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On May 5, the CFPB discussed examination findings related to private student loan servicers’ alleged failure to follow through with promised loan offers or modifications. The Bureau directed servicers found to have breached their commitments to make “significant remediation amounts” for failing to make promised payments to customers. The Bureau found some servicers offered financial incentives to recruit new customers, but then failed to make the promised payments. In certain instances, servicers’ systems failed to identify customers who earned incentives, and in others, payments were denied based on terms that were not included in the original deal, the Bureau claimed. The Bureau also found that while many servicers offered payment relief options to pause or reduce payments to customers impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, at least one servicer failed to deliver promised refunds to customers who modified their agreements to allow them to backdate forbearance after making a payment. The Bureau documented two examples of servicers committing unfair acts or practices in this space in its recent spring Supervisory Highlights (covered by InfoBytes here) and warned servicers that it is “closely monitoring” companies that break the law.
On May 2, the CFPB released its spring 2022 Supervisory Highlights, which details its supervisory and enforcement actions in the areas of auto servicing, consumer reporting, credit card account management, debt collection, deposits, mortgage origination, prepaid accounts, remittances, and student loan servicing. The report’s findings cover examinations completed between July and December 2021. Highlights of the examination findings include:
- Auto Servicing. Bureau examiners identified instances of servicers engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices connected to wrongful repossessions, misleading final loan payment amounts, and overcharges for add-on products.
- Consumer Reporting. The Bureau found deficiencies in credit reporting companies’ (CRCs) compliance with FCRA dispute investigation requirements and furnishers’ compliance with FCRA and Regulation V accuracy and dispute investigation requirements. Examples include (i) both CRCs and furnishers failed to provide written notice to consumers providing the results of reinvestigations and direct dispute investigations; (ii) furnishers failed to send updated information to CRCs following a determination that the information reported was not complete or accurate; and (iii) furnishers’ policies and procedures contained deficiencies related to the accuracy and integrity of furnished information.
- 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 consumers after determining a billing error had occurred; (iii) conduct reasonable investigations into billing error notices due to human errors and system weaknesses; and (iv) provide consumers with the evidence relied upon to determine a billing error had not occurred. Examiners also identified Regulation Z violations connected to creditors’ acquisitions of pre-existing credit card accounts from other creditors, and identified deceptive acts or practices related to credit card issuers’ advertising practices.
- Debt Collection. The Bureau found instances of FDCPA and CFPA violations where debt collectors used false or misleading representations in connection with identity theft debt collection. Report findings also discussed instances where debt collectors engaged in unfair practices by failing to timely refund overpayments or credit balances.
- Deposits. The Bureau discussed violations related to Regulation E, which implements the EFTA, including occurrences where institutions (i) placed duplicate holds on certain mobile check deposits that were deemed suspicious instead of a single hold as intended; (ii) failed to honor a timely stop payment request; (iii) failed to complete error investigations following a consumer’s notice of error because the consumer did not submit an affidavit; and (iv) failed to provide consumers with notices of revocation of provisional credit connected with error investigations regarding check deposits at ATMs.
- Mortgage Origination. Bureau examiners identified Regulation Z violations concerning occurrences where loan originators were compensated differently based on the terms of the transaction. Under the Bureau’s 2013 Loan Originator Final Rule, “it is not permissible to differentiate compensation based on credit product type, since products are simply a bundle of particular terms.” Examiners also found that certain lenders failed to retain sufficient documentation to establish the validity for revisions made to credit terms.
- Prepaid Accounts. The Bureau found violations of Regulation E and EFTA related to institutions’ failure to submit prepaid account agreements to the Bureau within the required time frame. Examiners also identified instances where institutions failed to honor oral stop payment requests related to payments originating through certain bill pay systems. The report cited additional findings where institutions failed to properly conduct error investigations.
- Remittances. Bureau examiners identified violations of the EFTA, Regulation E, and deceptive acts and practices. Remittance transfer providers allegedly made false and misleading representations concerning the speed of transfers, and in multiple instances, entered into service agreements with consumers that violated the “prohibition on waivers of rights conferred or causes of action created by EFTA.” Examiners also identified several issues related to the Remittance Rule’s disclosure, timing, and recordkeeping requirements.
- Student Loan Servicing. Bureau examiners identified several unfair acts or practices connected to private student loan servicing, including that servicers failed to make advertised incentive payments (which caused consumers to not receive payments to which they were entitled), and failed to issue timely refund payments in accordance with loan modification payment schedules.
The report also highlights recent supervisory program developments and enforcement actions, including the Bureau’s recent decision to invoke a dormant authority to examine nonbanks (covered by InfoBytes here).
On April 27, the New York attorney general announced a settlement with a national student loan servicer, resolving allegations that it failed to properly manage student loans and administer the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program by inaccurately counting loan payments, improperly denying applications, and not processing applications in a timely manner. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the New York AG filed a complaint against the defendant in 2019 alleging violations of the CFPA and New York law, whereby the defendant, among other things, (i) failed to accurately count borrower’s PSLF-qualifying payments; (ii) failed to provide timely explanations to borrowers for PSLF payment count determinations; (iii) failed to process income driven repayment (IDR) plan paperwork accurately and timely; and (iv) lacked clear policies and procedures for addressing errors, resulting in inconsistent treatment of borrowers.
Under the terms of the settlement, the defendant is required to automatically review nearly 10,000 accounts of New York borrowers for various potential errors, including incorrect information provided about PSLF or IDR eligibility and inaccurate monthly payment charges, among other things. In addition, more than 300,000 current New York residents may be eligible to have their accounts reviewed at no cost to them. The defendant is required to send out notices to borrowers within 30 days. Borrower relief may include crediting of undercounted payments, refunds of overpayments, interest, monetary payments, and modifications to past payments to designate them as PSLF-qualifying. The defendant will implement enhanced quality assurance review procedures designed to identify errors.
On April 19, the Department of Education announced additional changes to the federal student loan program designed to reduce or eliminate federal student loan debt for many borrowers. In particular:
- To address long-term forbearance steering, Federal Student Aid (FSA) will conduct “a one-time account adjustment that will count forbearances of more than 12 months consecutive and more than 36 months cumulative toward forgiveness” under the income-driven repayment (IDR) and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) programs.
- Borrowers “steered” into shorter-term forbearances may file a complaint with the FSA Ombudsman to seek an account review.
- FSA will also partner with the CFPB to conduct regular audits of servicers’ forbearance use, and will seek to improve oversight of loan servicing activities.
- Loan servicers’ ability to enroll borrowers in forbearance by text or email will be restricted.
- FSA will conduct a one-time revision of IDR-qualifying payments for all Direct Student Loans and federally-managed Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL) loans, and will count any month in which a borrower made a payment toward IDR, regardless of the payment plan. Borrowers who meet the required number of payments for IDR forgiveness based on the one-time revision will receive automatic loan cancellation. Moreover, months spent in deferment prior to 2013 will count towards IRD forgiveness (with the exception of in-school deferment) to address certain data reliability issues.
In addition, FSA plans to reform its IDR tracking process. New guidance will be issued to student loan servicers to ensure accurate and uniform payment counting practices. FSA will also track payment counts on its own systems and will display IDR payment counts on StudentAid.gov beginning in 2023 so borrowers can monitor their progress. The Department also plans to issue rulemaking that will revise the terms of IDR and “further simplify payment counting by allowing more loan statuses to count toward IDR forgiveness, including certain types of deferments and forbearances.”
On April 14, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) sent a letter to CFPB Director Rohit Chopra urging the Bureau to investigate recent reports of student loan servicers mismanaging income-driven repayment (IDR) programs. The letter alleged that servicers have failed to properly count qualifying payments or accurately track borrowers’ progress towards cancellation. Specifically, the senators noted that servicers’ mismanagement is affecting the lowest-income borrowers the most, citing report findings that 48 percent of IDR borrowers are eligible for $0 monthly payments that can be counted towards loan forgiveness, but are not being tracked. In addition, IDR cancellation requires servicers to “proactively notify borrowers when they are within six months of qualifying for loan cancellation”—a process that requires servicers to accurately count payments and properly track borrowers’ progress. According to the senators, “out of 4.4 million eligible borrowers, recent reports indicate that only 32 borrowers have ever had their student loans canceled through IDR.”
On April 7, the Kentucky governor signed HB 494 to establish the Student Education Loan Servicing, Licensing, and Protection Act of 2022. The act outlines licensing provisions for student loan servicers and implements consumer protections for borrowers. Among other things, the act requires, subject to certain exemptions, persons servicing student loans in the state to obtain a license from the commissioner. Under the act, the commissioner may require that the application and any supporting documentation be submitted to other agencies or authorities as part of a nationwide licensing system, “which may act as an agent for receiving, requesting, and distributing information to and from any source directed by the commissioner.” The commissioner may also conduct examinations and investigations, deny, suspend, or revoke a license, and enter an emergency order to suspend, limit, or restrict a license without notice or hearing if an investigation reveals that a “licensee has engaged, or is about to engage, in unsafe, unsound, or illegal practices that pose and imminent threat or harm to the public interest.” Additionally, the commissioner may impose civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation for violations of the act’s provisions, and may order restitution, refunds, or expenses as deemed necessary. The act also prohibits student loan servicers from engaging in unfair, deceptive, predatory practices, or omitting material information connected with the servicing of a student education loan. Additional provisions related to licensing renewals and reinstatements, assessment fees, and reporting and net worth requirements are also provided. The act takes effect 90 days after the official adjournment of the session.
On April 11, the Virginia governor signed SB 496, which amends provisions related to financial institutions and qualified education loan servicers. The bill, among other things provides that a “qualified education loan servicer” is an individual that meets all of the following criteria: (i) “receives any scheduled periodic payments from a qualified education loan borrower or notification of such payments or applies payments to the qualified education loan borrower's account pursuant to the terms of the qualified education loan or the contract governing the servicing”; (ii) “during a period when no payment is required on a qualified education loan, maintains account records for the qualified education loan and communicates with the qualified education loan borrower regarding the qualified education loan, on behalf of the qualified education loan's holder”; and (iii) “interacts with a qualified education loan borrower, which includes conducting activities to help prevent default on obligations arising from qualified education loans or to facilitate certain activities.” The bill is effective July 1.
On March 30, the CFPB announced a settlement with a student loan servicer to resolve allegations that the company engaged in deceptive acts with respect to borrowers with Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) loans about their eligibility for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act, among other things. The CFPB alleged that the company engaged in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices by misrepresenting: (i) that FFELP borrowers could not receive PSLF; (ii) that FFELP borrowers were making payments towards PSLF before loan consolidation; and (iii) that certain jobs were not eligible for PSLF. The Bureau also alleged that the servicer “did not provide any information about how to become eligible for PSLF when borrowers inquired about the program or mentioned that they worked in a job that was likely a qualifying public-service job.”
Under the terms of the consent order, the servicer is required to: (i) notify all affected borrowers of the Department of Education’s limited PSLF waiver to provide affected consumers the opportunity to take advantage of the waiver before it ends on October 31; (ii) “develop and implement a call script for Customer Service Representatives that, at minimum, requires them to solicit information from all FFELP Consumers about whether a consumer’s employment may make them eligible for PSLF, and if so, to direct them to a Public Service Specialist, who will provide accurate and complete information about PSLF”; and (iii) pay a civil money penalty of $1 million to the Bureau.
According to a statement by CFPB Director Rohit Chopra, the Bureau “has long been concerned that others in the student loan servicing industry have derailed borrowers from making progress toward loan cancellation,” and “CFPB law enforcement work has identified these problems for years, finding failures at multiple servicers.”
District Court: Consumer must notify furnisher directly to remove dispute notification from credit report
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.”
On February 18, the CFPB released a compliance bulletin warning student loan servicers to make sure they provide complete and accurate information to eligible borrowers about Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) benefits. The Bureau indicated that it will be paying close attention to servicers’ compliance with Dodd-Frank’s prohibition on unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices. Last October, the Department of Education changed its PSLF program to now provide qualifying borrowers with a time-limited PSLF waiver that allows all payments to count towards PSLF regardless of loan program or payment plan. The waiver covers payments made on loans under the Federal Family Education Loan Program or Perkins Loan Program. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) However, Bureau supervisory findings revealed unfair or deceptive practices taken by servicers that have prevented many borrowers from making progress towards forgiveness. The Bureau emphasized that it expects servicers to comply with federal consumer financial protection laws when administering the new PSLF waiver and providing assistance to borrowers. The Bureau “will pay particular attention” to whether (i) servicers of any federal loan type provide complete and accurate information about the PSLF waiver in communications related to PSLF or loan consolidation; (ii) servicers have adequate policies and procedures to recognize when borrowers express interest in PSLF or the PSLF waiver (or where borrowers’ files otherwise demonstrate their eligibility), in order to direct borrowers to appropriate resources; and (iii) servicers take measures “to promote the benefits of the PSLF Waiver to borrowers who express interest or whose files otherwise demonstrate their eligibility.” The Bureau advised servicers to consider enhancing their compliance management systems to ensure borrowers receive accurate and complete information about the PSLF waiver and that their enrollment is facilitated.
- Daniel R. Alonso discussed “The importance of the FCPA in the world and its current impact” at a ‘Competitive Breakfast’ event sponsored by the international compliance firm Intedya
- Jedd R. Bellman discussed “The CFPB’s crackdown on collection junk fees and the growing anti-CFPB rhetoric” at an Accounts Recovery webinar
- Buckley Webcast: State supervision, enforcement, and multistate coordination
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Latest on AML regulations and impact of economic sanctions” at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Hank Asbill to discuss “Ethical issues at sentencing” at the 31st Annual National Seminar on Federal Sentencing
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Fundamentals of financial crime compliance” at the Practicing Law Institute
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Ongoing CDD: Operational considerations” at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA Seminar