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On June 29, the CFPB issued an advisory opinion to state its interpretation that Section 808 of the FDCPA and Regulation F generally prohibit debt collectors from charging consumers “pay-to-pay” fees for making payments online or by phone. “These types of fees are often illegal,” the Bureau said, explaining that its “advisory opinion and accompanying analysis seek to stop these violations of law and assist consumers who are seeking to hold debt collectors accountable for illegal practices.”
These fees, commonly known as convenience fees, are prohibited in many circumstances under the FDCPA, the Bureau said. It pointed out that allowable fees are those authorized in the original underlying agreements that consumers have with their creditors, such as with credit card companies, or those that are affirmatively permitted by law. Moreover, the Bureau stressed that the fact that a law does not expressly prohibit the assessment of a fee does not mean a debt collector is authorized to charge a fee. Specifically, the advisory opinion interprets FDCPA Section 808(1) to permit collection of fee only if: (i) “the agreement creating the debt expressly permits the charge and some law does not prohibit it”; or (ii) “some law expressly permits the charge, even if the agreement creating the debt is silent.” Additionally, the Bureau’s “interpretation of the phrase ‘permitted by law’ applies to any ‘amount’ covered under section 808(1), including pay-to-pay fees.” The Bureau further added that while some courts have adopted a “separate agreement” interpretation of the law to allow collectors to assess certain pay-to-pay fees, the agency “declines to do so.”
The Bureau also opined that a debt collector is in violation of the FDCPA if it uses a third-party payment processor for which any of that fee is remitted back to the collector in the form of a kickback or commission. “Federal law generally forbids debt collectors from imposing extra fees not authorized by the original loan,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said. “Today’s advisory opinion shows that these fees are often illegal, and provides a roadmap on the fees that a debt collector can lawfully collect.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau finalized its Advisory Opinions Policy in 2020. Under the policy, entities seeking to comply with existing regulatory requirements are permitted to request an advisory opinion in the form of an interpretive rule from the Bureau (published in the Federal Register for increased transparency) to address areas of uncertainty.
Recently, the CFPB updated its debt collection examination procedures to incorporate provisions of Regulation F (the FDCPA’s implementing regulation). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October 2020, the Bureau issued its final rule (effective November 30, 2021) amending Regulation F to address debt collection communications and prohibitions on harassment or abuse, false or misleading representations, and unfair practices. Following the publication of the final rule, the Bureau also released debt collection compliance guidance and frequently asked questions that address validation information generally and validation information related to residential mortgage debt (covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau noted that depending on the scope of an examination, “and in conjunction with the compliance management system and consumer complaint response review procedures,” an examination will cover at least one of the following modules: (i) entity business model; (ii) communications in connection with debt collection; (iii) information sharing, privacy, and interactions with consumer reporting agencies; (iv) validation notice, consumer FDCPA disputes and complaints, and ceasing communication; (v) payment processing and account maintenance; (vi) ECOA; and (vii) litigation practices, administrative wage garnishment and repossession, and time-barred debt.
On October 29, the CFPB released information on validation notices to help facilitate compliance with requirements in the Regulation F debt collection final rule. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October 2020 the CFPB issued its final rule (effective November 30) amending Regulation F, which implements the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, addressing debt collection communications and prohibitions on harassment or abuse, false or misleading representations, and unfair practices. The CFPB released guidance for debt collectors offering instructions on how to provide certain validation information, including using the “Itemization Table” in the model validation notice as well as examples of how the table might be completed for different types of debts. The guidance also provides, among other things, examples of itemization tables for the collection of multiple debt owned by the same consumer.
The Bureau also issued new FAQs related to Regulation F that address validation information generally and validation information related to residential mortgage debt. Among other things, the FAQs: (i) specify the validation information debt collectors must provide consumers who owe or allegedly owe a debt; (ii) clarify that while the use of the model validation notice provided in Appendix B of the final rule is not required, debt collectors must comply with the validation information content and format requirements in Regulation F; (iii) specify that a debt collector can make changes to the model validation notice and still obtain the validation information content and format safe harbor with certain limitations; (iv) state that a debt collector does not need to provide the itemization-related information in a validation notice provided the debt collector follows a special rule for certain residential mortgage debt; (v) outline validation information that may be omitted if using the Mortgage Special Rule, and clarify that generally if a debt collector uses the Mortgage Special Rule with the model validation notice, the debt collector may still receive a safe harbor as long as certain criteria is met; (vi) define “most recent periodic statement” for purposes of the Mortgage Special Rule; and (vii) clarify that under the Mortgage Special Rule, a debt collector “uses the date of the periodic statement provided under that Special Rule as the itemization date.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau issued FAQs last month discussing limited-content messages and the call frequency provisions under the Debt Collection Rule in Regulation F.
Recently, the CFPB issued a Spanish-language translation of its Model Validation Notice. Debt collectors are permitted to send a consumer a completely and accurately translated validation notice if the consumer was either provided an English-language version in the same communication or in a prior communication. Debt collectors that meet these requirements and use the translated notice qualify for the Debt Collection Rule’s safe harbor that any translation be complete and accurate. The Bureau noted that the translated validation notice omits the disclosure informing consumers of their right to request the validation notice in Spanish, “because no translation of those disclosures is necessary,” but debt collectors who choose to include the optional Spanish-language disclosures in a Spanish-language validation notice are still eligible for the safe harbor.
On October 1, the CFPB released a set of FAQs discussing limited-content messages and the call frequency provisions under the Debt Collection Rule in Regulation F. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October 2020 the CFPB issued its final rule amending Regulation F, which implements the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, addressing debt collection communications and prohibitions on harassment or abuse, false or misleading representations, and unfair practices. Among other things, the FAQs clarify: (i) the qualifications of a “limited-content message”; (ii) that debt collectors can utilize a pre-recorded voice message for limited-content messages; (iii) that the final rule “establishes a presumption of a violation of, and a presumption of compliance with, the prohibition against harassing, oppressive, or abusive conduct, based on the frequency of a debt collector’s telephone calls and conversations”; (iii) that the final rule “does not preempt a state law that affords greater protection to consumers, including, for example, by imposing limits or more restrictive presumptions related to telephone call frequency”; (iv) that seven days is the maximum time a consumer’s direct prior consent applies to additional telephone calls; and (v) the factors that may rebut the presumption of a violation.
On August 26, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in Alabama Association of Realtors et al. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services et al. to lift the federal government’s eviction moratorium, stating the CDC lacked authority to impose the ban. This decision follows the Court’s June decision, which previously denied the group’s request to lift the eviction moratorium in order to let the ban expire at the end of July as intended to allow for a “more orderly distribution of the congressionally appropriated rental assistance funds.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In agreeing with the group’s argument that the law on which the CDC relied upon did not allow it to implement the current ban, the majority held that “[i]t strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the CDC the sweeping authority that it asserts,” pointing out that, as the Court noted in its June decision, “[i]f a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it.” This decision vacates a stay on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s judgment placed by the same court and renders the district court’s judgment enforceable. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the district court ruled that the CDC exceeded its authority when it imposed the temporary ban and stated that because the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) does not “grant the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium” the moratorium must be set aside.
The dissenting judges faulted the Court for deciding the issue without full briefing and argument, arguing that a stay entered by a lower court cannot be vacated “unless that court clearly and ‘demonstrably’ erred in its application of ‘accepted standards.’” Among other things, they pointed out that “it is far from ‘demonstrably’ clear that the CDC lacks the power to issue its modified moratorium order” as the CDC’s current, modified order targets only regions experiencing a spike in transmission rates. They further argued that the PHSA’s language authorizes the CDC “to design measures that, in the agency’s judgment, are essential to contain disease outbreaks,” and that “the balance of equities strongly favors leaving the stay in place.” According to the minority, “public interest strongly favors respecting the CDC’s judgment at this moment, when over 90% of counties are experiencing high transmission rates.”
Notably, the decision impact’s the CFPB’s interim final rule (Rule) amending Regulation F to require all landlords to disclose to tenants certain federal protections put in place as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic (covered by InfoBytes here). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee denied a request in May for a temporary restraining order to block the Rule, but noted however, that “by its own terms the Rule applies only during the effective period of the CDC Order, only to tenants to whom the CDC Order reasonably might apply, and only in jurisdictions in which the CDC Order applies. Defendant CFPB has opined, in its response to the Motion, that ‘the Rule’s provisions—by the Rule’s own operation—have no application where the CDC Order, on account of a court order or otherwise, does not apply.’ . . . The Court concurs with this view, and it intends to hold CFPB to this view (and believes that other courts perhaps should do likewise).”
On January 15, the CFPB issued a small entity compliance guide summarizing the Bureau’s debt collection rule. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau issued a final rule last October amending Regulation F, which implements the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), to address debt collection communications and prohibitions on harassment or abuse, false or misleading representations, and unfair practices. The guide provides a detailed summary of the October final rule’s substantive prohibitions and requirements, as well as a summary of key interpretations and clarifications of the FDCPA. The Bureau noted, however, that the current small entity compliance guide does not discuss (unless specifically noted otherwise) the CFPB’s final rule issued in December (covered by InfoBytes here), which clarified consumer disclosure requirements, provided a model validation notice, and addressed required actions prior to furnishing and prohibitions concerning the collection of time-barred debt. Updates will be made to the small entity compliance guide at a later date to include provisions related to the December final rule.
On December 18, the CFPB issued a final rule amending Regulation F, which implements the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, clarifying the information debt collectors must provide to consumers at the outset of collection communications and providing a model validation notice containing such information. (See also the Bureau’s Executive Summary.) The final rule also prohibits debt collectors from bringing or threatening to bring legal action against a consumer to collect time-barred debt, and requires debt collectors to take certain actions before furnishing information about a consumer’s debt to a consumer reporting agencies (CRA). Among other things, the final rule addresses the following:
- Validation notice. The final rule clarifies that debt collectors may provide “clear and conspicuous” debt validation notices in writing or electronically when commencing debt collection communications. Validation notices must include a statement indicating that the communication is from a debt collector, along with additional information such as itemization-related information, the current amount of debt, consumer protection information, and information for consumers who may choose to dispute the debt or take other actions. The final rule also outlines optional content that debt collectors may choose to include while retaining the safe harbor for using the model notice, provided that “the optional content is no more prominent than the required content.” The final rule also revises the definition of “consumer” used in a separate final rule issued by the Bureau at the end of October (covered by InfoBytes here). The December final rule’s definition now includes both living and deceased consumers.
- Safe harbor for model validation notices. Debt collectors who choose to use the model validation notice are in compliance with the final rule’s content requirements. Additionally, the use of a model validation notice would not be considered a violation of the prohibition on conduct that “overshadows” a consumer’s rights during the validation period. The final rule outlines additional safe harbors, and provides examples where a safe harbor generally will not apply. Notably, the safe harbor does not cover validation notice delivery methods and timing requirements.
- Translations. Debt collectors who choose to provide validation notices in other languages must also include an English-language notice in the same communication.
- Credit reporting. The final rule requires debt collectors to either speak to a consumer in person, send an email or letter, or try to speak with a consumer by telephone before furnishing any information to a CRA. Communications sent via email or letter will require a 14 day waiting period to allow for a “reasonable period of time” to receive a notice of undeliverability.
- Time-barred debt. The final rule prohibits debt collectors from suing or threatening to sue consumers when attempting to collect time-barred debt. Proofs of claim filed in connection with a bankruptcy proceeding are not included in this prohibition.
The final rule takes effect November 30, 2021.
More information from Buckley on the details of the newest debt collection final rule will be available soon.
On October 30, the CFPB issued (along with blog post from Director Kraninger) its final rule amending Regulation F, which implements the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), addressing debt collection communications and prohibitions on harassment or abuse, false or misleading representations, and unfair practices. The final rule does not include several significant provisions from the proposed rule, including those related to consumer disclosures. The Bureau states a second “disclosure-focused” final rule will be released in December 2020. This final rule is expected to address the model debt validation notice and time-barred debt disclosures previously proposed by the Bureau. As previously covered by InfoBytes (here and here) the Bureau issued the proposed rule in May 2019 and a supplemental proposed rule in February 2020, addressing time-barred debt disclosures. The final rule is effective November 30, 2021.
Among other things, the final rule: (i) prohibits a debt collector from calling a consumer about a particular debt more than seven times within seven consecutive days or within seven consecutive days of having had a telephone conversation; (ii) allows consumers to set preferences with debt collectors on certain communications, including communications with third parties and allowing consumers a reasonable way to opt-out of electronic communications; and (iii) clarifies that the FDCPA’s prohibition on harassing, oppressive, or abusive conduct applies to email and text messages. Additionally, the final rule also contains the procedures for state application for exemption from the provisions of the FDCPA.
On August 4, twenty-four state attorneys general responded to the CFPB’s request for comments on its proposed supplemental debt collection rule (the “Supplemental Proposed Rule”) arguing it does not “adequately protect consumers’ rights.” As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the Supplemental Proposed Rule— which adds to the CFPB’s May 2019 proposed rule (InfoBytes coverage here) — proposes (i) certain disclosures required to be included in communications where a third-party debt collector knows or should know that a debt is time-barred; and (ii) model language and forms that debt collectors may use to comply with such disclosure requirements.
Among other things, the attorneys general disagree with the “know or should know” standard, arguing that the Bureau should “adopt a strict-liability standard, which would be in line with what the FDCPA intends to accomplish.” Moreover, the attorneys general assert that the model disclosures (i) were not adequately tested; (ii) do not account for the variations in state laws as to the potential revival of time-barred debt; and (iii) provide a safe harbor that is inconsistent with the FDCPA and the Dodd-Frank Act. Lastly, the attorneys general express concerns that the Supplemental Proposed Rule conflicts with state laws that require state disclosures to be on the front side of debt collection notices and fails to address “obsolete debt.”
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- Elizabeth E. McGinn, Benjamin W. Hutten, and James C. Chou to discuss “The evolving regulatory landscape: Third-party and cyber risk management” at the 2022 mWISE Conference
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