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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • CFPB reports on borrowers’ issues with their mortgage servicers

    Federal Issues

    Recently, the CFPB released a report examining the experiences of mortgage borrowers who struggled to make payments during the Covid-19 pandemic. For the report, the CFPB used a dataset from the 2020 American Survey of Mortgage Borrowers, derived from the National Mortgage Database. The report found that the most common challenges borrowers faced included (i) thinking they did not qualify for assistance programs; (ii) not knowing how to apply for them; and (iii) experiencing “too much trouble” with the application process. The CFPB also found many borrowers felt uncomfortable talking to their mortgage servicer and noted data and evidence that borrowers with limited English proficiency were more likely to face challenges.

    The report also found that over half of distressed borrowers discussed their repayment difficulties with their servicer, and those who discussed these difficulties were more likely to receive offers for assistance (such as repayment plans or loan modifications). The most common topics discussed with servicers were forbearances, loan modifications, repayment plans, refinancing options and available government programs. Most borrowers who received a forbearance reported being satisfied with the process, but more than a third were unclear about what would happen at the end of the forbearance period and how to repay forborne payments. Some borrowers were also confused at the outset about how deferred payments would work after entering a loan forbearance.

    Federal Issues Mortgages Mortgage Servicing Covid-19

  • DOJ’s Covid-19 Fraud Enforcement reports ongoing civil fraud and consumer protection actions

    Financial Crimes

    On April 9, the DOJ released a report on Covid-19 fraud, organizing various federal enforcement agencies and inspectors general, as well as state strike forces, in their collective pursuits against civil fraud on financial remedies under Covid-19. The Department’s Covid-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force (CFETF) reported over 400 settlements and judgments and seized over $1.4 billion in fraudulently obtained CARES Act funds.

    The report noted that the Civil Fraud Section continues to investigate fraudulent claims under the False Claims Act (FCA) and FIRREA, including with respect to grant recipients, PPE procurement, and payment advances. As two notable examples, a Florida management company paid $9 million for knowingly violating the FCA to obtain PPP loan forgiveness, and a New Jersey public relations firm paid $2.24 million for similar violations where it was found ineligible for the loan since it was registered under the Foreign Agent Registration Act. The DOJ also acted against purveyors of faulty PPE, individuals who tampered with Covid-19 vaccines, and those who sold fraudulent covid products online—filing under the Covid-19 Consumer Protection Act. The DOJ touted its $1 million judgment against a company that marketed vitamins that allegedly protected against Covid-19. Further, the National Unemployment Insurance Fraud Tax Force found hundreds of pandemic fraud leads and has seized over $3.3 billion in suspected pandemic fraud.

    Financial Crimes Fraud DOJ Covid-19 Taskforce CARES Act

  • U.S. SDNY grants partial summary judgment in favor of bank’s FCRA case


    Recently, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York opined on a bank’s motion for partial summary judgment, granting the motion as to whether the bank “knowingly” violated the FCRA but denying whether the bank acted “recklessly.” The complaint originated when the individual plaintiff opened a credit card and the plaintiff, along with other cardholders, was enrolled in a disaster relief program (DRP) that provided short-term relief for customers negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The plaintiff alleged that the bank reported an outstanding account balance to the credit bureaus as delinquent despite promising that the balance would not be reported due to the protections of the DRP. Upon discovering this, the plaintiff disputed the reporting with the bank. The bank then investigated the plaintiff’s payment history, concluding that there had been no error because there was in fact an outstanding delinquent balance. The plaintiff eventually filed complaints with the CFPB in 2022 and proceeded to file suit later that year.

    The plaintiff alleged that the Bank failed to conduct a reasonable investigation by limiting the investigation to the plaintiff’s payment history, and by failing to consider whether the delinquent balance should have been reported due to the protections of the DRP. The court found that a reasonable jury could determine the bank recklessly reported the outstanding account balance to the credit bureaus without performing a reasonable investigation, and thus denied summary judgment. The court noted that the bank’s investigation relied on automated computer programs as to some items, and a manual review that was limited to the account history as to other items. 

    The bank argued it did not “knowingly” violate the FCRA. The court agreed and found the bank could not be “consciously aware” that a violation would come about as a result of its investigation, concluding the bank is entitled to summary judgment on whether it “knowingly” violated § 1681s-2(b) of FCRA. 

    Courts SDNY FCRA Covid-19 CFPB

  • FTC fines two fintech firms $59 million for PPP loan practices

    Federal Issues

    On March 18, the FTC announced enforcement actions against two companies that allegedly made “false promises” to small businesses seeking Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Both companies have agreed to settle with the FTC to resolve alleged violations of the Covid-19 Consumer Protection Act and the FTC Act. 

    According to the FTC’s complaint on the first company—a company that offers online financing products to small businesses—and its subsidiary allegedly engaged in a pattern of deceptive and unfair conduct by quoting shorter processing times for consumers’ applications, despite being aware of the significant delays. The companies also allegedly ignored consumers’ requests to withdraw their pending applications frequently. The FTC further alleged that roughly 40 percent of the companies’ consumers had their applications canceled or rejected. The proposed stipulated order included a prohibition against misrepresentations, an injunction concerning the companies’ application practices (which had prohibited them from failing to allow consumers to promptly withdraw their applications), and a $33 million judgment for monetary relief. The companies must also comply with reporting requirements detailed in the settlement.

    The FTC’s complaint against the second company—an online platform offering PPP financing services to small businesses—and its CEO, alleged that respondents made deceptive claims to consumers, many of whom were eligible but never received funding because the respondents failed to fix known technical issues with their system or provide consumers with assistance. According to the complaint, the company claimed that processing a loan would only take 24 hours through the “fast lane” service, but the company’s chat support was slow, as were its review and processing times. The FTC noted that the time-sensitive nature of PPP funding meant any delays had significant impacts on consumers. In addition to the $26 million monetary judgment, the settlement with the company and its CEO prohibited them from making any deceptive, false, or unsubstantiated claims about financial services or products.

    Federal Issues FTC FTC Act Enforcement Covid-19 PPP

  • VA announces updates to loan repayment relief for borrowers affected by Covid-19

    Federal Issues

    On February 9, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a circular to consolidate updates related to VA’s disaster modification and loan deferment options. Effective February 9, the circular reiterates the options for disaster modifications and loan deferment and extends the options available for borrowers affected by Covid-19 through May 31, 2024. According to the circular, a servicer can provide a VA disaster modification without VA preapproval until May 31 regardless of the borrower’s enrollment in a Covid-19 forbearance plan, or Covid-19’s impact on the default. Additionally, the VA is allowing for disaster extend modifications to extend the loan’s original maturity date by up to 18 months, instead of the standard 12 months, if the loan is modified not later than May 31. Further, subject to certain requirements and restrictions, the circular also granted servicers flexibility to offer loan deferment when borrowers have missed payments due to the pandemic, regardless of CARES Act forbearance.

    Federal Issues Department of Veterans Affairs Servicer Covid-19 Forbearance

  • FinCEN, IRS issue alert on Covid-19 employee retention credit fraud schemes

    Financial Crimes

    On November 22, FinCEN and the IRS issued an alert to financial institutions regarding Covid-19 Employee Retention Credit (ERC)-related fraud schemes. Authorized by the CARES Act, the ERC is a tax credit aimed at incentivizing businesses to retain employees on payroll during the Covid-19 pandemic, through which fraud and scams have been carried out, FinCEN explained. The alert offers insights into typologies linked to ERC fraud and scams, emphasizes specific warning signs to aid financial institutions in detecting and reporting suspicious activities, and reinforces these institutions' obligations to report under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA).

    According to the alert, “[d]uring the 2023 tax season, the IRS noted various scammers appeared throughout the [U.S.] using the false pretense of being tax credit experts to convince businesses to file for the ERC.” Third-party ERC promoters misled taxpayers about eligibility, aiming to profit from filing ERC claims without verifying qualifications, FinCEN added. As a result, the alert mentioned that victims risk claim denial or repayment, while scammers profit regardless of the claim's outcome, involving both willing and unaware businesses in these schemes. FinCEN added that businesses must meet specific ERC requirements, and those who received PPP loans cannot use the same wages counted in the PPP loan for the ERC application. Despite this, some may file amended tax returns misrepresenting their eligibility for the ERC by falsifying staff wages or claiming their operations were partially or fully suspended during the pandemic. FinCEN listed “red flags” indicative of ERC fraud that financial institutions should be cognizant of, including, among others, (i) a business account that receives multiple ERC check deposits over several days; (ii) small business accounts that receive ERC check deposits disproportionate to their size, employee count, and transaction volume; and (iii) a new account for an established business that only receives ERC deposits, suggesting possible identity theft using the business as a front for fraudulent claims. The alert also reminds financial institutions of their obligation to file suspicious activity reports and to keep a copy of the reports for five years from the date of the filing. 

    Financial Crimes FinCEN PPP Consumer Finance Loans CARES Act Patriot Act Bank Secrecy Act IRS Covid-19

  • CFPB releases education ombudsman’s annual report

    Federal Issues

    On October 20, the CFPB Education Loan Ombudsman published its annual report on consumer complaints submitted between September 1, 2022, and August 31, 2023. The report is based on approximately 9,284 student loan complaints received by CFPB regarding federal and private student loans.  Roughly 75 percent of complaints were related to federal student loans while the remaining 25 percent concerned private student loans. Overall, the report found underlying issues in student loan servicing that threaten borrowers’ ability to make payments, achieve loan cancellation, or receive other protections to which they are entitled under federal law.  The report indicated that challenges and risks facing federal student loan borrowers include customer service problems, errors related to basic loan administration, and problems accessing loan cancellation programs.  Similarly, private borrowers face issues accessing loan cancellation options, misleading origination tactics, and coercive debt collection practices related to private student loans.

    The Ombudsman’s report advised policymakers, law enforcement, and industry participants to consider several recommendations: (i) ensuring that federal student loan borrowers can access all protections intended for them under the law; (ii) ensuring that loan holders and servicers of private student loans do not collect debt where it may no longer be legally owed or previously discharged; and (iii) using consumer complaints to develop policies and procedures when they reveal systemic problems.

    Federal Issues CFPB Student Lending Student Loan Servicer Consumer Finance Debt Collection Covid-19

  • FHFA revises policies for Covid-19 forbearance on GSE mortgages

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On October 16, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced it will revise how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSE) single-family mortgages are treated for borrowers who have entered Covid-19 forbearance under the GSEs’ representations and warranties framework. Under the revised policies, loans for which borrowers elected Covid-19 forbearance will be treated similarly to loans for which borrowers obtained forbearance due to a natural disaster. The GSEs’ current representations and warranties framework for natural disaster forbearance allows for consideration of the period during which a borrower is in forbearance as part of their demonstrated satisfactory payment history for the initial 36 months after the loan's origination. This framework will now be extended to loans with Covid-19 forbearance. FHFA Director Sandra L. Thompson said, "Servicers went to great lengths to implement forbearance quickly amid a national emergency, and the loans they service should not be subject to greater repurchase risk simply because a borrower was impacted by the pandemic."

    The updates will be effective on October 31.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues FHFA Covid-19 Forbearance GSEs Mortgages Consumer Finance Fannie Mae Freddie Mac

  • Split 9th Circuit: Nevada’s medical debt collection law is not preempted


    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently issued a split decision upholding a Nevada medical debt collection law after concluding the statute was neither preempted by the FDCPA or the FCRA, nor a violation of the First Amendment. SB 248 took effect July 1, 2021, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and requires debt collection agencies to provide written notification to consumers 60 days “before taking any action to collect a medical debt.” Debt collection agencies are also barred from taking any action to collect a medical debt during the 60-day period, including reporting a debt to a consumer reporting agency.

    Plaintiffs, a group of debt collectors, sued the Commissioner of the Financial Institutions Division of Nevada’s Department of Business and Industry after the bill was enacted, seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. In addition to claiming alleged preemption by the FDCPA and the FCRA, plaintiffs maintained that SB 248 is unconstitutionally vague and violates the First Amendment. The district court denied the motion, ruling that none of the arguments were likely to succeed on the merits.

    In agreeing with the district court’s decision, the majority concluded that SB 248 is not unconstitutionally vague with respect to the term “before taking any action to collect a medical debt” and that any questions about what constitute actions to collect a medical debt were addressed by the statute’s implementing regulations. With respect to whether SB 248 violates the First Amendment, the majority held that debt collection communications are commercial speech and thus not subject to strict scrutiny. As to questions of preemption, the majority determined that SB 248 is not preempted by either the FDCPA or the FCRA. The majority explained that furnishers’ reporting obligations under the FCRA do not include a deadline for when furnishers must report a debt to a CRA and that the 60-day notice is not an attempt to collect a debt and therefore does not trigger the “mini-Miranda warning” required in a debt collector’s initial communication stating that “the debt collector is attempting to collect a debt.”

    The third judge disagreed, arguing, among other things, that the majority’s “position requires setting aside common sense” in believing that the FDCPA does not preempt SB 248 because the 60-day notice is not an action in connection with the collection of a debt. “The only reason that a debt collector sends a Section 7 Notice is so that he can later start collecting a debt,” the dissenting judge wrote. “It is impossible to imagine a situation where a debt collector would send such a notice except in pursuit of his goal of ultimately obtaining payment for (i.e., collecting) the debt.” The dissenting judge further argued that by delaying the reporting of unpaid debts, SB 248 conflicts with the FCRA’s intention of ensuring credit information is accurately reported.

    Courts State Issues Appellate Ninth Circuit Debt Collection Medical Debt Nevada FDCPA FCRA Covid-19 Credit Reporting Agency

  • SBA clarifies PPP eligibility of payroll costs

    Federal Issues

    On June 13, the SBA added question #72 to its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Frequently Asked Questions clarifying whether “the amounts paid by a borrower to a third-party payer for the third-party payer’s employees to operate the borrower considered eligible payroll expenses for the purpose of calculating the maximum loan amount.” Previous guidance released in 2020 (FAQ #10) relayed that “payroll documentation provided by the payroll provider that indicates the amount of wages and payroll taxes reported to the IRS by the payroll provider for the borrower’s employees will be considered acceptable PPP loan payroll documentation.” However, because FAQ #10 was issued three days after the PPP began accepting applications and there have been conflicting interpretations of the guidance, the SBA administrator determined additional clarification was necessary.

    After reviewing a September 2022 decision issued by the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals, the administrator published FAQ #72, stating “payroll costs paid by a borrower to a third-party payer for the third-party’s employees to operate the borrower are eligible payroll costs for the purpose of calculating the borrower’s maximum loan amount, as long as the employees were not otherwise counted towards payroll costs on a PPP loan received by the third-party payer.” The administrator further explained that “payroll cost documentation which shows that a borrower paid a third-party payer for the employees of the third-party to operate the borrower will be permitted to support eligible payroll costs for the purpose of calculating the maximum loan amount as long as the employees were not otherwise counted towards payroll costs on another PPP loan, and all other PPP requirements are met, including the submission of payroll documentation that indicates the amount of wages and payroll taxes reported to the IRS by the third-party payer.”

    Federal Issues SBA Covid-19 CARES Act Small Business Lending


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