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On April 30, the CFPB issued its annual fair lending report to Congress, which outlines the Bureau’s efforts in 2019 to fulfill its fair lending mandate. According to the report, in 2019 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 lending, student loans, and small business lending. The Bureau also highlighted three policies released over the last year to promote innovation and to facilitate compliance: the No-Action Letter Policy, the Trial Disclosure Program Policy, and the Compliance Assistance Sandbox Policy (covered by InfoBytes here). Additionally, the report discussed the Bureau’s efforts in encouraging consumer-friendly innovation to expand access to unbanked and underbanked consumers and communities. These include: (i) using alternative data in credit underwriting to expand credit access responsibly; (ii) issuing a request for information on the use of “Tech Sprints” (covered by InfoBytes here) to encourage regulatory innovation and stakeholder collaboration; (iii) continuing to enforce fair lending laws such as ECOA and HMDA, including reaching a settlement with one of the largest HDMA reporters nationwide to resolve HMDA reporting allegations; and (iv) engaging with stakeholders to discuss fair lending compliance, issues related to credit access, and policy decisions. The report also provides information related to supervision, enforcement, rulemaking, and education efforts.
On April 24, a proposed class of borrowers and a national student loan servicer agreed to settle a lawsuit, which alleged the servicer failed to inform the borrowers of a loan forgiveness program for public service employees. The proposed settlement, pending final court approval, settles the one remaining deceptive acts and practices claim under a section of the New York General Business Law after the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the rest of the borrowers’ claims last July. The court noted in its order that it did not agree with the servicer’s argument that the claims were preempted by the federal Higher Education Act (HEA), stating that the borrowers “do not seek to impose state law ‘disclosure requirements’ on federal student loans,” but instead “seek to hold [the servicer] liable for affirmative misrepresentations made in the course of performing its duties under various contracts.” According to the court’s order, language under the HEA “does not express the ‘clear and manifest purpose of Congress’ to preempt such claims.”
While the servicer denies any allegations of wrongful conduct and damages, it has agreed to, among other things, put in place enhancements to identify borrowers who may qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness and “distribute comprehensive and accurate information about how to qualify, which are meaningful business practice enhancements.” The servicer will also fund a $1.75 million education and counseling program for student loan borrowers in public service.
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation has issued responses to frequently asked questions regarding the expansion of payment relief for student borrowers. The FAQs provide guidance to borrowers regarding relief options with respect to student loans.
On April 22, the Virginia legislature enacted SB 77, which requires entities servicing student loans in the Commonwealth to be licensed by the State Corporation Commission (SCC). Notably, banks, savings institutions, credit unions, and financial institutions regulated under 12 U.S.C. § 2002 are exempt from the licensing requirements. In addition to outlining specific licensing requirements, SB 77 states that non-exempt student loan servicers must also refrain from, among other things, (i) engaging in any unfair or deceptive act or practice in connection with the servicing of a qualified education loan by misrepresenting the amount, nature, or terms of any loan fees or payments, the terms and conditions of the loan agreement, or the borrower’s loan obligations; (ii) misapplying loan payments to an outstanding balance; (iii) failing to report both the favorable and unfavorable payment history of a borrower to a nationally recognized consumer credit bureau at least once a year provided the loan servicer regularly reports such information; (iv) failing to communicate with a borrower’s authorized representative; and (v) making false statements or omitting material facts in connection with information provided to the SCC or another government authority. Student loan servicers must also comply with other requirements, such as evaluating qualified borrowers for income-driven repayment programs, and responding to borrowers’ written inquiries within 30 days.
Additionally, SB 77 creates a private cause of action available to “[a]ny person who suffers damage as a result of the failure of a qualified education loan servicer to comply” with the bill’s requirements or with applicable federal student loan servicing laws and regulations. The bill further provides that violations are subject to a civil penalty not exceeding $2,500 and are considered prohibited practices under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. SB 77 has a delayed effective date of July 1, 2021; however, the SCC will begin accepting applications starting on or before March 1, 2021.
On April 23 and 21, nine states announced a multi-state initiative to provide student loan relief options for borrowers with privately held student loans not covered by the CARES Act. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington outlined within their announcements specific measures for borrowers with commercially-owned Federal Family Education Loan Program loans and borrowers with private student loans who are struggling to make payments due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The announcements also noted that Virginia is participating in the initiative as well. These relief options, offered in conjunction with the listed private student loan servicers, include (i) a minimum 90-days of forbearance relief; (ii) a waiver of late fees; (iii) no negative credit reporting; (iv) a 90-day moratorium on collection lawsuits; and (v) enrollment in applicable borrower assistance programs, such as income-based repayment. The states cautioned that enrollment in these relief options is not automatic, and recommended borrowers contact their student loan servicer to see what options best suit their needs.
In addition, California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington recommended that regulated student loan servicers with limited ability to take these actions due to investor restrictions or contractual obligations “should instead proactively work with loan holders whenever possible to relax those restrictions or obligations.”
On April 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated a district court’s dismissal of borrowers’ state law claims against a student loan servicer, holding that the claims were not preempted by the federal Higher Education Act (HEA). The decision results from a lawsuit filed by two federal student loan borrowers who alleged the servicer violated the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA) and other state laws by making “affirmative misrepresentations to them and to other borrowers that they were on track to have their student loans forgiven based on their public-service employment when, in fact, their loans were ineligible for the forgiveness program.” The borrowers claimed that, after making years of payments, they discovered they were not eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program because most of their loans were not federal direct loans. Both borrowers contended that had they not been misinformed, they would have taken the necessary steps to ensure eligibility. The district court dismissed the borrowers’ claims on the grounds that they were expressly preempted under section 1098g of the HEA, which prohibits the application of state-law disclosure requirements to federal student loans.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit determined that the borrowers’ claims were not expressly preempted by the HEA, concluding that the precise language in section 1098g “preempts only state law that imposes disclosure requirements; state law causes of action arising out of affirmative misrepresentations a servicer voluntarily made that did not concern the subject matter of required disclosures imposes no ‘disclosure requirements.’” Among other things, the appellate court noted that the borrowers did not allege that the servicer failed to provide information it was legally obligated to disclose, but rather that the information provided to the borrowers concerning their eligibility for the PSLF program was false. “Holding [the servicer] liable for offering false information would therefore neither impose nor equate to imposing on servicers a duty to disclose information,” the appellate court wrote. In addition to dismissing the servicer’s field preemption argument, the appellate court reasoned that its decision “does no harm to standardization of disclosures for federal student loan programs.” The court vacated the district court’s dismissal, and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Southern District of New York Bankruptcy Court issues general order addressing certain filings, documentation requirements, and deadlines
On April 9, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York issued General Order M-545 regarding court operations under the exigent circumstances created by Covid-19. Effective immediately, with respect to cases filed by an individual under chapters 7, 11, 12, and 13 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, the general order:
- Suspends the requirement that a CM/ECF user secure the signer’s original signature prior to electronically filing a document bearing the signature, provided certain requirements are met.
- Provides guidance on documentation that creditors (mortgage holders or servicers) must file in connection with a temporary suspension of mortgage payments.
- Extends any deadline under the Loss Mitigation Program Procedures or Student Loan Mediation Program Procedures that has not expired as of March 16, 2020, to July 1, 2020.
- Provides an alternate standard for establishing a debtor’s identification for purposes of a meeting of creditors under section 341 of the bankruptcy code.
The order expires on July 1, 2020 unless modified by further order.
On April 9, the CFPB released updated guidance for student loan borrowers during the Covid-19 pandemic. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau first released student loan borrower information on March 27, which covered debt relief provided by the CARES Act, including the automatic freeze on student loan payments until September 30 for those with federally held loans. Servicers will send required notices detailing the payment freeze to borrowers by the middle of April. The guidance notes that some federal student loans—including some Federal Family Education Loans—may be held by commercial lenders. These loans and other privately held loans do not qualify for automatic suspension of payments, and the Bureau encourages borrowers to contact their servicers for debt relief options such as deferment or forbearance if borrowers have difficulty making payments at this time. Borrowers with Perkins loans may also request loan forbearance from the borrowers’ institution for up to three months without submitting documentation.
On April 2, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) announced a lawsuit against one of the nation’s largest student loan servicers seeking an order requiring the production of documents related to the servicer’s administration of the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant program. According to the press release, DBO began an examination in January under the California Student Loan Servicing Act (Act) to determine whether the licensed servicer is improperly converting California teachers’ TEACH grants into loans with back interest. In its complaint, DBO states that the servicer’s refusal to produce records concerning its “handling of the TEACH program reconsideration process” is based on arguments that California law is preempted by the federal Higher Education Act, and that student borrower records are “legally owned” by the Department of Education and cannot be released under the federal Privacy Act of 1974. Because of the servicer’s refusal to produce the records, DBO claims that the servicer “has failed to satisfy its statutory duties,” and has “unduly restrained” DBO’s ability to both oversee the administration of student loan servicing in the state and protect California student loan borrowers. DBO seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction, as well as a declaratory judgment against the servicer to compel compliance with the Act.
On April 8, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sent a letter to the Department of Education urging the Department to focus the CARES Act funding for institutions of higher education on public and nonprofit schools. In addition, the lawmakers call for “strong accountability polices” if for-profit colleges are eligible for the funds. The recommended policies “to protect students and taxpayers” include: (i) requiring that all funding must be used for “student instruction, emergency financial aid to students, and student support services”; (ii) preventing for-profit colleges from using the funds for executive compensation and freezing executive compensation; (iii) preventing publicly-traded for-profit colleges from buying back their stock; (iv) preventing for-profit colleges from using the funds for recruiting, marketing and advertising; (v) preventing for-profit colleges that receive funds from receiving other CARES Act funds; (iv) “[c]onsider[ing] CARES Act funding as federal funding for 90/10 compliance”; and (v) requiring that Congress receive a report detailing “how for-profit colleges used the funds.” The letter requests replies to the questions by April 21.
- 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