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On September 1, CFPB acting Director Dave Uejio spoke before the National Fair Housing Alliance’s forum on special purpose credit programs (SPCPs) to address discrimination and inequity trends in homeownership and explore ways that SPCPs could be used to promote fair and equitable access to credit and mortgage markets. Uejio discussed a Bureau report detailing the “enormous toll” that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on minority homeowners and cautioned that Black and Hispanic homeowners will be disproportionately represented in foreclosure data once pandemic housing protections end. To address these issues, Uejio referred to a Bureau advisory opinion issued last December, which provided creditors additional guidance for complying with ECOA to ensure the development of compliant SPCPs. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) While ECOA and Regulation B prohibit discrimination on a prohibited basis in any aspect of a credit transaction, SPCP provisions under the statute and regulation provide specific means to allow creditors meet special social needs and benefit economically-disadvantaged groups. “The SPCP provision in ECOA is also a recognition that government alone cannot solve this problem,” Uejio stated. “All of us—regulators, policymakers, nonprofits, advocates, and mortgage lenders—must work together.”
On August 30, the DOJ and the OCC announced coordinated efforts to resolve allegations of lending discrimination by a Georgia-based bank for violations of the Fair Housing Act and ECOA by allegedly redlining predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Texas from 2013-2017. The OCC, which referred the matter to DOJ, ordered the bank to pay a $3.3 million civil money penalty. Under the DOJ’s settlement, the bank will invest more than $5.5 million to increase credit opportunities for residents of those neighborhoods.
On August 5, the OCC issued Bulletin 2021-35, which informs national banks, federal savings associations, and federal branches and agencies of foreign banking organizations (collectively, banks) of the names and addresses for notices required by the CRA, ECOA, and for posters under the Fair Housing Act. Banks are required to make the appropriate changes to their notices and posters, as necessary, within 90 days of August 5.
This bulletin rescinds OCC Bulletin 2011-41, “Community Reinvestment Act Notices, Fair Housing Act Posters, Equal Credit Opportunity Act Notices: Guidance.”
On July 1, FHFA released a policy statement on its commitment to “comprehensive” fair lending oversight of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Banks (collectively, “regulated entities”), in addition to expanding FHFA’s fair lending program. The statement describes FHFA’s position on monitoring and information gathering, supervisory examinations, and administrative enforcement regarding ECOA, the Fair Housing Act, and the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act. FHFA noted the purpose of the policy statement is “to provide a foundation for possible future interpretations and rulemakings by the agency for its regulated entities.” FHFA also issued an order on fair lending reporting that requires Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to submit quarterly fair lending reports and data. Comments on the policy statement are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On May 26, the OCC announced a series of examiner-led virtual workshops for the boards of directors of community national banks and federal savings associations. The workshops will focus on emerging issues regarding compliance risk, and will provide training and guidance on implementing effective compliance risk management programs, as well as guidance on regulations such as the Bank Secrecy Act and ECOA. A schedule of the upcoming workshops is available here.
On April 27, the CFPB announced a consent order against a nationwide, New Jersey-based mortgage broker and direct lender for allegedly sending deceptive loan advertisements to hundreds of thousands of older borrowers. According to the CFPB, the respondent’s advertisements and letters violated the Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule (MAP Rule), TILA, and the CFPA, by, among other things; (i) misrepresenting the costs of reverse mortgages, including fees, associated taxes, and insurance; (ii) failing to inform borrowers that if they did not continue to pay taxes or insurance they were at risk of losing their homes; (iii) creating the impression that consumers had a preexisting relationship with the lender; and (iv) informing consumers that they were preapproved for specific loan amounts and likely to obtain particular terms or refinancing. Under the terms of the consent order, the respondent is required to pay a $140,000 civil money penalty. Additionally, an advertising compliance official must review the respondent’s mortgage advertisement template before it is put into use in an advertisement “to ensure that it is compliant with the MAP Rule, Regulation Z, TILA, the CFPA,” as well as the consent order. The respondent must also develop and provide the CFPB a “comprehensive compliance plan designed to ensure that Respondent’s mortgage advertising complies with all applicable Federal consumer financial laws and the terms of this Order.”
On April 19, the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection wrote a blog post identifying lessons learned to manage the consumer protection risks of artificial intelligence (AI) technology and algorithms. According to the FTC, over the years the Commission has addressed the challenges presented by the use of AI and algorithms to make decisions about consumers, and has taken many enforcement actions against companies for allegedly violating laws such as the FTC Act, FCRA, and ECOA when using AI and machine learning technology. The FTC stated that it has used its expertise with these laws to: (i) report on big data analytics and machine learning; (ii) conduct a hearing on algorithms, AI, and predictive analytics; and (iii) issue business guidance on AI and algorithms. To assist companies navigating AI, the FTC has provided the following guidance:
- Start with the right foundation. From the beginning, companies should consider ways to enhance data sets, design models to account for data gaps, and confine where or how models are used. The FTC advised that if a “data set is missing information from particular populations, using that data to build an AI model may yield results that are unfair or inequitable to legally protected groups.”
- Watch out for discriminatory outcomes. It is vital for companies to test algorithms—both prior to use and periodically after that—to prevent discrimination based on race, gender, or other protected classes.
- Embrace transparency and independence. Companies should consider how to embrace transparency and independence, such as “by using transparency frameworks and independent standards, by conducting and publishing the results of independent audits, and by opening. . . data or source code to outside inspection.”
- Don’t exaggerate what your algorithm can do or whether it can deliver fair or unbiased results. Under the FTC Act, company “statements to business customers and consumers alike must be truthful, non-deceptive, and backed up by evidence.”
- Data transparency. In the FTC guidance on AI last year, as previously covered by InfoBytes, an advisory warned companies to be careful about how they get the data that powers their models.
- Do more good than harm. Companies are warned that if their models cause “more harm than good—that is, in Section 5 parlance, if it causes or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers that is not reasonably avoidable by consumers and not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or to competition—the FTC can challenge the use of that model as unfair.”
- Importance of accountability. The FTC warns of the importance of being transparent and independent and cautions companies to hold themselves accountable or the FTC may do it for them.
On April 12, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied defendants’ motion to compel arbitration in a matter alleging a lender denied plaintiffs’ applications based on their immigration status. The plaintiffs filed a putative class action against the defendants, alleging the lender denied their loan applications based on one of the plaintiff’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status and the other plaintiff’s status as a conditional permanent resident. The plaintiffs claimed that these practices constituted unlawful discrimination and “alienage discrimination” in violation of federal law and California state law. The plaintiffs also alleged that the lender violated the FCRA by accessing one of their credit reports without a permissible purpose. The defendants moved to compel arbitration and dismiss the claims.
With respect to the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration, the lender claimed that the DACA plaintiff “expressly consented to arbitration” when he was required to check a box labeled “I agree” in order to proceed with his online student loan refinancing application back in 2016. However, the DACA plaintiff argued the arbitration agreement “lacked adequate consideration” because he was ineligible for a loan as a DACA applicant, and that even if it were a valid agreement, it only applied to his 2016 application and not to his subsequent attempts to refinance his student loans. In denying the lender’s motion to compel arbitration, the court concluded that the DACA plaintiff did not claim that he was seeking to reopen or have the lender reconsider his 2016 application, but rather he asserted that these were “standalone attempted transactions,” and as such, did not fall within the scope of the 2016 arbitration agreement.
In reviewing whether the lender’s policies constitute alienage discrimination, the court determined, among other things, that while the lender “asserts that it does not discriminate against non-citizens because some non-citizens—namely [lawful permanent residents] and some visa-holders—are still eligible to contract for credit with [the lender],” the distinction “is not supported by the language of the statute,” noting that under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, protections “extend to ‘all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States.’” Additionally, the court ruled that the second class of conditional permanent residents whose credit reports were pulled by the lender and allegedly experienced a decrease in their credit scores—despite plaintiffs claiming the lender’s policy states that permanent residents are ineligible for loans if their green cards are valid for two years or less—may proceed with their FCRA claims.
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 March 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that because ECOA does not preempt New Jersey’s common-law doctrine of necessaries (where a spouse is jointly liable for necessary expenses incurred by the other spouse) a defendant debt collector was permitted to send medical debt collection letters to a deceased individual’s spouse without violating the FDCPA. The defendant was retained to collect the deceased spouse’s medical debt and sent collection letters to the plaintiff who maintained she was not responsible for the debt and subsequently filed suit alleging violations of the FDCPA. The defendant moved for dismissal, arguing that the plaintiff owed the debt under New Jersey’s doctrine of necessaries because her deceased spouse incurred the debt for medical treatment. The district court agreed and dismissed the case. The plaintiff appealed, arguing, among other things, that the doctrine of necessaries conflicts with the spousal-signature prohibition found in the ECOA.
In affirming the district court’s dismissal, the 3rd Circuit concluded that “ECOA does not preempt the doctrine of necessaries because the debt is ‘incidental credit’ exempt from the prohibition.” According to the 3rd Circuit, the Federal Reserve Board determined that incidental credit is exempt from the § 202.7(d) spousal-signature prohibition because it “refers to extensions of consumer credit. . .(i) [t]hat are not made pursuant to the terms of a credit card account; (ii) [t]hat are not subject to a finance charge. . .and (iii) [t]hat are not payable by agreement in more than four installments.” The 3rd Circuit determined that because the medical debt in question satisfied all three criteria, the spousal-signature prohibition did not apply, and therefore ECOA and its regulations did not conflict with the doctrine of necessaries. Further, the 3rd Circuit held that ECOA focuses “on ensuring the availability of credit rather than the allocation of liability between spouses.”
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Updates on Artificial Intelligence Regulations - the U.S. and EU” at the American Bar Association Busines Law Section Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Government investigations, and compliance 2021 trends” at the Corporate Counsel Women of Color Career Strategies Conference
- APPROVED Webcast: California debt collection license requirement: Overview and analysis
- Max Bonici to discuss “BSA/AML trends: What to expect with the implementation of the AML Act of 2020” at the American Bar Association Banking Law Fall Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Regulators are gearing up: Are you ready?” at HousingWire Annual
- Amanda R. Lawrence and Elizabeth E. McGinn discuss “U.S. state privacy legislation – Are you compliant?” at the Privacy+Security Forum
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss “Modifications and exiting forbearance” at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Jonice Gray Tucker and Kari K. Hall to discuss “Consumer Protection Priorities in the Biden Administration and Beyond" at the SWABC and TBA 2021 Legal Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Truth in lending” at the American Bar Association National Institute on Consumer Financial Services Basics
- John R. Coleman and Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “Consumer financial services government enforcement actions – The CFPB and beyond” at the Government Investigations & Civil Litigation Institute Annual Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek