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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • Agencies file amicus brief on use of term “applicant” in ECOA


    On December 16, the CFPB filed a joint amicus brief with the DOJ, Federal Reserve Board, and the FTC arguing that the term “applicant” as used in ECOA and its implementing rule, Regulation B, includes both those seeking credit as well as persons who have sought and have received credit (i.e., current borrowers). (See also a Bureau blog post discussing the brief.) The amicus brief is in support of a plaintiff in an action where the plaintiff consumer sued a national bank for closing his credit card account without providing an explanation for the adverse action as required by ECOA. The case is currently on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit after a district court determined that ECOA protections only apply “during the process of requesting credit and do not protect those with existing credit accounts.”

    The central issue identified in the brief revolves around whether ECOA applies beyond persons seeking credit to persons who have already received credit. The brief focused on this issue by analyzing (i) ECOA’s text, history and purpose; (ii) the application of Regulation B; and (iii) alleged incorrect interpretations in the underlying defendant’s arguments. In looking at the text of ECOA, the brief asserted that ECOA applies to “applicants” without regard to how their credit is resolved because ECOA defines “applicant” as “any person who applies to a creditor directly for an extension, renewal, or continuation of credit, or applies to a creditor indirectly by use of an existing credit plan for an amount exceeding a previously established credit limit.” In further analyzing the statutory text, the brief further explained that ECOA also gives consumers the right to adverse action notices, which include the “revocation of credit” as well as a “change in the terms of an existing credit arrangement”—actions, the brief stated, “that can be taken only with respect to persons who have already received credit.” The brief also stated that legislative history shows it was Congress’s intent to reach discrimination “in any aspect of a credit transaction.”

    In looking at the context of Regulation B, the brief asserted, among other things, that ECOA’s protections continue to apply after an applicant receives credit, explaining that Regulation B “did so by defining ‘applicant’ to include, ‘[w]ith respect to any creditor[,] … any person to whom credit is or has been extended by that creditor.’” Moreover, the brief asserted, ECOA provides a private right of action, which allows aggrieved applicants to file suits for alleged ECOA/Regulation B violations. In this instance, the term “applicant” cannot be meant to refer only to consumers with pending credit applications because otherwise a consumer whose application was denied on a prohibited basis would have no private right of action recourse. These references, the brief emphasized, “further confirm that the term “applicant” is not limited to those currently applying for credit.”

    Courts CFPB DOJ Federal Reserve FTC Amicus Brief ECOA Regulation B Appellate Seventh Circuit Consumer Finance

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  • CFPB reaches settlement with online lender

    Federal Issues

    On December 30, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California approved the stipulated final judgment and order against a California-based online lender (defendant) for alleged violations of fair lending regulations and a 2016 consent order. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint against the defendant (the third action taken against the defendant by the CFPB) for allegedly violating the terms of a 2016 consent order related to false claims about its lending program. The 2016 consent order alleged that the defendant engaged in deceptive practices by misrepresenting, among other things, the fees it charged, the loan products that were available to consumers, and whether the loans would be reported to credit reporting companies, in violation of the CFPA, TILA, and Regulation Z (covered by InfoBytes here). According to the September 8 complaint, the defendants continued with much of the same illegal and deceptive marketing that was prohibited by the 2016 consent order. Among other things, the complaint alleged that the defendants violated the terms of the 2016 consent order and various laws by: (i) deceiving consumers about the benefits of repeat borrowing; and (ii) failing to provide timely and accurate adverse-action notices, which is in violation of ECOA and Regulation B.

    The settlement prohibits the defendant from: (i) making new loans; (ii) collecting on outstanding loans to harmed consumers; (iii) selling consumer information; and (iv) making misrepresentations when providing loans or collecting debt or helping others that are doing so. The order also imposes a $100,000 civil money penalty based on the defendant’s inability to pay.

    Federal Issues CFPB Enforcement CFPA TILA ECOA Regulation Z Regulation B Consumer Finance Fair Lending Online Lending UDAAP Deceptive Courts

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  • CFPB supervisory highlights cover wide range of violations

    Federal Issues

    On December 8, the CFPB released its fall 2021 Supervisory Highlights, which details its supervisory and enforcement actions in the areas of credit card account management, debt collection, deposits, fair lending, mortgage servicing, payday lending, prepaid accounts, and remittance transfers. The report’s findings cover examinations that were completed between January and June of 2021 in addition to prior supervisory findings that led to public enforcement actions in the first half of 2021. Highlights of the examination findings include:

    • Credit Card Account Management. Bureau examiners identified violations of Regulation Z related to billing error resolution, including instances where creditors failed to (i) resolve disputes within two complete billing cycles after receiving a billing error notice; (ii) reimburse late fees after determining a missed payment was not credited to a consumer’s account; and (iii) conduct reasonable investigations into billing error notices concerning missed payments and unauthorized transactions. Examiners also identified deceptive acts or practices related to credit card issuers’ advertising practices.
    • Debt Collection. The Bureau found instances of FDCPA violations where debt collectors represented to consumers that their creditworthiness would improve upon final payment under a repayment plan and the deletion of the tradeline. Because credit worthiness is impacted by numerous factors, examiners found “that such representations could lead the least sophisticated consumer to conclude that deleting derogatory information would result in improved creditworthiness, thereby creating the risk of a false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect a debt in violation of Section 807(10).”
    • Deposits. The Bureau discussed violations related to Regulation E, including error resolution violations related to misdirected payment transfers and failure to investigate error notices where consumers alleged funds were sent via a person-to-person payment network but the intended recipient did not receive the funds.
    • Fair Lending. The report noted instances where examiners cited violations of ECOA and Regulation B by lenders "discriminating against African American and female borrowers in the granting of pricing exceptions based upon competitive offers from other institutions,” which led to observed pricing disparities, specifically as compared to similarly situated non-Hispanic white and male borrowers. Among other things, examiners also observed that lenders’ policies and procedures contributed to pricing discrimination, and that lenders improperly inquired about small business applicants’ religion and considered religion in the credit decision process.
    • Mortgage Servicing. The Bureau noted that it is prioritizing mortgage servicing supervision attributed to the increase in borrowers needing loss mitigation assistance due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Examiners found violations of Regulations Z and X, as well as unfair and deceptive acts and practices. Unfair acts or practices included those related to (i) charging delinquency-related fees to borrowers in CARES Act forbearances; (ii) failing to terminate preauthorized EFTs; and (iii) assessing fees for services exceeding the actual cost of the performed services. Deceptive acts or practices found by examiners related to mortgage servicers included incorrectly disclosed transaction and payment information in a borrower’s online mortgage loan account. Mortgage servicers also allegedly failed to evaluate complete loss mitigation applications within 30 days, incorrectly handled partial payments, and failed to automatically terminate PMI in a timely manner. The Bureau noted in its press release that it is “actively working to support an inclusive and equitable economic recovery, which means ensuring all mortgage servicers meet their homeowner protection obligations under applicable consumer protection laws,” and will continue to work with the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, NCUA, OCC, and state financial regulators to address any compliance failures (covered by InfoBytes here). 
    • Payday Lending. The report identified unfair and deceptive acts or practices related to payday lenders erroneously debiting consumers’ loan balances after a consumer applied and received confirmation for a loan extension, misrepresenting that consumers would only pay extension fees on the original due dates of their loans, and failing to honor loan extensions. Examiners also found instances where lenders debited or attempted one or more duplicate unauthorized debits from a consumer’s bank account. Lenders also violated Regulation E by failing “to retain, for a period of not less than two years, evidence of compliance with the requirements imposed by EFTA.”
    • Prepaid Accounts. Bureau examiners found violations of Regulation E and EFTA related to stop-payment waivers at financial institutions, which, among other things, failed to honor stop-payment requests received at least three business days before the scheduled date of the transfer. Examiners also observed instances where service providers improperly required consumers to contact the merchant before processing a stop-payment request or failed to process stop-payment requests due to system limitations even if a consumer had contacted the merchant. The report cited additional findings where financial institutions failed to properly conduct error investigations.
    • Remittance Transfers. Bureau examiners identified violations of Regulation E related to the Remittance Rule, in which providers “received notices of errors alleging that remitted funds had not been made available to the designated recipient by the disclosed date of availability” and then failed to “investigate whether a deduction imposed by a foreign recipient bank constituted a fee that the institutions were required to refund to the sender, and subsequently did not refund that fee to the sender.”

    The report also highlights recent supervisory program developments and enforcement actions.

    Federal Issues CFPB Supervision Enforcement Consumer Finance Examination Credit Cards Debt Collection Regulation Z FDCPA Deposits Regulation E Fair Lending ECOA Regulation B Mortgages Mortgage Servicing Regulation X Covid-19 CARES Act Electronic Fund Transfer Payday Lending EFTA Prepaid Accounts Remittance Transfer Rule

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  • Chopra, Hsu encourage use of special purpose credit programs

    Federal Issues

    On December 6, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra released a statement regarding HUD’s guidance, also issued that day, clarifying that special purpose credit programs that conform with ECOA and its implementing regulation, Regulation B, generally do not violate the Federal Housing Act. According to HUD’s memorandum, the two statutes are complementary and “intended to harmoniously coexist.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in December 2020, the CFPB issued an advisory opinion addressing Regulation B as it applies to certain aspects of special purpose credit programs. In his statement, Chopra encouraged creditors “to explore the opportunities available through special purpose credit programs,” which “provide targeted means by which creditors can better serve communities who have been historically shut out or otherwise disadvantaged.”

    Acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael Hsu also issued a statement encouraging banks and federal savings associations to “explore the opportunities available through special purpose credit programs.” Taking advantage of the special purpose credit program provisions of ECOA and Regulation B “can be a significant step in addressing the racial and ethnic homeownership and wealth gaps that persist in the United States,” Hsu stated.

    Federal Issues HUD CFPB OCC Bank Regulatory Regulation B ECOA Fair Housing Act SPCP Consumer Finance

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  • Uejio says SPCPs may help economically disadvantaged homeowners

    Federal Issues

    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.”

    Federal Issues CFPB ECOA Regulation B Covid-19 Discrimination SPCP

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  • CFPB: Lenders cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity

    Federal Issues

    On March 9, the CFPB issued an interpretive rule to clarify that ECOA’s prohibition against sex discrimination includes sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. “This prohibition also covers discrimination based on actual or perceived nonconformity with traditional sex- or gender-based stereotypes, and discrimination based on an applicant’s social or other associations,” the Bureau stated. In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, holding that “the prohibition against sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 encompasses sexual orientation discrimination and gender identity discrimination.” Following the Court’s decision, the Bureau issued a request for information (RFI) seeking, among other things, feedback on ways to provide clarity under ECOA and/or Regulation B related to the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of a sexual orientation or gender identity. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Consistent with the Bostock decision and supported by many comments received in response to the RFI, the Bureau issued the interpretive rule to address any regulatory uncertainty that may still exist regarding the term “sex” under ECOA/Regulation B in order to protect against discrimination and ensure fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit for both individuals and communities. The interpretive rule is effective upon publication in the Federal Register.

    The Bureau also announced plans to review—and update as needed—publication and examination guidance documents to reflect the interpretive rule, and intends to take appropriate enforcement action against financial institutions that violate ECOA.

    Federal Issues CFPB ECOA Regulation B Fair Lending

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  • FTC provides annual ECOA summary to CFPB

    Federal Issues

    On February 3, the FTC announced it recently provided the CFPB with its annual summary of work on ECOA-related policy issues, focusing specifically on the Commission’s activities with respect to Regulation B during 2020. The summary discusses, among other things, the following FTC research and policy development initiatives:

    • The FTC submitted a comment letter in response to the CFPB’s request for information on ways to provide additional clarity under ECOA (covered by InfoBytes here). Among other things, the FTC noted that Regulation B explicitly incorporates disparate impact and offered suggestions should the Bureau choose to provide additional detail regarding its approach to disparate impact analysis. The FTC also urged the Bureau to remind entities offering credit to small businesses that ECOA and Regulation B may apply based “on the facts and circumstances involved” and that entities cannot avoid application of these statutes based solely on how they characterize a transaction or the benefits they claim to provide.
    • The FTC hosted the 13th Annual FTC Microeconomics Conference, which focused on the use of machine-learning algorithms when making decisions in areas such as credit access.
    • The FTC’s Military Task Force continued to work on military consumer protection issues, including military consumers’ “rights to various types of notifications as applicants for credit, including for adverse action, and information about the anti-discrimination provisions, in ECOA and Regulation B.”
    • The FTC continued to participate in the Interagency Task Force on Fair Lending, along with the CFPB, DOJ, HUD, and the federal banking regulatory agencies. The Commission also joined the newly formed Interagency Fair Lending Methodologies Working Group with the aforementioned agencies in order “to coordinate and share information on analytical methodologies used in enforcement of and supervision for compliance with fair lending laws, including ECOA.”

    The summary also highlights FTC ECOA enforcement actions, business and consumer education efforts on fair lending issues, as well as blog posts discussing fair lending safeguards and the use of artificial intelligence in automated decision-making.

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement CFPB ECOA Fair Lending Artificial Intelligence Regulation B

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  • CFPB releases LEP statement

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On January 13, the CFPB released fair-lending guidance for financial institutions that provide services to borrowers with limited English proficiency (LEP). As previously covered by InfoBytes, last July the Bureau issued a request for information that sought, among other things, information on ways to provide clarity under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and/or Regulation B related to meeting the credit needs of LEP borrowers. During a 2020 roundtable focusing on LEP issues, the Bureau was also urged to publish additional guidance to assist financial institutions in expanding products and services to LEP consumers while also maintaining compliance with statutes and regulations. The Statement Regarding the Provision of Financial Products and Services to Consumers with Limited English Proficiency (Statement) incorporates feedback received from stakeholder groups, advocacy organizations, financial institutions, financial regulators, and trade associations. The Statement addresses, among other challenges, issues “related to balancing legal requirements and practical considerations” and potential UDAAP risks associated with offering support in certain non-English languages but not in others. The Statement further provides principles and guidance to assist financial institutions when making decisions related to assisting LEP consumers. Additionally, the Statement also includes key considerations and guidelines for institutions to use when developing compliance solutions for providing products and services in non-English languages to LEP consumers, while at the same time complying with Dodd-Frank, ECOA, and other applicable laws and regulations.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB Limited English Proficiency Fair Lending ECOA Regulation B Dodd-Frank

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  • FTC comments on application of ECOA, Regulation B in response to CFPB RFI

    Federal Issues

    Recently, FTC staff submitted a comment letter in response to the CFPB’s request for information (RFI) seeking input on ways to provide additional clarity under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and implementing Regulation B. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB issued the RFI last July requesting comments on ways to create a regulatory environment that expands credit access and ensures consumers and communities are protected from discrimination with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction. Included in the RFI was a request for input on whether “the Bureau should provide additional clarity regarding its approach to disparate impact analysis under ECOA and/or Regulation B.” Citing to legislative history, the FTC noted that Regulation B explicitly incorporates disparate impact, and stressed that “[a]rticulating a single approach to disparate impact analysis that covers diverse sets of present and future facts and circumstances of discrimination could be difficult and could risk being both over and under inclusive.” The FTC suggested that if the Bureau chooses to provide additional detail regarding its approach to disparate impact analysis, a disclaimer should be included that such information is not intended to “bless” any violations of ECOA and Regulation B, but is rather “intended to provide examples of how the agency might approach a fair lending matter.”

    In response to the Bureau’s request for information about ways it might support efforts to meet the credit needs of small businesses, the FTC highlighted recent enforcement actions involving small businesses, including actions involving deceptively advertised financial products and unfair billing and collection practices, particularly with respect to merchant cash advances. The FTC also urged the Bureau to remind entities offering credit to small businesses that ECOA and Regulation B apply and that entities cannot avoid application of these statutes based solely on how they characterize a transaction or the benefits they claim to provide. The FTC further stressed that collecting small business lending demographic data could aid in enforcement efforts, as would encouraging small businesses to report misconduct and refer complaints to the FTC and the states. In addition, the FTC highlighted the importance of educating small businesses about different products and terms, as well as potential law violations, which could assist small businesses in comparing products resulting in less expensive financing options.

    Federal Issues CFPB FTC ECOA Regulation B Disparate Impact Small Business Lending Merchant Cash Advance

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  • CFPB issues advisory opinion on special purpose credit programs

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On December 21, the CFPB issued an advisory opinion addressing ECOA’s implementing regulation, Regulation B, as it applies to certain aspects of special purpose credit programs (SPCPs). The CFPB issued the advisory opinion in response to feedback from the Bureau’s request for information (RFI) covering ECOA and Regulation B issued in July (covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau notes that, while Regulation B provides creditors guidance for developing SPCPs that comply with ECOA, stakeholders were interested in additional guidance to ensure the development of compliant SPCPs. To address this, the advisory opinion clarifies (i) the content that a for-profit organization must include in an SPCP written plan, including details regarding the class of persons designed to benefit from the program and the procedures for extending credit pursuant to the program; and (ii) the type of research and data that may be appropriate to inform a for-profit organization’s determination that a SPCP would benefit a certain class of people, which can include external sources such as HMDA data.

    For more details on the CFPB’s advisory opinion program, please see InfoBytes coverage here.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB ECOA Regulation B

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