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On December 3, the Federal Reserve, the CFPB, the FDIC, the NCUA, and the OCC (agencies) issued an Interagency Statement on alternative data use in credit underwriting, highlighting applicable consumer protection laws and noting risks and benefits. (See press release here). According to the statement, alternative data use in underwriting may “lower the cost of credit” and expand credit access, a point previously raised by the CFPB and covered in InfoBytes. Specifically, the potential benefits include: (i) increased “speed and accuracy of credit decisions”; (ii) lender ability to “evaluate the creditworthiness of consumers who currently may not obtain credit in the mainstream credit system”; and (iii) consumer ability “to obtain additional products and/or more favorable pricing/terms based on enhanced assessments of repayment capacity.” “Alternative data” refers to information not usually found in traditional credit reports or typically provided by customers, including for example, automated “cash flow evaluation” which evaluates a borrower’s capacity to meet payment obligations and is derived from a consumer’s bank account records. The statement indicates that this approach can improve the “measurement of income and expenses” of consumers with steady income over time from multiple sources, rather than a single job. The statement also recognizes that the way in which entities use alternative data—for example, implementing a “Second Look” program, where alternative data is only used for applicants that would otherwise be denied credit—can increase credit access. The statement points out that use of alternative data may increase potential risks, and that those practices must comply with applicable consumer protection laws, including “fair lending laws, prohibitions against unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.” Therefore, the agencies encourage entities to incorporate appropriate “robust compliance management” when using alternative data in order to protect consumer information.
On November 25, the Governor of New York signed S2302, a measure which prohibits entities that are “licensed lenders” in New York, as well as consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), from including a consumer’s social network information in credit decisions. S2302 amends New York’s general business law and the banking law to prohibit licensed lenders and CRAs from considering “the credit worthiness, credit standing, or credit capacity of members of the consumer’s social network” or “the average credit worthiness, credit standing, or credit capacity of members of the consumer’s social network or any group score that is not the [consumer’s] own credit” information. Specifically, the amendment prohibits licensed lenders and CRAs from collecting, evaluating, reporting, or maintaining the information in a file. Additionally, the consumer’s internet viewing history also may not be factored into the licensed lender’s or agency’s “credit scoring formulas.”
On November 8, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued Circular 26-19-29, encouraging mortgagees to provide relief for VA borrowers affected by Tropical Storm Imelda. Among other forms of assistance, the Circular encourages loan holders and servicers to (i) extend forbearances to borrowers in distress because of the disaster; (ii) establish a 90-day moratorium from the disaster declaration date on initiating new foreclosures on affected loans; (iii) waive late charges on affected loans; and (iv) suspend credit reporting related to affected loans. The Circular is effective until January 1, 2021. Mortgage servicers and veteran borrowers are also encouraged to review the VA’s Guidance on Natural Disasters.
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on disaster relief guidance here.
On October 11, the CFPB announced the Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law that will examine the existing legal and regulatory environment facing consumers and financial services providers. The Bureau is accepting applications for the task force and seeking to fill the membership with a broad range of expertise in the areas of consumer protection and consumer financial products or services. Inspired by a commission established by the Consumer Credit Protection Act in 1968, the Bureau states that the task force will report to Director Kraninger and will “produce new research and legal analysis of consumer financial laws in the United States, focusing specifically on harmonizing, modernizing, and updating the enumerated consumer credit laws—and their implementing regulations—and identifying gaps in knowledge that should be addressed through research, ways to improve consumer understanding of markets and products, and potential conflicts or inconsistencies in existing regulations and guidance.”
On September 25, the CFPB released the latest quarterly consumer credit trends report, which examines how the volume and types of bankruptcy filings have changed from 2001 to 2018. The report focuses on consumers who filed for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy during the reported timeframe. Key findings of the report include: (i) in 2005, there was a rush to file for bankruptcy before the income limits of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) went into effect, increasing the share of Chapter 7 filings to 80 percent of all personal bankruptcy filings that year; (ii) from 2015 to 2018, with the effects of the recession fading, Chapter 7 filings appear to have stabilized at about 63 percent; (iii) Chapter 7 and 13 filers, on average, had more than twice the mortgage debt during the recession than in the periods before and after; and (iv) median credit scores increase steadily from year-to-year after consumers file a bankruptcy petition, with Chapter 7 filers’ scores increasing more quickly than Chapter 13, on average.
In September, the CFPB published documents related to an investigation into whether a national bank opened credit card accounts without customer authorization in violation of various federal laws and regulations, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s ban on unfair or abusive practices. In March 2019, the Bureau issued a civil investigative demand (CID) to the bank seeking, among other things, “a tally of specific instances of potentially unauthorized credit card accounts,” as well as a manual assessment of card accounts that were never used by the customer. The bank argued in its petition to modify or set aside the CID that it had already provided information to regulators showing that it did not have a “systemic sales misconduct issue,” and cited to the OCC’s broad review into sales practice issues at mid-size and large national banks, which has not, according to the bank, identified systemic issues with bank employees opening unauthorized accounts without consumer consent. Among other things, the bank also contended that the CID was unduly burdensome—requiring manual account-level assessments—and said the CFPB should end its investigation because the facts “refute an investigation’s initial hypothesis.” The bank further argued that the inquiry into its sales practices should be conducted by CFPB supervisory staff instead of as an enforcement investigation, which would be “the proper mechanism for resolving any remaining issues when an investigation fails to uncover evidence warranting [e]nforcement action.”
Concerning the bank’s argument that the CID was unduly burdensome, the Bureau stated in its order denying the petition that the bank had failed to “meaningfully engage” with the Bureau during the course of the investigation in a way that merited modification to the terms of the CID. Moreover, with regard to whether the investigation should be conducted by supervisory staff, the Bureau countered that “[t]his is not a request properly made in a petition to modify or set aside a CID, for the same reasons that it is not proper to use a CID petition to ask that the Bureau close an investigation because (in the recipient’s view) it has already shown that it engaged in no wrongdoing.”
On August 29, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and HUD issued disaster relief guidance related to Hurricane Dorian. Fannie Mae reminded servicers of available mortgage assistance options for homeowners impacted by the hurricane: (i) qualifying homeowners are eligible to stop making mortgage payments for up to 12 months without incurring late fees and without having delinquencies reported to the credit bureaus; (ii) servicers may immediately suspend or reduce mortgage payments for up to 90 days without any contact with homeowners believed to have been affected by a disaster; and (iii) foreclosures and other legal proceedings for homeowners believed to be impacted by a disaster are temporarily suspended. Freddie Mac similarly reminded servicers of these mortgage relief options.
The same day, HUD released Mortgagee Letter ML 2019-14 (ML 2019-14), which updates Handbook 4000.1 and expands its “Disaster Standalone Partial Claim” loss mitigation option which “allow[s] borrowers in Presidentially Declared Major Disaster Areas (PDMDAs) with delinquent FHA-insured mortgages to bring their mortgages current without increasing their interest rates or principal and interest payments.” The mitigation option, introduced last year, “covers missed mortgage payments up to 30 percent of Unpaid Principal Balance” through an interest-free second loan on the mortgage without a required trial payment plan. The second loan will become payable only when the borrower sells the home or refinances. Additionally, the loss mitigation option will streamline income documentation and other requirements to expedite relief to eligible borrowers struggling to pay their mortgages while recovering from disasters.
Separately on August 30, the OCC issued a proclamation permitting OCC-regulated institutions, to close offices affected by Hurricane Dorian’s severe weather conditions at their discretion “for as long as deemed necessary for bank operation or public safety.” In issuing the proclamation, the OCC noted that it expects that only those bank offices directly affected by potentially unsafe conditions will close and that they should make every effort to reopen as quickly as possible to address the banking needs of their customers. The proclamation directs institutions to OCC Bulletin 2012-28 for further guidance on natural disasters and other emergency conditions.
11th Circuit reverses dismissal of EFTA action alleging inadequate overdraft notice, denies EFTA safe harbor defense
On August 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed the dismissal of a consumer’s action against her credit union, in which the consumer alleged the credit union used the wrong balance calculation method to impose overdraft fees. According to the opinion, the consumer filed suit against the credit union for using an “available balance” calculation method to impose overdraft fees on her account when the credit union allegedly agreed to use the “ledger balance” method at the time of account opening, in violation of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) and various state law contract claims. The district court dismissed the action, concluding that the agreements “unambiguously permitted [the credit union] to assess overdraft fees using the available balance calculation.”
On appeal, the 11th Circuit disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of the agreements. The court noted that while the opt-in overdraft agreement used by the credit union is based on Regulation E’s (the EFTA’s implementing regulation) Model Form A-9, the model does not address which account balance calculation method is used to determine whether a transaction results in an overdraft. The language chosen by the credit union, according to the appellate court, is “ambiguous because it could describe either the available or the ledger balance calculation method for unsettled debits” and therefore, does not describe the calculation in a “clear and readily understandable way” as required by Regulation E. Because the language was ambiguous, the consumer did not have the opportunity to affirmatively consent to the overdraft service. Moreover, the appellate court concluded that the credit union was not protected under the EFTA’s safe harbor because it used the Model Form A-9 text. Specifically, the appellate court reasoned that the “safe-harbor provision insulates financial institutions from EFTA claims based on the means by which the institution has communicated its overdraft policy,” but does not provide a shield from allegations of inadequacy. Because the consumer argued that the credit union violated the EFTA due to its failure to prove enough information to allow for affirmative consent, the safe-harbor provision does not preclude liability.
On August 22, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California granted in part and denied in part a national bank’s motion to dismiss an action by the City of Sacramento (City) alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act. In its complaint, the City alleged that the bank violated the FHA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by providing minority borrowers mortgage loans with less favorable terms than similarly situated non-minority borrowers, leading to disproportionate defaults and foreclosures causing reduced property tax revenue and increased costs for municipal services for the city. The bank moved to dismiss the action. In reviewing the motion, the court looked to the 2017 Supreme Court decision in Bank of America v. City of Miami (previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert), which held that municipal plaintiffs may be “aggrieved persons” authorized to bring suit under the FHA against lenders for injuries allegedly flowing from discriminatory lending practices. The court rejected the majority of the bank’s arguments, denying the motion as to the City’s tax revenue claims and non-economic claims. The court concluded that “there is ‘no reason to think as a general matter that the City’s [tax revenue] claims are out of step with the ‘nature of the statutory cause of action’ and the remedial scheme that Congress created’” in the FHA. Conversely, as for the claims for increased municipal services costs, such as police, fire fighting, and code enforcement, the court found that the claims “rely on conclusory allegations and a foreseeability-only theory without establishing proximate cause” and granted the bank’s motion to dismiss, but allowed the City leave to amend the complaint to establish proximate cause.
On August 22, a tribal nation issued a press release announcing a $6.5 million settlement with a national bank to resolve allegations related to the opening of deposit and credit card accounts for customers without consent. In 2018, the tribal nation’s suit was dismissed by a district court ruling (previously covered by InfoBytes here), which rejected the tribal nation’s claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act, holding that the claims were barred by res judicata, as they had previously been litigated under the CFPB’s 2016 consent order and the tribal nation was in privity with the CFPB. (InfoBytes coverage of the CFPB action available here.) The tribal nation appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, and on August 20, an order granting a stipulation to dismiss the appeal with prejudice was entered by the court. While the stipulation does not provide any details, the tribal nation’s press release notes that the “settlement compensates the Nation, as well as avoids the uncertainty and expense of continued litigation.”
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