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On September 21, the CFPB announced the beginning of its anticipated rulemaking regarding consumer reporting, including a proposal to remove medical bills from credit reports. This announcement builds upon a hearing the CFPB held in July 2023 on medical billing and collections, highlighting its range of negative impact on marginalized communities (covered by InfoBytes here). In the CFPB’s announcement, Director Rohit Chopra emphasized the inconsequential “predictive value” of medical bills in credit reports despite their prevalence in American households, thus the agency's goal is to alleviate the burden on individuals facing medical debt. The Bureau’s press release highlighted components to its outline of proposals and alternatives under consideration, such as (i) prohibiting consumer reporting companies from including medical bills in consumers’ credit reports; (ii) prohibiting creditors from relying on medical bills for underwriting decisions; and (iii) prohibiting debt collectors from leveraging the credit reporting system to pressure consumers into paying their debts. The rule would not prevent creditors from accessing medical bill information, such as validating need for medical forbearances, or evaluating loan applications for paying medical debt.
In addition to the proposed removal of medical debt from consumer reports, the Bureau’s outline includes other notable proposals regarding consumer reports. The Bureau’s proposals include”
- As previously covered by InfoBytes, applying the FCRA to data brokers by altering the FCRA definitions of “consumer report” and “consumer reporting agency”, to “address whether and how the FCRA applies to newer actors and practices in the credit reporting marketplace, including questions such as coverage of data brokers and certain consumer reposting agency practices regarding marketing and advertising.” In particular, the Bureau is also considering a proposal that would provide that data brokers selling “consumer reports” containing consumers’ payment history, income, and criminal records would be considered a consumer reporting agency. The Bureau is also exploring clarifications on when data brokers qualify as consumer reporting agencies and furnish consumer reports.
- Clarifying whether “credit header data” qualifies as a consumer report, which could limit the disclosure or sale of credit header data without valid reasoning.
- Clarifying that certain targeted marketing activities that do not directly share information with a third party nevertheless are subject to the FCRA.
- Proposing a definition of the terms “assembling” and “evaluating” to include intermediaries or vendors that “transmit consumer data electronically between data sources and users.”
- Clarifying whether and when aggregated or anonymized consumer report information constitutes or does not constitute a consumer report. Specifically, the Bureau contemplates providing that a data broker’s sale of particular data points such as “payment history, income, and criminal records” would “generally be a consumer reports, regardless of the purpose for which the data was actually used or collected, or the expectations of that data broker
- Establishing the steps that a company must take to obtain a consumer’s written instructions to a obtain a consumer report.
- Addressing a consumer reporting agency’s obligation under the FCRA to protect consumer reports from a data breach or unauthorized access.
On September 19, the CFPB issued guidance about legal requirements that creditors must follow when using artificial intelligence and other complex models.
In prior guidance, the agency stated that lenders must provide specific and accurate reasons for adverse actions against consumers. The latest guidance expanded upon that prior guidance to clarify that lenders cannot simply use CFPB sample adverse action forms and checklists when taking adverse actions against consumers, but must explain the reasons for such adverse actions to help improve consumers’ chances for future credit, and protect consumers from illegal discrimination.
In its announcement of the updated guidance, the CFPB discussed the potential that consumers may be denied credit as a result of the increased use of complex, predictive decision-making technologies to analyze large datasets that may include consumer surveillance data or other information that the consumer may not believe is relevant to their finances. The agency confirmed that creditors must disclose the specific reasons for adverse action, even if consumers may be surprised, upset, or angered to learn their credit applications were being graded on data that may not intuitively relate to their finances. According to the guidance, a creditor is not absolved from the requirement to specifically and accurately inform consumers of the reasons for adverse actions because the use of predictive decision-making technologies in their underwriting models makes it difficult to pinpoint the specific reasons for such adverse actions.
On September 18, the CFPB released a final rule revising the dollar amounts for provisions implementing TILA and its amendments that impact loans under the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act of 1994 (HOEPA) and qualified mortgages (QM). The Bureau is required to make annual adjustments to dollar amounts in certain provisions in Regulation Z, and has based the adjustments on the annual percentage change reflected in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) in effect on June 1, 2023. The following thresholds are effective January 1, 2024:
- For HOEPA loans the adjusted total loan amount threshold for high-cost mortgages will be $26,092, and the adjusted points-and-fees dollar trigger for high-cost mortgages will be $1,305;
- For qualified mortgages under the General QM loan definition, the thresholds for the spread between the annual percentage rate and the average prime offer rate will be: “2.25 or more percentage points for a first-lien covered transaction with a loan amount greater than or equal to $130,461; 3.5 or more percentage points for a first-lien covered transaction with a loan amount greater than or equal to $78,277 but less than $130,461; 6.5 or more percentage points for a first-lien covered transaction with a loan amount less than $78,277; 6.5 or more percentage points for a first-lien covered transaction secured by a manufactured home with a loan amount less than $130,461; 3.5 or more percentage points for a subordinate-lien covered transaction with a loan amount greater than or equal to $78,277; or 6.5 or more percentage points for a subordinate-lien covered transaction with a loan amount less than $78,277”; and
- For all QM categories, the adjusted thresholds for total points and fees will be “3 percent of the total loan amount for a loan greater than or equal to $130,461; $3,914 for a loan amount greater than or equal to $78,277 but less than $130,461; 5 percent of the total loan amount for a loan greater than or equal to $26,092 but less than $78,277; $1,305 for a loan amount greater than or equal to $16,308 but less than $26,092; and 8 percent of the total loan amount for a loan amount less than $16,308.”
With respect to credit card annual adjustments, the Bureau noted that its 2024 annual adjustment analysis on the CPI-W in effect on June 1, did not result in an increase to the current minimum interest charge threshold (which requires “creditors to disclose any minimum interest charge exceeding $1.00 that could be imposed during a billing cycle”).
Ginnie Mae released the Social Impact and Sustainability Framework and supports broader access to mortgage financing
On September 14, Ginnie Mae announced the launch of its “Social Bond” label to indicate underlying collateral that is designed to support a positive social and affordable housing outcome, and released the Social Impact and Sustainability Framework.
The “Social Bonds” revision to Ginnie Mae’s standard forms of prospectus details attributes of Ginnie Mae MBS to provide transparency to investors. The insurance or guaranties extended under certain government programs reduce borrower credit risk, which promotes broader access to mortgage credit and/or less costly credit for borrowers, thereby expanding homeownership access and affordability among targeted populations (low-to-moderate income borrowers, veterans, senior citizens, rural communities, and/or tribal, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities).
The Social Impact and Sustainability Framework highlighted Ginnie Mae’s role in connecting the global capital markets to America’s housing financial system and providing liquidity to support access to affordable housing and lending for first first-time homebuyers, low-to-moderate income households, veterans, seniors, and members of urban, rural, and tribal communities from inception.
The FTC fined two companies that sell consumer background reports through subscriptions for violations of the FTC Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). In addition to allegedly claiming, without substantiation, to have the most accurate reports available to the public, the complaint says two companies deceptively claimed individuals had criminal or arrest records when the individual did not; deceptively claimed consumers can remove information or flag it as inaccurate, and deceptively failed to disclose that third-party reviews were incentivized and biased.
The companies also furnished consumer reports to subscribers “without reason to believe those subscribers have permissible purposes to obtain such reports.”
The stipulated order requires the companies to pay a civil penalty of $5.8 million, prohibits them from advertising, marketing, promoting, or offering for sale certain reports including arrest records, bankruptcy records, and eviction records until the establish and implement a comprehensive monitoring program, and prohibits them from continuing any of the deceptive practices set forth in the complaint.
On September 14, the CFPB released a report highlighting risks associated with college tuition payment plans. Analyzing nearly 450 college websites, the report found that many plans lack clear disclosures and have confusing repayment terms, potentially causing students to miss payments and accumulate debt. Additionally, the CFPB noted that some institutions use transcript withholding as a debt collection tool, a practice deemed illegal and detrimental to students' career prospects.
Key findings include:
- Inconsistent and confusing disclosures in tuition payment plans.
- Substantial fees, including enrollment fees, returned payment fees, and late fees, leading to high costs for students.
- Intrusive debt collection practices, such as withholding transcripts, negatively impacting students' futures.
- High costs for missed payments and potential conversion of no-interest plans into interest-bearing loans.
- Contracts that may force students to waive legal rights and protections.
- Lack of standardized disclosure requirements, leading to inconsistency in how plans are presented on school websites.
The CFPB plans to continue monitoring tuition payment plans and school-based lending practices to protect consumers from potential violations of federal consumer financial laws.
On September 11, the CFPB issued a consent order against an Ohio-based nonbank consumer finance company (respondent), for deceptive practices related to consumer leasing agreements. The CFPB, along with 41 states and the District of Columbia, addressed respondent’s conduct in a parallel multi-state settlement. According to the consent order, respondent, operating through major retailers, allegedly concealed contract terms and costs from consumers, leading them to unknowingly enter into costly leasing agreements. The Bureau claims that deceptive practices left consumers unable to return products and burdened with unexpectedly high payments, violating the CFPA and Regulation M, implementing the Consumer Leasing Act.
The consent order states that respondent concealed lease agreement terms, often providing consumers with copies of the agreements after transactions or relying on verbal descriptions from store employees. Consumers were also allegedly trapped by unreasonable return practices, as respondent did not accept returns for many items, forcing consumers to pay excessively high prices. Additionally, the CFPB claimed respondent failed to provide legally required disclosures, leading to revenues of approximately $192 million from around 325,000 consumers.
As a result of the consent order, respondent is permanently prohibited from offering consumer leases and is required to close all outstanding consumer accounts. Consumers will be allowed to keep leased merchandise without further payment, amounting to approximately $33.6 million in released payments. Respondent must also pay a $2 million penalty, with $1 million going to the CFPB's victims’ relief fund and the remaining $1 million allocated to the participating states.
The CFPB's director, Rohit Chopra, emphasized the significance of the order, stating that it permanently bans respondent from engaging in such agreements. The alleged deceptive practices, which occurred from January 1, 2015 to the present, and allegedly affected over 1.8 million consumers who entered into financial agreements with the company covering a wide range of items, from auto parts to furniture and jewelry. Respondent neither admitted nor denied the CFPB’s claims.
On September 15, President Joe Biden announced his intention to nominate Jennifer L. Fain as Inspector General of the FDIC. Fain brings over 22 years of experience in the inspector general community, most recently serving as Deputy Inspector General for the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM). She has extensive oversight experience in financial services and consumer protection and has held leadership positions in various audit, inspection, and evaluation offices within federal agencies. Fain holds an M.S. in Finance from Johns Hopkins University and a B.S.B.A. in Accounting from the University of Colorado.
In his recent address at the Better Markets Conference and his address at the Mortgage Collaborative National Conference, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra reflected on lessons from the 2008 financial crisis, discussing the regulatory failures exemplified by mortgage entities’ risky practices and emphasized the post-crisis reforms, including the creation of the CFPB. Chopra highlighted the CFPB's role in implementing crucial mortgage industry standards and its positive impact on borrower protections. He also mentioned the challenges facing the mortgage market today and the legal battles over CFPB rules, touching upon an upcoming Supreme Court case challenging the CFPB's constitutionality and its potential consequences for financial stability, underlining the importance of regulatory rules for financial markets and household finances. Chopra highlighted the CFPB's role in implementing standards for ensuring borrowers' ability to repay through the qualified mortgage and ability-to-repay rule, which granted legal immunity to compliant lenders. As a result of the financial crisis, Congress set requirements related to mortgage data, mortgage servicing, and mortgage lender compensation. Much of the authority that had been held by the OCC, the Fed, and the Office of Thrift Supervision were transferred to the nascent CFPB. In his remarks, Chopra also outlined areas where further action is needed, including open banking, financial data rights, bank mergers, the effectiveness of "living wills" for large financial firms, and the regulation of shadow banks.
On September 5, the CFPB filed an opposition to a motion for a preliminary injunction made by a group of Kentucky banks (plaintiff banks) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plaintiff banks filed their motion for a preliminary injunction seeking an order to enjoin the CFPB from enforcing the Small Business Lending Rule against them for the same reasons that a Texas district court enjoined enforcement of the rule (Texas decision covered by InfoBytes here). The CFPB argues that the plaintiff banks have not satisfied any of the factors necessary for preliminary relief, including that they have not shown that their claim is likely to succeed on the merits, and they have not shown that they face imminent irreparable harm. The Bureau also argues that the plaintiff banks are factually wrong in asserting that the Rule would require lenders to compile “‘scores of additional data points’ about their small business loans,” and that the additional data requirements are consistent with the Bureau’s statutory authority to require such additional data if it assists in “‘fulfilling the purposes of [the statute].’” The CFPB argues, among other things, that the “outlier ruling of the 5th Circuit” in the Texas case does not demonstrate that the plaintiff banks are entitled to the relief they seek.