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On January 19, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted a bank’s motion to dismiss an FCRA case. According to the opinion, after plaintiff’s credit report revealed monthly payments towards previously closed accounts with defendant, plaintiff alleged that because the accounts were closed, the entire balance was due and that she had neither the right nor the obligation to pay defendant in monthly installments. Plaintiff then disputed the debt with a credit reporting agency, which forwarded the dispute to defendant, but ultimately plaintiff’s credit report was never updated to $0 monthly payments as she requested. Three days later, plaintiff filed suit alleging defendant violated the FCRA by failing to investigate the dispute and failing to direct the credit reporting agency to report the tradelines with $0 monthly payments. Although plaintiff does not assert in her complaint that her credit reports have been distributed to any potential lender, plaintiff alleged that the tradelines listed in her credit report are inaccurate and “create a misleading impression of her consumer credit file.”
In determining Article III standing, the court held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged injury in fact because defendant’s “false and misleading reporting to a credit bureau about Plaintiff’s obligation on a debt has a close relationship to reputational harms such as defamation and common law fraud.” The court acknowledged, however, that “[l]ower courts have split on the issue of whether dissemination of a defamatory statement to a credit reporting agency, as opposed to the potential creditors at issue.” On one hand, the U.S. Supreme Court found that class members whose misleading credit reports were not disseminated to a third party did not suffer concrete harm. In another case, the Seventh Circuit concluded that plaintiffs adequately proved third-party dissemination by presenting evidence that debt collectors reported false information about them to a credit reporting agency, dismissing any interpretation precedent that would demand the plaintiffs to additionally demonstrate that the third party shared the false information. The court agreed with the latter decision, citing that “dissemination to a credit reporting agency suffices to establish defamatory publication for standing purposes.”
Although plaintiff established Article III standing, the court found that plaintiff failed to state a claim under the FCRA because she failed to allege that the tradelines issued by defendant contain inaccurate information. Furthermore, the court found that a report, as plaintiff requested, showing $0 monthly payments on the account would be more misleading, because it would purport that plaintiff does not owe a balance to defendant.
On December 13, the New York governor signed into law S4907A, or the Fair Medical Debt Reporting Act (the “Act”), a medical debt credit reporting bill that will bar credit reporting agencies from directly or indirectly incorporating medical debt into consumer credit reports. The Act specifically prohibits hospitals, health care professionals, and ambulances from reporting medical debt to credit agencies. The Act defines medical debt as any amount owed or claimed by a consumer “related to the receipt of health care services, products, or devices provided to a person” by a hospital, health care professional, or ambulance service. Notably, obligations charged to a credit card are excluded from medical debts unless the card is specifically designated for health care expenses under an open-ended or closed-end plan.
On August 15, the USDA filed a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decision to reverse its FCRA lawsuit brought by a plaintiff who alleged that the consumer credit reporting agency reported two loans as past due even though he claimed both were closed with a $0 balance. In August 2022, the 3rd Circuit reversed a district court’s decision to grant a student loan servicer, consumer credit reporting agency, and the USDA’s (defendants) motion to dismiss a case finding that Congress unambiguously waived the government’s sovereign immunity in enacting FCRA (covered by InfoBytes here). The USDA argues that the district court was wrong in its decision, and that the FCRA does not waive the U.S.’s sovereign immunity for claims under 15 U.S.C. 1681n and 1681o because, among other things, (i) a waiver of sovereign immunity requires “unmistakably clear” statutory language; (ii) the FCRA does not create a cause of action that “‘expressly authorizes suits against sovereigns,’ and ‘recognizing immunity’ would ‘negate’ that express authorization”; (iii) the FCRA uses “persons” in a way that does not distinguish between sovereign and non-sovereign senses; (iv) “inexplicable incongruencies” with the term “person” within the context of §§ 1681n and 1681o includes a sovereign entity, which would not only expose the federal government but also individual states to potential lawsuits seeking monetary damages; and (v) interpreting the FCRA to permit lawsuits against the U.S. would significantly broaden the scope of liability for federal agencies, creating “overlap” already provided by the Privacy Act.
On July 26, the CFPB posted a blog entry explaining that cashflow data could be more telling in determining a person’s ability to repay their loans than credit reports, which are typically calculated through a variety of credit products such as mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, and student loans. The Bureau referenced its July 2020 Making Ends Meet Survey (covered by InfoBytes here), which was sampled off the Consumer Credit Panel, in order to “show that three self-reported proxies for cashflow appear predictive of serious delinquency, even when analyzing people with similar traditional credit scores.” The proxies include high accumulated savings, regularly saving and no overdrafts, and paying bills on time. While accounting for deficiencies such as sample size, the Bureau’s analysis showed that individuals with self-reported positive cash flow perform notably better than those with less positive cash flow, even with similar credit scores. Other findings include that individuals with higher credit scores are more likely to report (i) relatively high accumulated savings, which the Bureau defined as at least $3,000 across their checking and savings accounts; (ii) positive savings and no overdrafts; and (iii) no issues paying rent, mortgage, utilities, and regular household expenses. All three findings are also indicative of a reduced likelihood of serious delinquency, the Bureau found. According to the blog entry, the analysis “suggests that cashflow data may help lenders better identify borrowers with low likelihood of serious delinquency, even if these borrowers’ credit scores may have otherwise prevented them from receiving credit.”
On July 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of a defendant data furnisher in an FCRA case, holding that the plaintiff failed to establish that the defendant provided “patently incorrect or materially misleading information” to a credit reporting agency (CRA). Defendant was the subservicer for plaintiff’s mortgage and was responsible for accepting and tracking payments and providing payment data to the CRAs. After plaintiff failed to make her monthly payments, she resolved the delinquency through a short sale of her home. Several years later, plaintiff noticed that the closed mortgage account appeared on her credit reports as delinquent. She disputed the information to several CRAs. To confirm the accuracy of its records on plaintiff’s mortgage, one of the CRAs sent the defendant data furnisher four automated consumer dispute verification (ACDV) forms. In the ACDV responses, the defendant amended or verified several contested data points, including the pay rate and account history. The CRA reported this amended data to indicate on plaintiff’s credit report that she was currently delinquent on the mortgage with missed payments in the months following the short sale. After plaintiff applied for and was denied a new mortgage based on the credit report, plaintiff sued the defendant data furnisher for alleged violations of the FCRA, alleging that the defendant failed to conduct a reasonable investigation of the disputed data and provided false and misleading information to CRAs. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, finding that plaintiff failed to make a threshold showing that the defendant’s data was incomplete or inaccurate.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit disagreed with plaintiff that “completeness or accuracy” under the FCRA “must be judged based, not on the ACDV response the data furnisher provided, but on the credit report generated from it.” The court reasoned that the text of the statute “says nothing about a credit report, let alone a duty of a data furnisher with respect to credit reports produced using its amended data. To the contrary, the statute sets out the data furnisher’s duties to investigate disputes, correct incomplete or inaccurate information, and report results from an investigation” to the CRA. Holding that “context can play a large role in determining completeness or accuracy” in this situation, the appellate court agreed with the district court that the data provided by the defendant to the CRA was “not materially misleading” and that “no reasonable jury could find” that the data meant that plaintiff was currently delinquent on her debt, particularly because of strong “contextual evidence”—specifically, that the disputed data appeared directly beside a status code showing that the account was closed. The appeals court affirmed summary judgment for the data furnisher.
On June 21, the CFPB published a data spotlight, titled Banking and Credit Access in the Southern Region of the U.S., addressing banking and credit access, particularly mortgage lending, in in the south (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee). Considering the prevalence of “banking deserts” in the south, the report seeks to identify gaps and opportunities to increase financial access in the region. The report also includes a comparative analysis of rural and nonrural areas. For example, in rural communities and communities of color, the Bureau reports that “even though 23 percent of the population lives in a rural county, only 14 percent of home purchase loans in 2021 went to those areas. Between 2018 and 2021, only 9 percent of home purchase loans went to Black rural borrowers in the region, even though they represent 24 percent of the region’s rural population.” Moreover, the report notes that home loan applications from rural southerners are more likely to be denied than in the rest of the country. The Bureau also states that mortgage interest rates further set the rural south apart, as they tend to be higher, on average, than interest rates nationally. The Bureau’s initial analysis shows that credit scores alone do not explain these lower levels of lending.
With respect to banking access, the data spotlight highlights the association between the presence of a bank branch and access to necessary financial services—a common concern reported from stakeholders from the south. The Bureau reports that with only 3.6 branches per 10,000 people in the south (as compared to 5.0 branches per 10,000 people nationally), financial services access is limited, particularly when combined with inaccessible online banking due to limited broadband. The report also highlights how small businesses employ nearly half of the region’s workforce; thus, small business lending is a crucial resource to the south. In support of small business lending, the report references resources for business owners to leverage. (As previously covered by InfoBytes, when the Small Business Lending Rule goes into effect, the Bureau believes that it will provide “visibility” into small business lending.) The report further includes a reminder that “lenders have the ability to create Special Purpose Credit Programs, which enable the development of directed lending programs to reach historically underserved populations.” The Bureau goes on to state that even when branch locations are present, top barriers include minimum balance requirements, distrust of banks, high fees, and barriers to meeting identification requirements.
A second report, the Consumer Finances in Rural Areas of the Southern Region, was also published the same day. The report analyzes southern consumer financial profiles, compared to other geographies, including credit scores, financial distress, medical debt, and other debt categories. Among other things, the report highlights the unique position of mortgage borrowers from the rural south. Findings include that the share of chattel loans (for which the land underneath the home is not used as collateral) is seven times higher in the rural south than in other parts of the country. These borrowers are reportedly more venerable to both repossession and rent hikes or eviction. Also, student loan borrowers in the rural south tend to have lower monthly payments and delinquent balance amounts than the respective national averages, but given the area’s lower median incomes, borrowers in this region face a much higher student loan debt burden. Other findings include that rural southerners are less likely to have a credit card or an outstanding mortgage, which is partially reflective of the lower likelihood of successfully taking out credit, even within credit score tiers. According to the report, rural southerners are also more likely to pay higher interest rates on average and are more likely to have medical collections, with medical collections as the most common type of delinquency. These findings, the Bureau says, are an attempt to provide a “starting point” to better understand the financial situations, needs, and challenges of consumers in the south.
On June 5, the CFPB revised its Supervision and Examinations Manual to incorporate minor changes for larger participants under “Module 7 - Consumer Alerts, Identity Theft, and
Human Trafficking Provisions.” The updates specifically included FCRA and Regulation V requirements that prohibit credit reporting agencies (CRAs) from including information in consumer reporting in cases of human trafficking. Notably, the final rule regarding credit reporting on human trafficking victims was issued in 2022 (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The CFPB also stated that all CRAs must “establish and maintain written policies and procedures reasonably designed to ensure and monitor the compliance of the consumer reporting agency and its employees with the requirements of 12 CFR 1022.142.”
On June 1, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California preliminarily approved a class action settlement, which would require a corporate defendant to pay $2.7 million to resolve allegations that it provided false information on credit reports to auto dealers. The defendant sells credit reports to auto dealers to help dealers manage their regulatory compliance obligations, the order explained, noting that one of these obligations prohibits dealers from engaging in business with anyone designated on the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. The SDN list is comprised of persons and entities owned or controlled by (or acting for or on behalf of) a targeted company, or non-country specific persons, who are prohibited from conducting business in the U.S. The defendant would flag a consumer as an “OFAC Hit” if it matched a name on the SDN list.
The order explained that when using a “similar name” algorithm script to run the consumer’s name against the SDN list to check for a match, the defendant only ran first and last names and did not input other available information such as birth dates and addresses. The lead plaintiff filed a putative class action pleading claims under the FCRA and California’s Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act, alleging his name inaccurately came up as an OFAC hit on a credit report sold to an auto dealer. In turn, the plaintiff was denied credit and suffered emotionally, later learning that the defendant incorrectly matched him with an SDN. According to class members, the defendant failed to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy when matching consumer information and failed to provide, upon request, all information listed in a consumer’s file. Moreover, the lead plaintiff claimed the defendant failed to investigate the disputed OFAC-related information sold to the dealer. The defendant moved for summary judgment on the premise that it was not acting as a consumer reporting agency and that OFAC check documents were not consumer reports, but the court denied the motion and later certified the class. If finalized, the settlement would provide $1,000 to each of the class members, attorneys fees and costs, and a service award to the lead plaintiff.
On April 26, the CFPB released a data point report estimating that nearly 23 million American consumers will have at least one medical collection removed from their credit reports when all medical collection tradelines under $500 are deleted. Additionally, the Bureau found that the removal will result in approximately 15.6 million people having all medical collections removed. The reporting change occurred as part of an undertaking by the three nationwide consumer reporting companies announced earlier in April. Examining credit reports that occurred between 2012 and 2020, the Bureau studied the impact of this change and noted that on average consumers experienced a 25-point increase in their credit scores in the first quarter following the removal of their last medical collection. The average increase, the report found, was 21 points for consumers with medical collections under $500 compared to 32 points for those with medical collections over $500. The report further discussed the association between the removal of medical collection tradelines and the amount of available credit for revolving and installment accounts, as well as increases in first-lien mortgage inquiries (attributable, the Bureau believes, to consumers working to remove these tradelines as part of applying for mortgage credit).
On April 20, the Washington governor signed HB 1311 to enact provisions relating to credit repair services performed by a credit services organization. Among other things, the Act outlines new requirements, including that a credit services organization must provide consumers with a monthly statement that details the services performed, as well as “an accounting of any funds paid by a consumer and held or disbursed on the consumer’s behalf and copies of any letters sent by the credit services organization on the consumer’s behalf,” if applicable. Additionally, a credit services organization is prohibited from sending any communications to a consumer reporting agency, creditor, collection agency, or regulatory entity unless the consumer has provided prior written authorization. Credit services organizations must also comply with specified written communication requirements and provide disclosures addressing consumers’ rights to review their files. Modifications to certain provisions relating to notices of cancellation have also been made. The Act is effective July 23.