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  • CFPB issues final rule re: credit reporting on human trafficking victims

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On June 23, the CFPB issued a final rule implementing amendments to the FCRA intended to assist victims of human trafficking. According to the Bureau’s announcement, the final rule prohibits credit reporting agencies (CRAs) from providing reports containing any adverse items of information resulting from human trafficking. The final rule amends Regulation V to implement changes to the FCRA enacted in December 2021 in the “Debt Bondage Repair Act,” which was included within the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

    Among other things, the final rule establishes methods available for trafficking victims to submit documentation to CRAs establishing that they are a survivor of trafficking (including “determinations made by a wide range of entities, self-attestations signed or certified by certain government entities or their delegates, and documents filed in a court where a central issue is whether the person is a victim of trafficking”). The final rule also requires CRAs to block adverse information in consumer reports after receiving such documentation and ensure survivors’ credit information is reported fairly. CRAs will have four business days to block adverse information once it is reported and 25 business days to make a final determination as to the completeness of the documentation. All CRAs, regardless of reach or scope, must comply with the final rule, including both nationwide credit reporting companies and specialty credit reporting companies.

    The final rule takes July 25.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Credit Report Credit Reporting Agency FCRA Regulation V

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  • CFPB says BNPL needs standardized credit reporting

    Federal Issues

    On June 15, the CFPB published a blog post calling on the Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) industry to establish standardized codes and formats for furnishing information to credit reporting agencies that take into account the unique characteristics of these short-term, no-interest consumer credit products. Citing to the rapid growth within the BNPL industry, the Bureau stressed the need for standardization in how BNPL debts are reported on consumers’ credit reports. According to the Bureau, the three major credit reporting agencies have different policies for handing positive and negative reports on BNPL transactions in consumers’ core credit files. Moving to a more standardized approach would “facilitate the consistent and accurate furnishing of BNPL payment information” the Bureau said, noting that the agency “believes that when BNPL payments are furnished it is important that lenders furnish both positive and negative data.” Consumers who pay on time and may be seeking to build credit should receive the benefits of making timely payments on their BNPL debts, the Bureau said, explaining that this may also impact lenders seeking to understand how much debt a consumer is carrying.

    The Bureau stressed it will continue to monitor the progress of BNPL lenders, credit reporting agencies, and credit scoring companies, and said it plans to “revisit this issue as part of a broader report on the industry stemming from our market monitoring order and responses to a public request for comments.” The Bureau is currently conducting an industry review, which includes a series of orders sent last December to five companies seeking information on the risks and benefits of the BNPL credit model (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Buy Now Pay Later Credit Reporting Agency Credit Scores

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  • CFPB sues credit reporter and one of its executives

    Federal Issues

    On April 12, the CFPB sued a credit reporting agency (CRA), two of its subsidiaries (collectively, “corporate defendants"), and a former senior executive for allegedly violating a 2017 enforcement order in connection with alleged deceptive practices related to their marketing and sale of credit scores, credit reports, and credit-monitoring products to consumers. The 2017 consent order required the corporate defendants to pay a $3 million civil penalty and more than $13.9 million in restitution to affected consumers as well as abide by certain conduct provisions (covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau’s announcement called the corporate defendants “repeat offender[s]” who continued to engage in “digital dark patterns” that caused consumers seeking free credit scores to unknowingly sign up for a credit monitoring service with recurring monthly charges. According to the Bureau’s complaint, the corporate defendants, under the individual defendant’s direction, allegedly violated the 2017 consent order from the day it went into effect instead of implementing agreed-upon policy changes intended to stop consumers from unknowingly signing up for credit monitoring services that charge monthly payments. The Bureau claimed that the corporate defendants’ practices continued even after examiners raised concerns several times. With respect to the individual defendant, the Bureau contended that he had both the “authority and obligation” to ensure compliance with the 2017 consent order but did not do so. Instead, he allowed the corporate defendants to “defy the law and continue engaging in misleading marketing, even in the face of thousands of consumer complaints and refund requests.” The complaint alleges violations of the CFPA, EFTA/ Regulation E, and the FCRA/Regulation V, and seeks a permanent injunction, damages, civil penalties, consumer refunds, restitution, disgorgement and the CFPB’s costs.

    CFPB Director Rohit Chopra issued a statement the same day warning the Bureau will continue to bring cases against repeat offenders. Dedicated units within the Bureau’s enforcement and supervision teams will focus on repeat offenders, Chopra stated, adding that the Bureau will also work with other federal and state law enforcement agencies when repeat violations occur. “Agency and court orders are not suggestions, and we are taking steps to ensure that firms under our jurisdiction do not engage in repeat offenses,” Chopra stressed. He also explained that the charges against the individual defendant are appropriate, as he allegedly, among other things, impeded measures to prevent unintended subscription enrollments and failed to comply with the 2017 consent order, which bound company executives and board members to its terms.

    The CRA issued a press release following the announcement, stating that it considers the Bureau’s claims to be “meritless” and that as required by the consent order, the CRA “submitted to the CFPB for approval a plan detailing how it would comply with the order. The CFPB ignored the compliance plan, despite being obligated to respond and trigger deadlines for implementation. In the absence of any sort of guidance from the CFPB, [the CRA] took affirmative actions to implement the consent order.” Moreover, the CRA noted that “[r]ather than providing any supervisory guidance on this matter and advising [the CRA] of its concerns – like a responsible regulator would – the CFPB stayed silent and saved their claims for inclusion in a lawsuit, including naming a former executive in the complaint,” and that “CFPB’s current leadership refused to meet with us and were determined to litigate and seek headlines through press releases and tweets.” 

    Federal Issues CFPB Enforcement Credit Reporting Agency Deceptive UDAAP Regulation E CFPA FCRA Regulation V Consumer Finance Repeat Offender

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  • 3rd Circuit confirms adversary proceeding required to discharge student debt in bankruptcy

    Courts

    On March 25, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of an FDCPA and FCRA case against a student loan servicer and three credit reporting companies for attempting to collect a loan debt after it had been discharged in bankruptcy. After the discharge and completion of his bankruptcy case, the plaintiff filed suit, alleging the defendants violated the FDCPA and the FCRA by attempting to collect student loan debt that had been discharged. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiff failed to state a claim because under Section 523(a)(8) of the Bankruptcy Code, student loan debt is presumptively non-dischargeable and the plaintiff had not filed an adversary proceeding to determine otherwise.

    On appeal, the plaintiff “argued that he was not required to file an adversary proceeding in Bankruptcy Court to determine the dischargeability of his student loan debt,” and that the Bankruptcy Court’s determination that the plaintiff was indigent rebuts “the presumption that his debt was nondischargeable by satisfying the exception in §523(a)(8) for undue hardship.” However, the appellate court held that “a finding of indigence is not the same as an undue hardship determination under §538(a)(8)” and that while the Bankruptcy Code does not require an adversary proceeding to discharge student loan debt, the procedures established in the Bankruptcy Rules do include such a requirement by providing that adversary proceedings include “a proceeding to determine the dischargeability of a debt” and are commenced by serving a summons and complaint on affected creditors. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed dismissal.

    Courts Appellate Third Circuit Bankruptcy Consumer Finance Student Lending FDCPA FCRA Credit Reporting Agency

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  • District Court: Consumer must notify furnisher directly to remove dispute notification from credit report

    Courts

    On March 21, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee granted a Pennsylvania-based student loan servicer’s (defendant) motion for judgment on the pleadings, ruling that the servicer did not violate the FCRA when furnishing information to a credit reporting agency (CRA) that contained a notation of an “account in dispute” because the plaintiff submitted the removal request only to the CRA and not to the defendant itself. The plaintiff contended that his account was still being reported as in dispute even though he sent a letter to the CRAs indicating that he no longer disputed the tradelines and requesting that the dispute notification be removed. The CRAs forwarded the plaintiff’s dispute to the defendant. Several months later the plaintiff noticed the account was still being reported as in dispute on his credit report. The plaintiff sued, alleging the defendant violated Sections 1681s-2(b) and 1692s-2(b)(1) of the FCRA by, among other things, willfully failing to conduct a reasonable investigation after it received notice from the CRAs of the dispute. The court disagreed, pointing to caselaw which states that if a consumer wants to remove a dispute notification from his or her credit report, the consumer must alert the furnisher—not just the CRA. The court also referenced FTC guidance, which informs consumers that in order to correct mistakes on their credit reports they need to contact both the credit bureau and the furnisher that reported the inaccurate information. Additionally, the court wrote that “a defendant cannot, as a matter of law, fail to conduct a reasonable investigation under § 1681s-2(b) where the plaintiff never terminates the dispute directly with the furnisher, regardless of to whom the plaintiff initially disputed the account.”

    Courts FCRA Consumer Finance Student Lending Student Loan Servicer Credit Reporting Agency Credit Report

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  • Credit bureaus to eliminate 70% of medical debt tradelines

    Federal Issues

    On March 18, three major credit bureaus released a statement announcing that they are eliminating nearly 70 percent of medical collection debt tradelines from consumer credit reports. According to the statement, beginning July 1, “paid medical collection debt will no longer be included on consumer credit reports. In addition, the time period before unpaid medical collection debt would appear on a consumer’s report will be increased from 6 months to one year, giving consumers more time to work with insurance and/or healthcare providers to address their debt before it is reported on their credit file.” Finally, starting in 2023, medical collection debt under $500 will no longer be included on credit reports issued by the three credit bureaus.  The statement noted that the decision to remove medical tradelines from credit reports was taken “after months of industry research.”

    The same day Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, issued a statement supporting the credit bureaus’ announcement regarding medical debt. Brown noted the changes followed a CFPB announcement that it would hold consumer reporting agencies accountable for inaccurate reports (covered by InfoBytes here). Brown expressed his view that the CFPB is taking “real action for consumers” and noted he intends to collaborate with the CFPB to “address the growing burden of medical debt, protect working families, and hold bad actors accountable.”

    Earlier on March 16, the CFPB a released a data spotlight regarding senior adults (those age 65 and older) and medical debt. The survey used information from the 2018 “FINRA Foundation National Financial Capability Study,” which was administered online to a sample of 27,091 adults ages 18 and older. In total, there were 5,166 respondents ages 65 and older. The study found that 8.5 percent of adults over 65 carried medical debt. The Bureau suggested this outcome “is likely the result of older Americans having the highest health insurance coverage rates of all age groups due to their eligibility for coverage through Medicare,” but referenced Medicare coverage as “limited.” The data spotlight also pointed out that, “[m]edical debt is more common among older people of color, older adults with incomes near the poverty line, people who are uninsured, who are currently unmarried, and who don’t own a home,” specifically noting that “[n]on-White older adults and older adults who are not married more often report medical debt than their counterpart.” The Bureau observed that 76 percent of seniors with medical debt are retired, while 17 percent are still employed and nearly 7 percent are disabled, sick, or unable to work. The Bureau noted that a recent job loss, declining health, or the onset of a disability may explain this data. The survey also found that older adults who had medical debt were significantly more likely to report significant cost-related health care challenges and hardships than others in the same age group without medical debt. More than 33.8 percent of older adults with medical debt have skipped medical treatment or a doctor’s visit due to cost, but just 6 percent of seniors without medical debt skipped medical treatment or a doctor’s visit due to cost, according to the survey data.

    Federal Issues CFPB Medical Debt Consumer Finance Credit Report Credit Reporting Agency

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  • CFPB looks at removing medical debt from credit reports

    Federal Issues

    On March 1, the CFPB announced plans to review whether data on unpaid medical bills should be included in consumer credit reports. The Bureau stated in its report, Medical Debt Burden in the United States, that research found $88 billion in medical debt on consumer credit reports, accounting for 58 percent of all uncollected debt tradelines reported to credit reporting agencies (CRAs). “Our credit reporting system is too often used as a tool to coerce and extort patients into paying medical bills they may not even owe,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said in a statement.

    The Bureau noted that medical debt is often less transparent than other types of debt, due to opaque pricing, complicated insurance, charity care coverage, and pricing rules, reporting that in many instances, consumers may not even sign a billing agreement until after receiving treatment. Medical debts often end up in collections, the Bureau added, which can cause far-ranging repercussions even if the bill itself is inaccurate or erroneous. The report noted additional challenges for uninsured consumers, as well as for Black and Latino families, consumers with low incomes, veterans, older adults, and young adults of all races and ethnicities. The report further stated that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation, with costs and medical debt expected to increase post-pandemic, and found that medical debt weakens underwriting accuracy, as it is less predictive of future repayment than reporting on traditional credit obligations. The Bureau pointed out that it has seen dramatic effects when newer credit scoring models weigh medical collections tradelines less heavily, but noted that there has been very little adoption of this approach so far.

    The Bureau stated it intends to examine CRAs to ensure they are collecting accurate information from medical debt collectors and expects CRAs to take action against furnishers who routinely report inaccurate information, including cutting off their access to the system. The Bureau also plans to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to make sure consumers are not forced to pay more than the amount due for medical debt. A January compliance bulletin reminded debt collectors and CRAs of their legal obligations under the FDCPA and the FCRA when collecting, furnishing information about, and reporting medical debts covered by the No Surprises Act. The Bureau also recently supported changes by the Department of Veterans Affairs to amend its regulations related to the conditions by which VA benefit debts or medical debts are reported to CRAs. (Covered by InfoBytes here and here.)

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Medical Debt Credit Reporting Agency Covid-19 FDCPA FCRA Department of Veterans Affairs Department of Health and Human Services Debt Collection

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  • CFPB releases comment letter on FTC enforcement action

    Federal Issues

    On February 18, the CFPB released a comment letter in response to the FTC’s request for comments on its proposed order with a business credit reporting agency alleging that the respondent engaged in deceptive and unfair practices. (Covered by InfoBytes here). In commending the FTC, the CFPB noted that “there are troubling conflicts of interest when the purveyor of credit reports also sells ancillary services.” The CFPB also discussed that the FCRA “may not have contemplated the serious challenges that small businesses face with respect to business credit reports and associated services such as the provision of credit scores,” and that small business “may not benefit” from the FCRA. The Bureau noted that “[b]usiness credit reporting companies should not be able to unfairly harm a small business’s and their owner’s or operator’s financing opportunities.” In supporting “greater remedial authorities for the FTC to be more in line with other civil law enforcement agencies,” the comment letter argued that “[s]tronger authorities for the FTC may help to remediate this full range of harms,” and that the Bureau “stands ready to work with the FTC and other federal and state law enforcement partners to examine whether there are other unlawful practices related to small business credit reporting by other providers.” According to the CFPB, the Bureau will be working with the FTC “to ensure that small businesses are treated fairly when it comes to accessing loans.” The CFPB also noted that it is “working on a rule to shine more light on small business lending, by gathering more data about whether and how small businesses are able to access credit,” and will provide regulators the opportunity “to understand the landscape of credit availability to small businesses that for too long have had to rely on opaque business credit reporting agencies as gatekeepers of financing,” according to the comment letter.

    Federal Issues CFPB FTC Credit Reporting Agency Enforcement FCRA Small Business

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  • 1st Circuit vacates ruling in Maine FCRA case

    Courts

    On February 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated a district court’s ruling that the FCRA preempts amendments to the Maine Fair Credit Reporting Act that govern how certain debts are reported to credit reporting agencies. As previously covered by InfoBytes, a trade association—whose members include the three nationwide consumer credit reporting agencies (CRAs)—sued the Maine attorney general and the superintendent of Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection (collectively, “defendants”) for enacting the 2019 amendments, which, among other things, place restrictions on how medical debts can be reported by the CRAs and govern how CRAs must investigate debt that is allegedly a “product of ‘economic abuse.’” The trade association argued that the amendments, which attempt to regulate the contents of an individual’s consumer report, are preempted by the FCRA, and contended that language under FCRA Section 1681t(b)(1)(E) should be read to encompass all claims relating to information contained in consumer reports. The district court agreed, ruling that, as a matter of law, the amendments are preempted by § 1681t(b)(1)(E). According to the court, Congress’ language and amendments to the FCRA’s structure “reflect an affirmative choice by Congress to set ‘uniform federal standards’ regarding the information contained in consumer credit reports,” and that “[b]y seeking to exclude additional types of information” from consumer reports, the amendments “intrude upon a subject matter that Congress has recently sought to expressly preempt from state regulation.” The defendants appealed.

    On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the phrase “relating to information contained in consumer reports” broadly preempts all state laws, but the appellate court was not persuaded and concluded that the broad interpretation “is not the most natural reading of the statute’s syntax and structure.” The 1st Circuit found “no reason to presume that Congress intended, in providing some federal protections to consumers regarding the information contained in credit reports, to oust all opportunity for states to provide more protections, even if those protections would not otherwise be preempted as ‘inconsistent’ with the FCRA under 15 U.S.C. § 1681t(a).” In addition, the court reminded the plaintiff that “even where Congress has chosen to preempt state law, it is not ousting states of regulatory authority; state regulators have concurrent enforcement authority under the FCRA, subject to some oversight by federal regulators.” As such, the appellate court held that the FCRA did not broadly preempt the entirety of Maine’s amendments, and remanded the case back to the district court to determine the scope under which the amendments may be preempted by the FCRA.

    Courts Maine State Issues Credit Report Consumer Finance Appellate First Circuit FCRA Credit Reporting Agency

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  • CFPB issues guidance on medical debt covered by the NSA

    Federal Issues

    On January 13, the CFPB released a new Bulletin to remind debt collectors and credit reporting agencies (CRAs) of their legal obligations under the FDCPA and the FCRA when collecting, furnishing information about, and reporting medical debts covered by the No Surprises Act (NSA). Effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2022, the NSA establishes new federal protections against surprise medical bills arising out of certain out-of-network emergency care. The CFPB notes that medical debt often poses special risks to consumers as consumers are “rarely informed of the costs of medical treatment in advance” and are “generally ill suited to the task of identifying [medical] billing errors.” Specifically, the Bulletin reminds debt collectors of the FDCPA prohibition against “false representation of the ‘character, amount, or legal status of any debt’” and the use of any “unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt.” According to the Bulletin, these would include “misrepresenting that a consumer must pay a debt stemming from a charge that exceeds the amount permitted by the [NSA].” The Bulletin also reminded debt collectors, as furnishers of information to CRAs, and the CRAs themselves of their obligations under the FCRA to assure the accuracy of information furnished or included in a consumer report, as well as to “conduct reasonable and timely investigations of consumer disputes to verify the accuracy of furnished information.” The Bulletin clarified that the accuracy and dispute obligations imposed by the FCRA “apply with respect to debts stemming from charges that exceed the amount permitted” by the NSA. The Bulletin further offered several examples of acts or practices that may be violative of the FDCPA and/or the FCRA in connection with medical debt covered by the NSA. According to the Bulletin, the CFPB “will hold debt collectors accountable for failing to comply with the FDCPA and Regulation F, and it will hold CRAs and furnishers accountable for failing to comply with the FCRA and Regulation V.” The Bureau also noted that it “will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other partners to address medical debt abuses.”

    Federal Issues CFPB FCRA FDCPA Regulation V Credit Reporting Agency No Surprises Act Debt Collection

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