors on “zombie mortgages”
On April 26, the CFPB issued an advisory opinion affirming that the FDCPA and implementing Regulation F prohibit covered debt collectors from suing or threatening to sue to collect time-barred debt. As such, a debt collector who brings or threatens to bring a state court foreclosure action to collect a time-barred mortgage debt may violate federal law, the Bureau said. The agency stated that numerous consumers have filed complaints relating to “zombie second mortgages,” where homeowners, operating under the assumption that a mortgage debt was forgiven or was satisfied long ago by loan modifications or bankruptcy proceedings, are contacted years later by a debt collector threatening foreclosure and demanding payment of the outstanding balance along with interest and fees.
The Bureau explained that, leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, many lenders originated mortgages without considering consumers’ ability to repay the loans. Focusing on “piggyback” mortgages (otherwise known as 80/20 loans, in which consumers took out a first lien loan for 80 percent of the value of the home and a second lien loan for the remaining 20 percent of the home’s valuation), the Bureau stated that most lenders did not pursue payment on the second mortgage but instead sold them off to debt collectors. Years later, some of these debt collectors are demanding repayment of the second mortgage and threatening foreclosure, the Bureau said, adding that for many of the mortgages, the debts have become time barred. The Bureau commented that, in most states, consumers can raise this as an affirmative defense to prevent a debt collector from recovering on the debt using judicial processes such as foreclosure. Additionally, because “Regulation F’s prohibition on suits and threats of suit on time-barred debt is subject to a strict liability standard,” a debt collector that sues or threatens to sue “violates the prohibition ‘even if the debt collector neither knew nor should have known that a debt was time-barred,’” the Bureau said. The advisory opinion clarified that these restrictions apply to covered debt collectors, including individuals and entities seeking to collect defaulted mortgage loans and many of the attorneys that bring foreclosure actions on their behalf.
CFPB Director Rohit Chopra delivered remarks during a field hearing in Brooklyn, New York, in which he emphasized that the Bureau will work with state enforcement agencies to take action against covered debt collectors who break the law. He reminded consumers that they can also sue debt collectors themselves under the FDCPA.