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As part of the CFPB’s Consumer Financial Protection Week, the Bureau released several reports and tools, including a recently published study analyzing the impact of credit builder loans (CBLs) on consumer credit scores. The study, Targeting Credit Builder Loans: Insights from a Credit Builder Loan Evaluation (accompanied by a practitioner’s guide and research on CBLs), provides insight for community-based organizations and financial institutions on expanding financial inclusion through the use of CBLs, which are designed to assist individuals with no credit records or poor credit histories to build or repair their credit. According to the Bureau, the central feature of a CBL is that a borrower makes payments before receiving funds. When a CBL is opened by a borrower, the lender moves its own funds into a locked escrow account and the borrower makes installment payments, including interest and fees, typically over a period of six to 24 months. These payments appear on the borrower’s credit report, and the lender deposits the principal payments into the borrower’s savings account “after each payment or in entirety when the borrower completes the program.” According to the Bureau, a typical CBL ranges from $300 to $1,000. The Bureau’s study examined 1,531 credit union members who were offered CBLs. The research revealed that a CBL increased the likelihood of having a credit score by 24 percent for borrowers without an existing loan, and that borrowers without existing debt saw their credit scores rise by 60 points more than borrowers carrying existing debt. Additionally, the Bureau found an association between having a CBL and an increase in a borrower’s savings balance. The Bureau cautioned, however, that the study’s findings also indicated that CBLs appeared to cause a decrease in credit scores for borrowers with existing debt, suggesting that these borrowers experienced difficulty making payments on both their CBL and their existing debt obligations.
The Bureau also released the results from the Making Ends Meet survey, which provides insight into how U.S. consumers cope with financial shortfalls. The survey, conducted prior to the Covid-19 pandemic in May 2019, offers a nationally representative assessment of consumers with credit records. Among its findings, the report noted that 52 percent of survey respondents said they could cover expenses for two months or less without their main source of income, while 20 percent could cover expenses for only two weeks or less.
A report exploring the credit records of young servicemembers that compares servicemembers’ credit profiles to the credit profiles of civilians was also recently published, along with an online tool to help students make informed decisions about paying for college.
On July 13, the CFPB filed a complaint in federal district court against a nationwide student loan debt-relief business—consisting of two companies, their owners, and four attorneys—for allegedly charging thousands of customers approximately $11.8 million in upfront fees in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). According to the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the companies would market its debt-relief services to customers over the phone, encouraging those with private loans to sign up with an attorney to reduce or eliminate their student debt. The attorney agreement typically provided for “a fee, typically 40 [percent] of the outstanding debt, to be paid by monthly installments, along with a processing fee that costs an additional $10 per month.” The business allegedly charged the fees before the consumer had made at least one payment on the altered debts, in violation of the TSR’s prohibition on requesting or receiving advance fees for debt-relief service or, for certain defendants, the TSR’s prohibition on providing substantial assistance to someone charging the illegal fees.
On August 17, the court approved stipulated final judgments with four of the defendants (one company owner and three of the attorneys, here, here, and here). The company owner is permanently banned from providing debt-relief services or engaging in telemarketing of any consumer financial product or service, and is required to pay $25,000 in partial satisfaction of a suspended $11.8 million in redress. Similarly, the three attorneys are each banned from providing debt-relief services and required to pay $5,000, $21,567, and $30,000 each in partial satisfaction of various redress amounts. Additionally, the judgments impose a civil money penalty of $1 against each defendant.
On July 8, the CFPB announced a proposed settlement with a Florida-based student debt-relief company and three of its owners and officers (collectively, “defendants”), which would resolve allegations that the defendants violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by charging advance fees for services to renegotiate, settle, reduce, or alter the terms of federal student loans. According to the complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on the same day as the proposed order, the Bureau alleges that from 2016 through October 2019, the defendants used telemarketing campaigns to solicit over 7,300 consumers to pay up to $699 in fees to have their federal student loan monthly payments reduced or eliminated through government-offered programs. The Bureau alleges that—not only are government programs (such as loan consolidation, income-based repayment, or certain loan-forgiveness options) available without charge—the defendants violated the TSR by charging and receiving upfront fees from consumers for their services before the terms of the student debt had been altered or settled.
On August 12, the court entered a stipulated final judgment and order, which permanently bans the defendants from providing debt-relief services and imposes a suspended $3.8 million in consumer redress, upon the owners and officers each paying between $5,000 and $10,000 individually. Additionally, each defendant is required to pay $1 in civil money penalties.
On June 30, the Alternative Reference Rates Committee (ARRC) released updated recommended fallback language for U.S. dollar LIBOR denominated syndicated loans and new variable rate private student loans. ARRC noted that the private student loan language is intended to minimize risk and market disruption in the event of LIBOR’s anticipated cessation at the end of 2021. ARRC also released conventions for how market participants can voluntarily use the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) in new student loan products. With respect to syndicated loans, ARRC noted that the updated fallback language recommends “the use of simple daily SOFR in arrears,” which, among other things, includes “a more permissive early opt-in trigger” to “allow parties involved in the loan to switch over to an alternative rate like SOFR before LIBOR is officially discontinued or determined to be unrepresentative.” Additionally, ARRC announced new details regarding its recommendation of spread adjustments for cash products that reference LIBOR. Market participants may voluntarily use ARRC’s recommended methodology to produce spread adjustments “where a spread-adjusted [SOFR] can be selected as a fallback.”
On June 25, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered a stipulated final judgment and order to resolve allegations concerning an allegedly fraudulent and deceptive student loan debt relief scheme. According to the New York attorney general, the defendants allegedly sold debt-relief services to student loan borrowers that violated several New York laws, including the state’s usury, banking, credit repair, and telemarketing laws, as well as the Credit Repair Organizations Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and TILA. The order imposes a $5.5 million judgment against the majority of the defendants, which will be partially suspended after certain defendants pay $250,000. The AG’s case against one of the defendants, however, will continue. The order also prohibits the defendants from engaging in unlawful acts or deceptive practices such as false advertising, and, among other things, imposes compliance and reporting requirements and permanently bans the defendants from offering, providing, or selling any debt relief products and services or collecting payments from consumers related to these products and services.
On June 19, the Maryland Department of Labor’s Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation issued the Covid-19 Health Crisis: Financial Relief Guide for Marylanders. Among other things, the guide contains information and resources regarding relief programs for consumers relating to economic impact payments, mortgage payments and foreclosure, rental evictions, student loans, automobile and personal loans, collections and garnishment, credit reporting, and insurance coverage and payments.
On May 22, the New York attorney general (NYAG) announced a proposed settlement with three student loan debt relief companies and two of the companies’ executive officers (collectively, “defendants”), resolving allegations that the defendants participated in a broader scheme that fraudulently, deceptively, and illegally marketed, sold, and financed student debt relief services to consumers nationwide. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the September 2018 complaint alleged that a total of nine student loan debt relief companies, along with their financing company, and the two individuals violated several federal and state consumer protection statutes, including the Telemarketing Sales Rule, New York General Business Law, the state’s usury cap on interest rates, disclosure requirements under TILA, and the Federal Credit Repair Organization Act. Specifically, the NYAG asserted, among other things, that the defendants (i) sent direct mail solicitations to consumers that deceptively appeared to be from a governmental agency or an entity affiliated with a government agency; (ii) charged consumers over $1,000 for services that were available for free; (iii) requested upfront payments in violation of federal and state credit repair and debt relief laws; and (iv) charged usurious interest rates.
If approved by the court, the proposed consent judgment would require the five defendants to pay $250,000 of a $5.5 million total judgment, due to their inability to pay. Additionally, the defendants are also permanently banned from advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, or selling any type of debt relief product or service—or from assisting others in doing the same. Additionally, the defendants must request that any credit reporting agency to which the defendants reported consumer information in connection with the student loan debt relief services remove the information from those consumers’ credit files. The defendants also agreed not to sell, transfer, or benefit from the personal information collected from borrowers.
The NYAG previously settled with two other defendants in February, covered by InfoBytes here.
On May 20, several senators, including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), sent a letter to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger requesting information regarding the Bureau’s examination of companies that service student loans guaranteed by the federal government. The senators noted that they are “encouraged to learn that the CFPB recently began its first examination of a servicer of federally-held student loans since 2017,” but they stated that, given the Department’s “record [of] obstructing CFPB oversight and enforcement, [they] are skeptical of the Department’s role in this joint examination and would strongly oppose limitations, restrictions, or other interference with the CFPB’s ability to conduct complete and thorough examinations.” Among other things, the senators also expressed concerns that the Bureau and the Department have not yet finalized the Supervisory Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which would allow the Bureau to access student borrower loan data that the senators claim is necessary for the Bureau to conduct future examinations. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the agencies signed an MOU to share student loan complaint data last February. The senators requested clarification on measures the Bureau is taking to carry out its statutory mandate to oversee the federal student loan market, including (i) how many examinations the Bureau has planned for 2020; (ii) what progress, if any, has been made on reestablishing the supervisory MOU; (iii) how the Bureau is monitoring student loan servicers’ compliance with the CARES Act, including pausing payments, interest, and collection; and (iv) whether the Bureau has identified any trends in borrower complaints since the Covid-19 pandemic began. The senators asked that the Bureau respond to the questions by June 3.
Maryland regulator reminds student loan servicers of obligation to report suspended payments as current
On May 18, the Office of the Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation issued an advisory to student loan servicers and credit reporting agency registrants to remind them of their furnishing obligations under the federal CARES Act to ensure that suspended payments are not reported as delinquent. The advisory notes that it has come to the office’s attention that a student loan servicer of a significant amount of federal student loan debt was not accurately furnishing information and reminds servicers that under Maryland’s Student Loan Servicing Bill of Rights, it is a violation of Maryland law to knowing or recklessly provide inaccurate information or refuse to correct it.
On May 14, the CFPB filed a proposed stipulated final judgment and order in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against a mortgage lender and several related individuals and companies (collectively, “defendants”) for alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in January claiming the defendants violated the FCRA by, among other things, illegally obtaining consumer reports from a credit reporting agency for millions of consumers with student loans by representing that the reports would be used to “make firm offers of credit for mortgage loans” and to market mortgage products, but instead, the defendants allegedly resold or provided the reports to companies engaged in marketing student loan debt relief services. The defendants also allegedly violated the TSR by charging and collecting advance fees for their debt relief services. The CFPB further alleged that defendants violated the TSR and CFPA when they used telemarketing sales calls and direct mail to encourage consumers to consolidate their loans, and falsely represented that consolidation could lower student loan interest rates, improve borrowers’ credit scores, and change their servicer to the Department of Education.
If approved by the Court, the Bureau’s proposed settlement would (i) impose an $18 million redress judgment against the mortgage lender, of which all but $200,000 would be suspended due to the lender’s limited ability to pay; (ii) require one of the individuals and his company to disgorge $403,750 in profits to provide redress; (iii) impose a $406,150 judgement against a second individual and his company, which will be suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay; (iv) impose a total $450,001 civil money penalty against the defendants; (v) permanently ban the defendants from the debt-relief industry and from using or obtaining prescreened consumer reports; and (vi) prohibit the defendants from on using or obtaining consumer reports for “any business purpose other than underwriting or otherwise evaluating mortgage loans.”
- Hank Asbill to discuss "The federal fraud sentencing guidelines: It's time to stop the madness" at a New York Criminal Bar Association webinar
- Daniel P Stipano to moderate "Digital identity: The next gen of CIP" at the American Bankers Association/American Bar Association Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference