Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On November 23, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted a national bank’s motion to compel arbitration in an action concerning the bank’s alleged mishandling of Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loan applications. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit claiming the bank’s PPP loan disbursement process allegedly favored wealthy clients over smaller, less wealthy clients to maximize the bank’s origination fees. The plaintiff alleged that because the bank did not process applications on a “first-come, first-served” basis, the plaintiff did not receive its PPP loan in a timely manner. The bank moved to compel arbitration, “arguing that questions of arbitrability are for the arbitrator to decide in the first instance.” The plaintiff argued that the arbitration clauses in the bank’s agreements applied only to disputes regarding bank deposit accounts, and not to other financial products such as PPP loans. The court stayed the case and granted the bank’s motion to compel arbitration, noting that the bank’s deposit account agreement and online services agreement both include arbitration clauses. These clauses, the court stated, are “clear evidence” that the bank intended an arbitrator to decide questions related to scope. “Accordingly, Plaintiff must bring its claim before the arbitrator in the first instance, even if it contests the scope of arbitrability,” the court wrote.
On November 24, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California dismissed, with prejudice, a putative class action alleging that a nonbank lender prioritized high-dollar Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applicants. The plaintiff’s complaint—which alleged claims of fraudulent concealment, fraudulent deceit, unfair business practices, and false advertising—claimed, among other things, that the lender (i) was not licensed to make loans in California when she applied; (ii) did not have adequate funding to make the loans; and (iii) advertised it would process loan requests on a first-come, first-served basis, but actually prioritized favored customers and higher-value loans that yielded higher lending fees. The court granted the lender’s motion to dismiss. According to the court, the plaintiff’s allegation that the parties were “transacting business in order to enter into a contractual, borrower-lender relationship” was not supported by any facts, and that while the plaintiff claimed she submitted a PPP loan application to the lender, a confirmation e-mail from the lender did not mention a submitted application—only a loan request. “This court cannot, therefore, assume the truth of Plaintiff’s allegation that she submitted a loan application, let alone her conclusory allegation that the parties entered into a borrower-lender relationship or engaged in any other transaction,” the court stated. The court also determined that the plaintiff’s fraudulent deceit claim failed because her allegation, made on information and belief, that the lender prioritized large loans had no factual foundation, and the plaintiff failed to plead the elements of that claim.
On November 10, the OCC, Federal Reserve Board, CFPB, FDIC, NCUA, and state financial regulators issued a joint statement announcing the end to temporary supervisory and enforcement flexibility provided to mortgage servicers due to the Covid-19 pandemic by the agencies’ April 3, 2020 joint statement. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the April 2020 joint statement provided mortgage servicers greater flexibility to provide CARES Act forbearance of up to 180 days and other short-term options upon the request of borrowers with federally backed mortgages without having to adhere to otherwise applicable rules. The April 2020 joint statement also announced that agencies would not take supervisory or enforcement action against mortgage servicers for failing to meet certain timing requirements under the mortgage servicing rules provided that servicers made good faith efforts to provide required notices or disclosures and took related actions within a reasonable time period.
The agencies noted in their announcement that while the pandemic continues to affect consumers and mortgage servicers, servicers have had sufficient time to take measures to assist impacted consumers and develop more robust business continuity and remote work capabilities. Accordingly, the agencies “will apply their respective supervisory and enforcement authorities, when appropriate, to address any noncompliance or violations of the Regulation X mortgage servicing rules that occur after the date of this statement.” However, the agencies will take into consideration, when appropriate, “the specific impact of servicers’ challenges that arise due to the COVID-19 pandemic and take those issues in account when considering any supervisory and enforcement actions,” including factoring in the time it may take “to make operational adjustments in connection with this joint statement.”
The same day, the Bureau released a report titled Mortgage Servicing Efforts in Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, summarizing efforts taken by the Bureau since the start of the pandemic to respond to the evolving needs of homeowners and CFPB-supervised entities. These responses include: (i) conducting prioritized assessments and targeted supervisory reviews; (ii) issuing reminders to servicers that being “unprepared is unacceptable”; (iii) implementing temporary procedural safeguards to allow borrowers time to explore options before foreclosure; (vi) analyzing consumer complaint data and conducting targeted reviews of high-risk complaints related to pandemic forbearances; (v) analyzing and releasing information relating to mortgage servicers’ pandemic responses; (vi) documenting research on the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black, Hispanic, and low-income communities; and (vii) partnering with other federal agencies to create online tools to provide information on CARES Act assistance and protections, as well as providing homeowner outreach materials. The Bureau noted it “will continue to monitor closely the performance of mortgage servicers to prevent avoidable foreclosures to the maximum extent possible and will not hesitate to take supervisory or enforcement action if warranted.”
On October 26, the CFPB Private Education Loan Ombudsman published its annual report on consumer complaints submitted between September 1, 2020 and August 31, 2021. The report is based on approximately 5,300 complaints received by the Bureau regarding federal and private student loans. Of these complaints, roughly 900 were related to debt collection, while approximately 730 mentioned Covid-19. The Bureau’s press release noted that the overall decrease in both federal and private student loan complaints may be attributed to the CARES Act relief measures and administrative extensions that were extended through January 31, 2022. The Bureau stated, however, that the pandemic exacerbated socio-economic and racial disparities in the student lending space and caused heightened risk of borrower harm, particularly to vulnerable populations. Additionally, the Bureau warned that the risk of borrower harm may also increase as more than 32 million borrowers with federal loans resume payments in the first quarter of 2022, and, because four of nine federal student loan servicers have or will soon stop servicing federal student loans, over 16 million borrowers will transfer to different servicers. Findings in the report included topics related to student loan complaint trends, debt collection complaints, and supervisory findings related to student loan servicers, etc.
The report also advised policymakers to consider several recommendations, including: (i) considering metrics for sharing risks shouldered by borrowers with schools that fail to provide meaningful paths to repayment; (ii) accelerating efforts to incorporate qualitative and quantitative metrics to protect consumers into future federal student loan servicing contracts; (iii) requiring detailed disclosures provided with every student loan disbursement; (iv) considering various loan forgiveness programs; (v) examining return to repayment and servicer transitions; and (vi) identifying and prosecuting data aggregators and payment processors, as well as student loan debt relief scammers.
On September 16, the SBA published a final rule in the Federal Register informing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) borrowers and lenders of the appeal process for certain SBA loan review decisions under the PPP to the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals. The final rule adopts, with changes, certain portions of an interim final rule published in August 2020 (covered by InfoBytes here). Among other things, the final rule dispenses the 30-day delayed effective date to allow SBA to immediately issue decisions and provide certainty concerning the appeals process to potential appellants without further delay. Because the final rule further “provides increased accessibility to borrowers in response to comments previously received by the public, allowing the borrowers that receive an appealable final SBA loan review decision to immediately appeal under the final rule is in the best interests of the borrowers.” The final rule became effective September 14.
On July 29, the SBA added question #69 to its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) frequently asked questions explaining why the agency is discontinuing the use of two Loan Necessity Questionnaires (SBA Form 3509 or 3510). Borrowers that received PPP loans of at least $2 million were required to complete the questionnaires to back up their good faith certification “that economic uncertainty made the loan request necessary to support ongoing operations.” However, SBA noted that following a notice and comment period, the majority of commentators objected to the questionnaires. Based on the results of completed loan reviews so far, the agency believes that “audit resources will be more efficiently deployed across all loans if the loan necessity questionnaire is discontinued.” The SBA noted that these reviews “are lengthy and have caused delays beyond the 90-day statutory timeline for forgiveness, thus negatively impacting those borrowers that made their loan necessity certification in good faith.”
On July 28, SBA announced the launch of a streamlined application program to allow borrowers with Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans of $150,000 or less to apply for direct forgiveness through SBA, thereby reducing the burden on participating lenders to service forgiveness applications. The new direct forgiveness platform will start accepting applications from borrowers on August 4. Under the interim final rule (IFR), lenders who choose to participate will be required to opt-in to the program and will be provided a single secure location for all of their borrowers with loans of $150,000 or less to apply for loan forgiveness using the electronic equivalent of SBA Form 3508S. When notice is received that a borrower has applied for forgiveness through the platform, lenders will review both the borrower’s loan forgiveness application and issue a forgiveness decision to SBA inside the platform. Additional procedural guidance will be released in the near future to provide information on (i) the opt-in process; (ii) how qualified borrowers can access the platform and submit loan applications; and (iii) how lenders can access and review forgiveness applications, issue forgiveness decisions, and request forgiveness payments from SBA. During the transition period after the launch of the platform, SBA expects lenders that opt-in “to complete the processing of any loan forgiveness applications that have already been submitted by borrowers to the lender and should inform such borrowers not to submit a duplicate loan forgiveness application through the [p]latform.”
The IFR also extends the loan deferment period for PPP loans in circumstances where a borrower timely files an appeal of a final SBA loan review decision with SBA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals. Additionally, the IFR permits lenders to use a “COVID Revenue Reduction Score” at the time of forgiveness in order to document the required revenue reduction for second draw PPP loans of $150,000 or less, exempting those borrowers from supplying required documentation demonstrating a 25 percent revenue reduction or more in at least one quarter of 2020 compared to the same quarter in 2019.
The IRF takes effect immediately.
On July 15, the SBA issued Procedural Notice 5000-812316 to remind lenders of their servicing responsibilities and provide guidance on the agency’s guaranty purchase process for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) first-draw and second-draw loans. Lenders may submit requests for SBA to purchase and charge off PPP loans in instances where a borrower (i) is past due 60 days or more on scheduled loan payments where the default has not been cured; (ii) has permanently closed and does not intend to submit a forgiveness application; (iii); has filed for bankruptcy; or (iv) is deceased in the case of self-employed individuals, sole proprietors, single-member LLCs, or independent contractors. In circumstances where a borrower or any owner of 20 percent or more of the borrower has been indicted for, or convicted of, a felony related to a PPP loan, or in a case where a borrower has appealed an SBA loan review decision, the lender may request guaranty purchase without charge-off from SBA. Additionally, SBA outlines procedures for lenders when a borrower submits a forgiveness application after the lender has submitted a request to SBA for guaranty purchase. Guidelines for submitting guaranty purchase and charge-off requests are provided in the procedural notice.
On July 1, the CFPB released an enforcement compliance bulletin to reiterate to landlords, consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), and others of their obligation to correctly report rental and eviction information. The CFPB noted that it is “concerned that the end of the CDC eviction moratorium could mean both an increase in negative rental information in the consumer reporting system and an increase in consumers seeking rental housing.” According to the bulletin, the CFPB intends to examine if landlords, property management companies, and debt collectors are reporting accurate information to CRAs and complying with their dispute-handling obligations under the FCRA. Specifically, the Bureau will “pay particular attention to whether furnishers are reporting arrearages” regarding amounts paid on behalf of a tenant through a government grant or relief program and fees or penalties prohibited by CARES Act or other laws. In addition, the Bureau noted that it intends to look at whether CRAs are, among other things: (i) following procedures to only include accurate rental information in individuals’ consumer reports; (ii) reporting rental information for the consumer who is the subject of the report; (iii) reporting accurate and complete eviction information; and (iv) properly investigating when inaccuracies are reported by the consumer.
On June 22, the CFPB issued a release with data updating its March report on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on housing insecurity, finding some improvement but still elevated risks for borrowers relative to prior periods. The report summarized data and research regarding the impact of the pandemic on the rental and mortgage market, and specifically its effects on low income and minority households. According to the report, as of December 2020, 11 million renter and homeowner households were significantly overdue on their regular housing payments, which placed them, especially Black and Hispanic households, at a heightened risk of their homes being subjected to foreclosure or eviction. The report also indicated that as of January 2021, there were 2.7 million borrowers in active forbearance. As of June 2021, 600,000 fewer consumers were in mortgage forbearance than in January 2021, with forbearance rates significantly decreasing in April when many borrowers exited forbearance after reaching 12 months. According to the CFPB, this was a positive indication because many of these borrowers would have qualified for longer extensions of total forbearance. The release also notes, however, that for borrowers who have exited forbearance, payment deferrals or partial claims were the most common repayment option, and that “[o]f the borrowers still in forbearance, many may face a precarious financial situation upon exiting.” Additionally, while indicating that foreclosure rates remained at historic lows during the first quarter of 2021, with 0.54 percent of mortgages in foreclosure, the release also notes that the CARES Act and direction from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs), FHA, VA, and USDA “have prohibited lenders and servicers of GSE and federally-backed loans from beginning or proceeding with foreclosures.” Seriously delinquent mortgage borrowers remain approximately three times higher than before the pandemic, with 1.9 million mortgage borrowers over three months behind on mortgage payments or in active foreclosure, with more than one in 10 borrowers with an FHA loan remaining seriously delinquent on their mortgage, a rate higher than the peak during the Great Recession. The release also notes that during the pandemic, mortgage forbearance and delinquency have been significantly more common in communities of color and lower-income communities (covered by Infobytes here).
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss “Hot topics outside of CA” at the California Mortgage Bankers Association Conference
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss “LIBOR Transition: How will the pieces come together in time?” at the American Bar Association In the Know-Live webinar
- Dissecting the annual federal agency fair lending summit
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek