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On October 16, Maxine Waters, Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, released a majority staff report titled, “Settling for Nothing: How Kraninger’s CFPB Leaves Consumers High and Dry,” which details the results of the majority’s investigation into the CFPB’s handling of consumer monetary relief in enforcement actions since Richard Cordray stepped down as director in November 2017. The report argues that, under the leadership of Acting Director Mick Mulvaney and Director Kathleen Kraninger, the Bureau’s enforcement actions “have declined in volume and failed to compensate harmed consumers adequately.” Specifically, the report states that under Cordray’s leadership, “the average enforcement action by the [Bureau] returned $59.6 million to consumers, as compared to an average $31.4 million per action under Mulvaney,” but notes that $335 million of the $345 million in consumer relief obtained during Mulvaney’s tenure resulted from one settlement with a national bank (previously covered by InfoBytes here). With respect to Director Kraninger, the report acknowledges that the pace of enforcement actions increased compared to Mulvaney; however, the Bureau ordered “only $12 million in consumer relief” during her first six months, as compared to “approximately $200 million in consumer relief” during a similar six months of Cordray’s tenure.
The report highlights specifics from the investigation into settlements announced in early 2019, which resulted in civil penalties but not consumer monetary relief. The report argues that, based on the review of the internal documents received from the Bureau, the lack of consumer relief was due to the “politicization of the [Bureau],” which “contributed to the decline in the [Bureau]’s enforcement activity” rather than the merits of the enforcement actions, notwithstanding that the internal documents reflect the assessment of certain weaknesses in the Bureau’s positions. The report attributes such politicization to the introduction of political appointee positions throughout the Bureau that oversee each of the divisions. The report concludes by urging Congress to pass the Consumers First Act (HR 1500), which, among other things, seeks to limit the number of political appointees at the Bureau.
On October 15, a coalition of 13 state attorneys general submitted a comment letter in response to the CFPB’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued last May seeking information on the costs and benefits of reporting certain data points under HMDA. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) In the comment letter, the AGs argue, among other things, that the proposed rule would reduce transparency and “undermine the ability of local public officials to investigate unfair and discriminatory mortgage lending practices.” The AGs assert that the Bureau’s proposal to limit the data financial institutions are required to report to the CFPB under HMDA will open the door for financial institutions to engage in discriminatory lending, pointing to the 2018 national HMDA loan-level data released on August 30 (InfoBytes coverage here), which, according to the AGs, show “disturbing trends” that demonstrate the additional data fields are helping to achieve HMDA’s objectives. Specifically, the AGs cite to (i) disparities in manufactured home lending; (ii) racial and ethnic data that points to potential disparities in lending; (iii) the importance of collecting all data on denial reasons; (iv) loan pricing data as an indicator of fair lending; and (v) the importance of collecting debt-to-income and combined loan-to-value ratios.
The New York AG’s office also sent a second letter the same day in response to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) issued last May by the Bureau that would permanently raise coverage thresholds for collecting and reporting data about closed-end mortgage loans and open-end lines of credit under the HMDA rules. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The AG’s office argues that increasing the reporting threshold “would exempt thousands of lenders from reporting data” and would “inhibit the ability of communities and state and local law enforcement to ensure fair mortgage lending in New York and elsewhere, and violate the Administrative Procedure Act” since it fails to consider the full cost of the proposed rule on the states. Specifically, the AG’s office contends that the NPRM will (i) exempt a large number of depository institutions leading to significance loss of data on a local level; (ii) leave discriminatory lending in the rural and multifamily lending markets unchecked; and (iii) guarantee predatory lending if the threshold for open-end reporting is permanently set at 200 loans.
On October 15, the CFPB Private Education Loan Ombudsman published its annual report on consumer complaints submitted between September 1, 2017 and August 31, 2019. The report, titled Annual Report of the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman, is based on approximately 20,600 complaints received by the Bureau relating to federal and private student loan servicing, debt collection, and debt relief services. The report focuses primarily on complaints and student loan debt relief scams, which are, according to Private Education Loan Ombudsman Robert G. Cameron, “two subjects that, if promptly addressed, may have the greatest immediate impact in preventing potential harm to borrowers.” Of the 20,600 complaints, roughly 13,900 pertained to federal student loans with approximately 6,700 related to private student loans. Both categories reflect a decrease in total complaints from previous years. The report also notes that the Bureau handled roughly 4,600 complaints related to student loan debt collection.
The report goes on to discuss collaborative efforts between federal and state law enforcement agencies, including the CFPB, FTC, Department of Education, and state attorneys general, to address student loan debt relief scams. According to the report, the FTC’s Operation Game of Loans (previous InfoBytes coverage here) has yielded settlements and judgments totaling over $131 million for the past two years, while Bureau actions (taken on its own and with state agencies) have resulted in judgments exceeding $17 million.
The report provides several recommendations, including that policymakers, the Department of Education, and the Bureau “assess and consider the sharing of information, analytical tools, education outreach, and expertise” to prevent borrower harm, and that when harm occurs, “reduce the window in which harm is occurring through timely identification and remediation.” With regard to student loan debt relief scams, the report recommends, among other things, that enforcement should be expanded “beyond civil enforcement actions to criminal enforcement actions at all levels.”
On October 10, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee released a letter from Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Patty Murray (D-Wash) to the new CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman, Robert Cameron, outlining their expectations for his tenure in the Ombudsman’s Office. The senators state that Cameron should, among other things, (i) advocate for student loan borrowers by utilizing the Bureau’s statutory authority and tools, including policymaking and evidence gathering for supervision and enforcement; (ii) reestablish the information sharing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the U.S. Department of Education and the Bureau; (iii) resume examinations of federal student loan servicers; and (iv) carry out his duties free of conflict of interests. The Senators request that Cameron provide additional information by October 25 regarding a potential conflict of interest (based on his prior work as Deputy Chief Counsel at a student loan servicer), the Bureau’s history of PSLF supervisory examinations, and current staffing in the Ombudsman Office.
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 October 4, the U.S. House of Representatives filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the CFPB’s structure is constitutional. The brief was filed in response to a petition for writ of certiorari by a law firm, contesting a May decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that, among other things, the Bureau’s single-director structure is constitutional (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The House filed its brief after the amicus deadline, but requested its motion to file be granted because it only received notice that the Bureau changed its position on the constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure the day before the filing deadline. As previously covered by InfoBytes, on September 17, the DOJ and the CFPB filed a brief with the Court arguing that the for-cause restriction on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau’s single Director violates the Constitution’s separation of powers; and on the same day, Director Kraninger sent letters (see here and here) to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) supporting the same argument.
The brief, which was submitted by the Office of General Counsel for the House, argues that the case “presents an issue of significant important to the House” and, because the Solicitor General “has decided not to defend” Congress’ enactment of the for-cause removal protection through the Dodd-Frank Act, the “House should be allowed to do so.” The brief asserts that the 9th Circuit correctly held that the Bureau’s structure is constitutional based on the D.C. Circuit’s majority in the 2018 en banc decision in PHH v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert). Moreover, the brief argues that when an agency is “headed by a single individual, the lines of Executive accountability—and Presidential control—are even more direct than in a multi-member agency,” as the President has the authority to remove the individual should they be failing in their duty. Such a removal will “‘transform the entire CFPB and the execution of the consumer protection laws it enforces.’”
On October 10, the CFPB issued a final rule extending the current temporary threshold of 500 open-end lines of credit under the HMDA rules for reporting data to January 1, 2022. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB temporarily increased the threshold for open-end lines of credit from 100 loans to 500 loans for calendar years 2018 and 2019. In May 2019, the Bureau proposed to extend that temporary threshold to January 1, 2022 and then permanently lower the threshold to 200 open-end lines of credit after that date (covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau then reopened the comment period for the May 2019 proposed rule with respect to the permanent open-end and closed-end coverage thresholds (covered by InfoBytes here) and now intends to issue a final rule addressing the permanent threshold at a later date. The Bureau also intends to address the other closed-end aspects of the May 2019 proposed rule at a later date.
The final rule adopts the temporary extension of the 500 open-end lines of credit until January 1, 2022, and incorporates, with minor adjustments, the interpretive and procedural rule issued in August 2018 (2018 Rule), which implemented and clarified that the HMDA amendments included in Section 104(a) of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The final rule is effective January 1, 2022.
On October 8, the CFPB issued its Dodd-Frank mandated semi-annual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work from October 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019. In presenting the report, Director Kathy Kraninger stressed that the Bureau will continue to use the tools provided by Congress to protect consumers, including “vigorous and even-handed enforcement” with a focus on prevention of harm. Kraninger also reiterated her commitment “to strengthening the consumer financial marketplace by providing financial institutions clear ‘rules of the road’ that allow them to offer consumers a range of high-quality, innovative financial services and products.” Among other things, the report analyzed significant problems consumers face when obtaining consumer financial products and services, assessed actions taken by state attorneys general or state regulators relating to federal consumer financial law, and provided a recap of supervisory and enforcement activities.
While the Bureau did not adopt any significant final rules or orders during the preceding year, it did issue two significant notices of proposed rulemaking relating to certain payday lending requirements under the agency’s 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans.” (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) The Bureau also adopted several “less significant rules,” and engaged in significant initiatives concerning, among other things, (i) the disclosure of loan-level HMDA data; (ii) Residential Property Assessed Clean Energy proposed rulemaking; (iii) an assessment of significant rules, including the Remittance Rule, the Ability to Repay/Qualified Mortgage Rule, and the RESPA Mortgage Servicing Rule; (iv) trial disclosure programs; (v) innovation policies related to no-action letters and product sandbox and trial disclosure programs; and (vi) suspicious activity reports on elder financial exploitation.
On October 1, the CFPB and the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs filed an action in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina against two companies and their owner, alleging that the defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) and the South Carolina Consumer Protection Code (SCCPC) by offering high-interest loans to veterans and other consumers in exchange for the assignment of some of the consumers’ monthly pension or disability payments. The complaint alleges that the majority of the credit offers are brokered for veterans with disability pensions or retirement pensions. The defendants allegedly did not disclose to consumers the interest rates associated with the products, marketing the contracts as sale of payments and not credit offers. The defendants also allegedly did not disclose that the contracts were void under federal and state law, which prohibit the assignment of certain benefits. The Bureau and South Carolina are seeking injunctive relief, restitution, damages, disgorgement, and civil money penalties.
The Bureau’s announcement notes that this is the third action in 2019 related to the marketing or administration of high-interest credit to veterans. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in January 2019, the Bureau settled with an online loan broker resolving allegations that the broker violated the CFPA by operating a website that connected veterans with companies offering high-interest loans in exchange for the assignment of some or all of their military pension payments. Additionally, in August 2019, the Bureau and the Arkansas attorney general announced a proposed settlement with three loan brokerage companies, along with their owner and operator, for allegedly misrepresenting high-interest credit offers to veterans and other consumers as purchases of future pension or disability payments (covered by Infobytes here).
On September 30, 16 Republican members of Congress wrote to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger to express concern over the upcoming expiration of a safe harbor to the Remittance Rule (the Rule), which allows certain insured depository institutions to estimate exchange rates and certain fees they are required to disclose to customers about remittance transactions. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB issued a Request for Information (RFI) last April on two aspects of the Rule that require financial institutions handling international money transfers, or remittance transfers, to disclose to individuals transferring money information about the exact exchange rate, fees, and the amount expected to be delivered. The RFI also sought feedback on a possible extension of the current statutory exception, which is set to expire July 21, 2020. While lawmakers recognize the CFPB’s interest in mitigating negative effects that may result from the exception’s expiration, they urged the CFPB to “take every available step” to ensure that consumers may continue to access remittance services. The lawmakers stressed that it is often difficult, if not “virtually impossible,” for depository institutions to calculate the exact cost of certain remittance transactions. The letter further noted that “depository institutions cannot readily covert all foreign currencies at the time a transfer is conducted, and if the currency exchange takes place after the transfer is initiated, a consumer’s financial institution may only be able to estimate the applicable exchange rate.” Accordingly, if the exception expired, it could cause many depository institutions to discontinue providing remittance services due to increased compliance risk, or cease transfers to certain countries or beneficial banks due to non-compliance risks.
The lawmakers urged the CFPB to use its statutory authority under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act or Dodd-Frank to make the exception permanent “so financial institutions are able to make long-term decisions regarding the provision of these services.”
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "What's trending in enforcement" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Annual Convention & Expo
- Kathryn L. Ryan and Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Today's regulatory environment - Are you in the know?" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Annual Convention
- Buckley Webcast: Smoke and mirrors: Navigating the regulatory landscape in banking the marijuana industry
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss "CMS - Components of a successful monitoring program" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Tim Lange to discuss "Temporary authority to operate - Are you prepared? Hear what the states are doing" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss "Cybersecurity" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Jonice Gray Tucker and Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Consumer Regulatory, Enforcement, and Litigation Trends" at the American Bankers Association General Counsel Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Hot topics in mortgage origination" at the Conference on Consumer Finance Law Annual Consumer Financial Services Conference
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss "CCPA: Countdown to compliance – A discussion of common questions and what is next on the CA privacy horizon" at the Conference on Consumer Finance Law Annual Consumer Financial Services Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fintech regulatory developments, crypto-assets, blockchain and digital banking, and consumer issues" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Adapting to the rapidly changing compliance landscape involving marijuana and marijuana-related businesses" at an ACAMS webinar
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "How to balance a successful (and stressful) career with greater personal well-being" at the American Bar Association Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference