Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On November 20, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs released the CFPB’s fall 2019 rulemaking agenda. According to a Bureau announcement, the information released represents regulatory matters it “reasonably anticipates having under consideration during the period from October 1, 2019, to September 30, 2020.”
Key rulemaking initiatives include:
- Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing: As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) in March 2019 seeking feedback on the unique features of PACE financing and the general implications of regulating PACE financing under TILA. The Bureau notes it is currently reviewing comments as it considers next steps.
- Small Business Rulemaking: On November 6, the Bureau held a symposium on small business lending to gather information for upcoming rulemaking (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau emphasized it will focus on rulemaking that would not impede small business access to credit by imposing unnecessary costs on financial institutions. According to the Bureau, materials will be released prior to convening a panel under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act to consult with businesses that may be affected by future rulemaking.
- HMDA/Regulation C: The Bureau plans to finalize the permanent thresholds for reporting data on open-end lines of credit and closed-end mortgage loans in March 2020, and expects to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to govern the collection of HMDA data points and the disclosure of this data in July 2020. Both initiatives follow an NPRM and an ANPR issued by the Bureau in May (previously covered by InfoBytes here).
- Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans: As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau published two NPRMs related to certain payday lending requirements under the final rule titled “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans.” Specifically, the Bureau proposed to rescind the portion of the rule that would make it an unfair and abusive practice for a lender to make covered high-interest rate, short-term loans or covered longer-term balloon payment loans without reasonably determining that the consumer has the ability to repay, and to delay the rule’s compliance date for mandatory underwriting provisions. The Bureau notes it is currently reviewing comments and expects to issue a final rule in April 2020.
- Debt Collection: Following an NPRM issued in May concerning debt collection communications, disclosures, and related practices (previously covered by InfoBytes here), the Bureau states it is currently “engaged in testing of consumer disclosures related to time-barred debt disclosure issues that were not addressed in the May 2019 proposal.” Once testing has concluded, the Bureau will assess the need for publishing a supplemental NPRM related to time-barred debt disclosures.
- Remittance Transfers: The Bureau expects in December to issue a proposed rule to address the July 2020 expiration of the Remittance Rule’s temporary exception for certain insured depository institutions from the rule’s disclosure requirements related to the estimation of fees and exchange rates. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)
- GSE Patch: The Bureau plans to address in December the so-called GSE patch, which confers Qualified Mortgage status for loans purchased or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while those entities operate under FHFA conservatorship. The patch is set to expire in January 2021, or when Fannie and Freddie exit their conservatorships, whichever comes first. (See Buckley Special Alert here.)
The Bureau further notes in its announcement the addition of entries to its long-term regulatory agenda “to address issues of concern in connection with loan originator compensation and to facilitate the use of electronic channels of communication in the origination and servicing of credit card accounts.”
On November 4, the FHFA issued a Request for Input (RFI) on Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s (the GSEs) pooling practices as they relate to the formation of the “To-Be-Announced”-eligible Uniform Mortgage-Backed Securities (UMBS). The RFI follows the June launch of the UMBS—a common security through which GSE mortgage-backed securities will be issued (previously covered by InfoBytes here)—and seeks input to assist FHFA in determining whether further action or alignment is required to ensure reasonably consistent security cash flows and continued fungibility of the GSEs’ UMBS so they “remain a source of stable, affordable liquidity for the U.S. housing finance system.” In addition, FHFA requests input on whether having more aligned pooling practices could facilitate the issuance of UMBS by market participants beyond the GSEs, and seeks comments on other policies and practices that might affect UMBS compatibility. Comments are due December 19.
On October 23, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) published the updated and redesigned Uniform Residential Loan Application (URLA), which reflects revisions announced in August at the direction of the FHFA, including the removal of the language preference question. (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.) The updated static URLA form and supporting materials can be accessed on Fannie Mae’s URLA web page. The announcement also states that the GSEs are on track to publish their updated automated underwriting system specifications and supporting documents next month and anticipate announcing the updated implementation timeline and mandate prior to year-end. Although the GSEs retired the dynamic version, an interactive PDF version of the redesigned URLA will be released in early 2020.
On October 16, 19 Democratic Senators wrote to FHFA Director, Mark Calabria, requesting the agency to reconsider its decision to remove the language preference question and housing counseling agency information from the redesigned Uniform Residential Loan Application (URLA), which was originally set to take effect on February 1, 2020. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in August, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) announced, at the direction of the FHFA, that mandatory use of the redesigned URLA will no longer begin on February 1, 2020. Additionally, the GSE’s noted that FHFA is requiring the removal of the language preference question. The question, along with the home ownership education and housing counseling question, will now be a part of a separate voluntary consumer information form. In response, the Senators argue that the decision to remove the language preference question is arbitrary and could leave “loan servicers without basic communication information about their borrowers” as a voluntary information form may not be used or may not travel with the loan documents. The Senators assert that the language information is “vital” to policymakers and the planned revisions to the URLA were “an important step toward increasing language access throughout the mortgage market.” The letter requests that Director Calabria respond to their concerns by November 18.
On September 18, the FHFA issued Advisory Bulletin AB 2019-04, which provides guidance to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) on fraud reporting requirements pursuant to 12 C.F.R. Part 1233 (FHFA Regulation). The Bulletin states that the GSEs are required to notify designees of the Director of the FHFA through the secure methods established by the FHFA within one calendar day from when the GSE discovers fraud or possible fraud that may have a “significant impact” on the GSE. The Bulletin defines “significant impact” as an event that “may create substantial financial or operational risk for the Enterprise, whether from a single event/incident or because it is systemic.” Moreover, the GSEs are required to submit a monthly fraud status report to the FHFA containing instances where they have (i) filed a suspicious activity report (SAR) with the Treasury Department or the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network; or (ii) discovered that the Enterprise purchased or sold a fraudulent loan or financial instrument, or suspects a possible fraud related to the purchase or sale of any loan or financial instrument, and the Enterprise has not filed a SAR. Additionally the GSEs are required to submit quarterly reports summarizing information concerning the GSE fraud risk management environments. The Bulletin is effective January 1, 2020.
On September 10, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled “Housing Finance Reform: Next Steps” to discuss the federal government’s plans for reforming and strengthening the mortgage market. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Department of Treasury and HUD released complementary proposals on September 5 discussing plans to end the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) and reform the housing finance system. The Committee heard from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and FHFA Director Mark Calabria. Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) opened the hearing by stating a preference for comprehensive legislation to end the conservatorship of the GSEs but stressed that the agencies should “begin moving forward with incremental steps that move the system in the right direction.” Democratic members of the Committee stated their oppositions to the proposals, with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) arguing that the Treasury’s plan “will make mortgages more expensive and harder to get,” make it more difficult for small lenders to compete, and roll back tools designed to help underserved families.
Treasury Secretary Mnuchin defended his agency’s proposal, and noted that while he prefers that Congress take the lead on ending the GSE conservatorships and plans to work with Congress on a bipartisan basis to enact comprehensive housing finance reform legislation, he also sees the need to concurrently develop administrative actions to protect taxpayers and foster competition. Among other things, Mnuchin discussed steps to remove the net worth sweep, which requires the GSEs to send nearly all their profits to the Treasury, arguing that ending the sweep will allow the GSEs to retain their earnings and build up capital.
FHFA Director Calabria emphasized that plans released by the Treasury and HUD are “broadly consistent” with his top priorities, which include developing capital standards for the GSEs to match their risk profiles that would “begin the process to end the [GSE] conservatorships,” as well as reforms to reduce the risks in the GSEs’ portfolios. All three witnesses agreed with Crapo’s assessment that the GSEs in their current form “are systemically important companies [and] that they continue to be too big to fail.” Calabria further emphasized that while he believes only Congress can reach a comprehensive solution, he believes the agencies can also make significant steps.
HUD Secretary Carson commented that a central principle of HUD’s housing finance plan is to improve coordination between HUD and FHFA to allow qualified borrowers access to responsible and affordable credit options, with HUD, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Agriculture acting as the sole sources of low-down-payment financing for borrowers outside of the conventional mortgage market. Carson further noted that reform will “reduce the Federal Government’s outsized role in housing finance.”
En banc 5th Circuit declares FHFA structure unconstitutional, allows net worth sweep claims to proceed
On September 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reaffirmed, in an en banc rehearing, that the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) structure violates constitutional separation of powers requirements and allowed “net worth sweep” claims brought by a group of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (government-sponsored entities or GSEs) shareholders to proceed. As previously covered by InfoBytes, GSE shareholders brought an action against the U.S. Department of Treasury and FHFA arguing that (i) the FHFA acted outside its statutory authority when it adopted a dividend agreement that requires the GSEs to pay quarterly dividends equal to their entire net worth to the Treasury Department (known as “net worth sweep”); and (ii) the structure of the FHFA is unconstitutional because it violates separation of powers principles. The district court dismissed the shareholder’s statutory claims and granted summary judgment in favor of the Treasury Department and the FHFA on the separation of powers claim. On appeal, the 5th Circuit agreed with the lower court on the first claim, concluding that the net worth sweep payments were acceptable under the FHFA’s statutory authority and that the FHFA was lawfully established by Congress through the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA), which places restraints on judicial review. However, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision on the separation of powers claim, concluding that Congress went too far in insulating the FHFA’s single director from removal by the president for anything other than cause, ruling that the agency’s structure violates Article II of the Constitution.
After an en banc rehearing, the appellate court issued two separate majority opinions. Both opinions concluded that (i) the GSE shareholders plausibly alleged that the net worth sweep exceed the powers of the FHFA when acting as a conservator under HERA; and (ii) the FHFA’s structure—which provides the director with “for cause” removal protection—violates the Constitution’s separation of powers requirements. However, the opinions differed on the appropriate remedy, with nine judges concluding that the remedy should be severance of the for-cause provision, not prospective relief invalidating the net worth sweep, stating that “the Shareholders’ ongoing injury, if indeed there is one, is remedied by a declaration that the “for cause” restriction is declared removed. We go no further.”
Various dissenting opinions were issued, including one signed by seven judges concluding that the FHFA acted within its statutory powers under HERA when it adopted the net worth sweep, stating “the FHFA’s ‘powers are many and mostly discretionary.’” In another dissenting opinion, four judges argued that the majority opinions wrongly concluded that the FHFA’s structure is unconstitutional, arguing that there are “only reasons for caution and skepticism, and none for action” in the constitutional claim. “Neither the Constitution’s text, nor the Supreme Court’s constructions thereof, nor the adversary process in this litigation has given us much ground on which to declare the FHFA’s design unconstitutional,” the judges argued.
Given the similarities of the FHFA’s single director structure with that of the CFPB, this case warrants close attention as it has the potential to create a vehicle for consideration by the Supreme Court of the constitutionality of single director agencies.
On September 5, the U.S. Treasury Department and HUD released complementary proposals in response to a presidential memorandum issued last March (previously covered by InfoBytes here) directing the departments to develop plans to end the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) and reform the housing finance system.
According to a press release released by the Treasury Department, the Treasury Housing Reform Plan outlines several broad goals and legislative and administrative reforms intended to protect taxpayers and assist homebuyers. Included in the Reform Plan are measures to privatize the GSEs, with the Treasury Department emphasizing that FHFA “should begin the process of ending” the conservatorships. “Central to this objective will be ensuring that the GSEs and their successors are appropriately capitalized to remain viable as going concerns after a severe economic downturn and also to ensure that shareholders and unsecured creditors, rather than taxpayers, bear losses.” Other notable agency and limited congressional action highlights include:
- Congress should authorize an explicit, paid-for guarantee by Ginnie Mae on qualified mortgage-backed securities for single-family and multifamily loans.
- Private sector participation should increase in the mortgage market to compete with the GSEs, and ensure a level playing field for lenders of all sizes.
- Congress should replace GSEs’ statutory affordable housing goals with a “more efficient, transparent, and accountable mechanism” to support underserved borrowers and expand HUD’s affordable housing activities.
- GSEs under FHFA’s capital rule should be required to maintain “capital sufficient to remain viable as a going concern after a severe economic downturn,” the cap on the GSEs’ investments in mortgage-related assets should be further reduced, and GSEs’ retained mortgage portfolios should be restricted to “solely supporting [the] business of securitizing mortgage-backed securities.”
- Mortgages eligible for GSE guarantees should have to comply with strict underwriting requirements.
- The Qualified Mortgage rule should be simplified and the so-called QM patch that allows GSEs to avoid certain regulations should be eliminated (see previous InfoBytes coverage on the CFPB’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking to allow the QM patch to expire here).
- Access to 30-year fix-rate mortgages for qualified homebuyers should be preserved.
HUD’s Housing Finance Reform Plan, released in conjunction with Treasury’s proposal, addresses the role of FHA and Ginnie Mae, and outlines steps to reduce risk in the FHA portfolio. According to HUD’s press release, the proposal focuses on four objectives: refocusing FHA to its core mission, protecting American taxpayers, providing tools to FHA and Ginnie Mae to appropriately manage risk, and providing liquidity to the housing finance system. Among other objectives, HUD’s plan (i) stresses that FHA, which serves low- and moderate-income borrowers, “must ensure that borrowers are creditworthy and that they have access to loans that meet their financial needs without creating undue risk”; (ii) recommends that FHA and FHFA establish a “formalized collaborative approach” to streamline government-supported mortgage programs to ensure they are “not competing and do not crowd private capital out of the marketplace;” (iii) encourages continued efforts to reduce loan churning; (iv) encourages a continued partnership between FHA and DOJ “to provide more clarity on how the agencies will consult on the appropriate use of the [False Claims Act]” to provide regulatory certainty to lenders; (v) encourages FHA to develop servicing standards for home equity conversion mortgage programs to reduce operational and financial burdens; and (vi) recommends that FHA develop a mortgage origination risk tool that integrates an automated underwriting system.
On August 8, at the direction of the FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) announced that the mandatory use of the redesigned Uniform Residential Loan Application (URLA) will no longer begin on February 1, 2020. FHFA has directed the GSEs to make specific modifications to the URLA form, including, most notably, the removal of the language preference question. The question, along with the home ownership education and housing counseling question, will now be a part of a separate voluntary consumer information form. The announcement does not provide information on the new implementation dates.
On July 25, the CFPB issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) seeking feedback on potential revisions to the Ability to Repay/Qualified Mortgage (ATR/QM) Rule related to the expiration in 2021 of the “GSE patch,” a temporary provision granting Qualified Mortgage status to mortgages that are eligible for purchase or guarantee by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, including loans with higher debt-to-income (DTI) ratios than are allowed under the general QM requirements. The GSE patch (also referred to as the “QM patch”) is set to expire no later than January 10, 2021, or when Fannie and Freddie exit their government conservatorship, whichever comes first, with the Bureau stating that it currently plans to allow the GSE patch to expire as scheduled or “after a short extension” to facilitate a smooth transition. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau issued an assessment report on the ATR/QM Rule, in which it reported, among other things, that the GSEs have persistently maintained a high share of the market.
The ANPR requests comments on several potential amendments, including (i) whether the “qualified mortgage” definition should be revised in light of the upcoming expiration (currently, loans under the GSE patch generally qualify for safe harbor from legal liability under the ATR/QM Rule even if their DTI ratio exceeds 43 percent); (ii) whether the DTI ratio limit should remain at 43 percent or be increased or decreased, along with whether loans above the DTI ratio should be granted QM status if they have “certain compensating factors,” (iii) whether the QM definition should take into account possible alternatives to the DTI ratio for assessing a borrower’s ability-to-repay; and (iv) whether Appendix Q—which sets standards for calculating and verifying debt and income to determine the borrower’s DTI ratio—should be replaced, changed, or supplemented. Comments on the ANPR are due 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss “Beneficial Ownership: You have questions – We have quick answers” at the ABA/ABA Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Legal & regulatory issues – Next wave of regulatory policy" at the Marketplace Lending & Alternative Financing Summit
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Risk management in enforcement actions: Managing risk or micromanaging it" at an American Bar Association webinar
- Kari K. Hall and Christopher M. Walczyszyn to speak on the "Understanding updates to Regulation CC to ensure effective check processing" at a National Association of Federal Credit Unions webinar
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "ACAMS Moneylaundering.com Year-End Compliance Review and 2020 Outlook" at an ACAMS webinar
- APPROVED Webcast: Periodic reporting made easier
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A 20/20 view on 2020’s legislative and regulatory outlook" at the ACAMS Anti-Financial Crime and Public Policy Conference