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On April 16, the CFPB updated its small entity compliance guide to incorporate amendments in the December 2020 debt collection rule (covered by InfoBytes here). Updates to the guide, originally issued in January (covered by InfoBytes here), include: (i) a new section discussing the prohibition against legal action and threats of legal action to collect time-barred debt; (ii) a new section discussing the prohibition on passive collection; (iii) the incorporation of requirements and guidance on providing validation information; (iv) an updated discussion of the prohibition against overshadowing consumer rights to incorporate reference to the safe harbor; (v) an updated discussion of requests for original-creditor information to include reference to applicable requirements if the current creditor and the original creditor are the same; and (vi) a new annotated version of the model validation notice in Appendix B of the December 2020 Rule. Miscellaneous administrative changes have been made throughout the guide as well.
On April 19, the CFPB issued an interim final rule (IFR) to amend Regulation F, which implements the FDCPA, that will require debt collectors to provide tenants written notice alerting them of their rights under the CDC’s moratorium on evictions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Failure to provide notice will be considered a violation of the FDCPA, which may result in a private right of action as well as actual damages, statutory damages, and attorney’s fees. The Bureau noted in its press release that the IFR does not preempt more protective state laws. Additionally, debt collectors are prohibited from misrepresenting renters’ eligibility for temporary protection under the CDC’s moratorium. Sample disclosure language and a summary of the IFR have been provided by the Bureau as well.
The IFR will take effect May 3. Comments are due 15 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On April 19, the FTC issued a staff report highlighting the Commission’s efforts to protect consumers during the continuing Covid-19 pandemic. The report addresses hardships consumers face during the pandemic and identifies the Commission’s priorities to tackle Covid-19-associated fraud and other consumer issues using “sophisticated targeting, aggressive law enforcement, and ongoing partnership and outreach.” The report highlights the FTC’s efforts through consumer and business education, including sending out consumer alerts about Covid-19 scams, reminding businesses about their responsibilities regarding honest advertising, and alerting companies about scams targeting them. The report also highlights the Commission’s efforts to protect consumers during the Covid-19 pandemic, including: (i) filing 13 enforcement actions against companies that, among other things, “made deceptive health or earnings claims”; (ii) ordering over 350 companies to remove deceptive Covid-19-related claims concerning treatments, potential earnings, and financial relief for small business and students, and warning companies that it is also illegal to facilitate deceptive Covid-19 calls; (iii) prioritizing privacy enforcement actions related to certain types of conduct “exacerbated in the transformation to digital work and schooling, including videoconferencing, ed-tech and health-tech”; (iv) collecting and tracking over 436,000 reports related to Covid-19 between January 2020 and April 2021 where consumers reported $399 million in fraud losses; and (v) issuing more than 100 Covid-19-related consumer and business alerts. In addition, the report notes that the Commission implemented systems to “track and alert the public to shifts in reports from consumers, launched a public dashboard providing information on reports associated with COVID-19, and used COVID-19-related reports to identify law enforcement targets.”
The FTC also briefed lawmakers on these efforts in testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee on April 20. During the testimony, the FTC highlighted its efforts to help consumers facing major challenges as a result of Covid-19 and requested that Congress “affirm the FTC’s authority to return money to consumers using Section 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission.” The testimony noted that the FTC has issued enforcement actions against those who have communicated deceptive Covid-19 claims, engaged in consumer and business education and outreach, and collected millions of reports from the public on fraud, identity theft, and other consumer problems. The testimony also highlighted the FTC’s partnership with the CFPB to ensure renters are not subjected to unlawful eviction practices (covered by InfoBytes here).
On April 14, the CFPB issued its annual fair lending report to Congress, which outlines the Bureau’s efforts in 2020 to fulfill its fair lending mandate, while protecting consumers against the resulting economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the report, the Bureau continued to focus on promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit, highlighting several fair lending priorities that continued from years past such as mortgage origination, small business lending, and student loan origination. The report also discusses new policy areas and programs for fair lending examinations or investigations, including (i) the Fair Lending Help Desks; (ii) amendments concerning Regulation C, which will increase the permanent threshold for collecting, recording, and reporting data about open-end lines of credit from 100 to 200; and (iii) two HMDA data point articles. Additionally, the report discusses the Bureau’s efforts in expanding access to credit for underserved or underbanked populations, including: (i) hosting the first “Tech Sprint” (covered by InfoBytes here) to encourage regulatory innovation and stakeholder collaboration; (ii) continuing to examine and investigate institutions for compliance with HMDA and ECOA; (iii) engaging with stakeholders to discuss fair lending compliance, issues related to credit access, and policy decisions; and (iv) issuing Supervisory Recommendations relating to weak or nonexistent fair lending policies and procedures, risk assessments, and fair lending training. The report also provides information related to regulation, supervision, enforcement, and education efforts.
On April 13, the CFPB entered into a preliminary settlement with an online debt-settlement company for allegedly violating the CFPA’s prohibition on abusive acts or practices and failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose total cost under the Telemarketing Sales Rule. The complaint alleges that the company took “unreasonable advantage of consumers’ reasonable reliance that [it] would protect their interests in negotiating their debts” by failing to disclose its relationship to certain creditors and steering consumers into high-cost loans offered by affiliated lenders. The CFPB alleges that the company regularly prioritized creditors with which it had undisclosed relationships in settlements of consumers’ debts. Under the terms of the proposed stipulated final judgment and order, the CFPB is seeking restitution, damages, disgorgement, and civil money penalties.
In the Bureau’s announcement, acting Director David Uejio states that “[t]he CFPB will not tolerate companies that purport to represent consumers, but instead abuse their trust in a self-dealing scheme. This case provides a clear example of what Congress intended to prohibit when it created the CFPB and gave it authority to prevent abusive practices.”
On April 6, the CFPB announced a consent order against a California-based debt collector and its former owner for allegedly harassing consumers and threatening to take legal action if they did not pay their debts. According to the CFPB, the respondents violated the FDCPA and the CFPA’s prohibition against deceptive acts or practices by mailing letters to consumers printed with “Litigation Notice” that threatened recipients with legal action if they did not repay their debts. However, the Bureau stated that the respondents did not file lawsuits against the consumers, nor did they hire law firms or lawyers to obtain any judgments or collect on any such judgments. Under the terms of the consent order, the respondents are permanently banned from the debt collection industry and are ordered to pay $860,000 in redress to its victims, which has been suspended due to an inability to pay, as well as a $2,200 civil money penalty. This is the CFPB’s latest action taken against debt collectors that have used false threats to collect debts. As previously covered in InfoBytes, in 2019 the CFPB and New York attorney general announced proposed settlements with a network of New York-based debt collectors to resolve allegations that the defendants engaged in improper debt collection tactics in violation of the CFPA, the FDCPA, and various New York laws. Also, in 2018, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Kansas-based company and its former CEO and part-owner that allegedly engaged in improper debt collection tactics in violation of the CFPB’s prohibitions on engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices (covered by InfoBytes here).
On April 7, the CFPB proposed to extend the effective date of two recent debt collection rules to allow affected parties additional time to comply due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) delays the effective date by 60 days of the two final rules issued under the FDCPA, which were scheduled to take effect on November 30 but are now proposed to take effect January 29, 2022. The proposed delay would give stakeholders affected by the pandemic more time to examine and implement the rules. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the first debt collection rule, issued in October 2020, addressed debt collection communications and prohibitions on harassment or abuse, false or misleading representations, and unfair practices. The second debt collection rule, issued in December 2020, clarified the information debt collectors must provide to consumers at the outset of collection communications and provided a model validation notice containing such information (covered by InfoBytes here).
Special Alert: CFPB proposes to halt foreclosure starts from August 31 until 2022 and create new loss mitigation requirements for servicers
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Monday issued a proposal that would broadly halt foreclosure initiations on principal residences from August 31, 2021 until 2022, and change servicing rules to promote consumer awareness and processing of Covid-relief loss mitigation options. Although the proposal would give servicers some flexibility in streamlining the modification process, most already have been offering many of these types of modifications since the early days of the pandemic. The proposal also would create new and detailed obligations for communicating with borrowers to ensure they are aware of their loss mitigation options for pandemic-related hardships.
The CFPB indicated that a final rule implementing the proposal will take effect Aug. 31 — a tight timeline to address public comments, which are due May 10. The proposal comes as the housing market is strengthening, loans in Covid-related forbearance are dropping, the unemployment rate is ticking down, and the nation’s vaccination program is gathering momentum.
Restrictions on foreclosure initiation through Dec. 31 for principal residences
The CFPB proposes prohibiting servicers from making the first notice or filing for foreclosure from the effective date on Aug. 31, 2021 until after Dec. 31, 2021, on all principal residences, regardless of whether the loan default was related in any way to the Covid-19 pandemic. Regulation X currently requires a servicer to generally refrain from making the first notice or filing to initiate foreclosure until the borrower reaches the 120th day of delinquency. Although the CFPB has previously taken the position that a borrower generally is not obligated to make a lump sum payment upon expiration of the forbearance period (See for example: Slides - Housing Counseling Webinar Forbearance Options and Resources - March 22, 2021 (hudexchange.info)), the proposal acknowledges that borrowers who enter forbearance programs and do not make payments during the forbearance period become increasingly delinquent on their mortgage obligation. As a result, without additional action, servicers likely would have a right under Regulation X to initiate foreclosure in the event a borrower comes off of a forbearance plan and does not cure the delinquency through reinstatement, deferral, or some other loss mitigation alternative to foreclosure. The proposal said a temporary foreclosure prohibition would address this concern.
The CFPB indicated it is considering creating exemptions from this restriction that would allow for the commencement of foreclosure proceedings if the borrower is not eligible for any nonforeclosure loss mitigation options or has failed to respond to servicer outreach.
It is possible that loan investors who had expected to instruct servicers to foreclose on defaulted loans will raise a legal challenge to the broad proposed foreclosure restriction, which appears to be principally based upon the CFPB’s authority to issue regulations creating mortgage servicer obligations as “appropriate to carry out [the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act’s] consumer protection purposes.” It is an open question whether a blanket prohibition on foreclosures — including those unrelated to the pandemic — and applicable to all mortgage servicers is within the CFPB’s statutory authority under RESPA or the Dodd-Frank Act
Modifications based on evaluation of an incomplete loss mitigation application
The proposal also would allow servicers to offer borrowers with a Covid-19 related hardship a loan modification based on an incomplete application, as long as the modification met the following criteria:
- Term and payment limitations: The modification may not cause the borrower’s principal and interest payment to increase and may not extend the term of the loan by more than 480 months from the date of the modification.
- Non-interest-bearing deferred amounts: Any amounts that the borrower may delay paying until the loan is refinanced, the property is sold, or the loan modification matures, must not accrue interest.
- Fee restrictions: No fees may be charged for the loan modification and all existing late charges, penalties, stop-payment fees, and similar charges must be waived upon acceptance (the CFPB said it was aware that certain agencies, including the Federal Housing Administration, only require waiver of fees incurred after the beginning of the pandemic, and that such modifications would not fall within this safe harbor).
- Covid-related hardship: The loan modification is made available to borrowers experiencing a Covid-19-related hardship, which is very broadly defined in the regulation as “a financial hardship due, directly or indirectly, to the Covid-19 emergency.”
- Delinquency cure: The modification must be designed to end any preexisting delinquency.
Interestingly, investors and agencies have largely eliminated documentation requirements in response to the pandemic, and servicers have been successfully offering streamlined loan modifications under Regulation X’s current requirements. The lack of documentation requirements has seemingly blurred the lines of what constitutes a complete loss mitigation application.
Additional borrower outreach required
The proposed rule would require servicers, for one year after the effective date, to give borrowers Covid-forbearance-related information regarding the current Regulation X early intervention requirements, as follows:
- For borrowers not currently in forbearance, when live contact is made with the borrower, and the investor makes available to that borrower a Covid--related forbearance program, the servicer must inquire whether the borrower has a Covid-related hardship, then list and briefly describe available programs and actions the borrower must take to be evaluated for them. The CFPB noted that this could include listing federal, state, and/or investor-specific options.
- If the borrower is on forbearance, during the last live contact made pursuant to the early intervention rules prior to the program’s expiration, the servicer must inform the borrower of the date on which the current forbearance period ends and each type of post-forbearance option that is available to the borrower to resolve the post-forbearance delinquency, along with the actions that must be taken to be evaluated for such options. Importantly, this list would include all available loss mitigation options—not simply Covid-specific options.
The proposed rule would also require a servicer to contact the borrower no later than 30 days before the end of the forbearance period to determine if the borrower wishes to complete the loss mitigation application and proceed with a full loss mitigation evaluation. If the borrower requests further assistance, the servicer must exercise reasonable diligence to complete the application before the end of the forbearance program period.
The compliance requirements the proposal contemplates seems likely to present additional complexity and liability for mortgage servicers as they gear up to address the upcoming wave of delinquent borrowers who will be coming out of Covid-related forbearances.
If you have any questions regarding the CFPB’s proposal, please visit our Mortgages practice page or our Covid-19 Legal Resources & Capabilities page or contact a Buckley attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
On April 1, the CFPB urged mortgage servicers “to take all necessary steps to prevent a wave of avoidable foreclosures this fall.” Citing to the millions of homeowners currently in forbearance due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bureau’s compliance bulletin warns servicers that consumers will need assistance when pandemic-related federal emergency mortgage protections begin to expire later this year. The Bureau notes that it “will closely monitor how servicers engage with borrowers, respond to borrower requests, and process applications for loss mitigation,” and “will consider a servicer’s overall effectiveness in helping consumers when using its discretion to address compliance issues that arise.” According to the Bureau, industry data suggests that almost 1.7 million borrowers will exit forbearance programs starting in September, many of whom will be a year or more behind on mortgage payments. The Bureau cautions servicers to take proactive measures to prevent avoidable foreclosures, including by (i) contacting borrowers before the end of the forbearance period; (ii) working with borrowers to ensure they obtain all necessary information; (iii) addressing language access and maintaining compliance with ECOA and other applicable laws; (iv) evaluating income fairly when determining loss mitigation options; (v) handling inquiries promptly; and (vi) preventing avoidable foreclosures through compliance with foreclosure restrictions under Regulation X and other federal and state restrictions.
On March 31, the CFPB rescinded, effective April 1, the following policy statements, which provided temporary regulatory flexibility measures to help financial institutions work with consumers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic:
- A March 26, 2020, statement addressing the Bureau’s commitment to taking into account staffing and related resource challenges facing financial institutions related to supervision and enforcement activities.
- A March 26, 2020, statement postponing quarterly HMDA reporting requirements. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
- A March 26, 2020, statement postponing annual data submission requirements related to credit card and prepaid accounts required under TILA, Regulation Z and Regulation E. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
- An April 1, 2020, statement on credit reporting agencies and furnishers’ credit reporting obligations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Regulation V during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Bureau notes that the rescission “leaves intact the section entitled “Furnishing Consumer Information Impacted by COVID-19” which articulates the CFPB’s support for furnishers’ voluntary efforts to provide payment relief and that the CFPB does not intend to cite in examinations or take enforcement actions against those who furnish information to consumer reporting agencies that accurately reflect the payment relief measures they are employing.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
- An April 27, 2020, statement affirming that the Bureau would not take supervisory or enforcement action against land developers subject to the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act and Regulation J for delays in filing financial statements and annual reports of activity. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
- A May 13, 2020, statement providing supervision and enforcement flexibility for creditors to resolve billing errors during the pandemic. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
- A June 3, 2020, statement providing temporary flexibility for credit card issuers regarding electronic provision of certain disclosures during the Covid-19 pandemic in accordance with the E-Sign Act and Regulation Z. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
The rescission also withdraws the Bureau as a signatory to the April 7, 2020, Interagency Statement on Loan Modifications and Reporting for Financial Institutions Working with Customers Affected by the Coronavirus (covered by InfoBytes here), and the April 14, 2020, Interagency Statement on Appraisals and Evaluations for Real Estate Related Financial Transactions Affected by the Coronavirus (covered by InfoBytes here).
Additionally, the Bureau issued Bulletin 2021-01 announcing changes to how it communicates supervisory expectations to institutions. Bulletin 2021-01 replaces Bulletin 2018-01 (covered by InfoBytes here), which previously created two categories of findings conveying supervisory expectations: Matters Requiring Attention (MRAs) and Supervisory Recommendations (SRs). Under the revised Bulletin, the Bureau notes that examiners “will continue to rely on [MRAs] to convey supervisory expectations” but will no longer issue formal written SRs, as the agency believes that MRAs will more effectively convey its supervisory expectations. The Bulletin further states that “Bureau examiners may issue MRAs with or without a related supervisory finding that a supervised entity has violated a Federal consumer financial law.”
- Garylene D. Javier to discuss “How to ensure customer and workforce equality in consumer financial services” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “The bureau in transition” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Kari K. Hall to discuss “Fair lending and artificial intelligence” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Reading the tea leaves of President Biden’s initial financial appointees" at LendIt Fintech
- APPROVED Webcast: Staying in the know with Buckley regtech solutions
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss “CA, NY, federal licensing and disclosure” at the Equipment Leasing & Finance Association Legal Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Compliance under Biden" at the WSJ Risk & Compliance Forum
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "LO comp challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable