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On December 11, the CFPB and the Arkansas attorney general announced a proposed settlement with a Utah-based home-security and alarm company for allegedly failing to provide proper notices under the FCRA. According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, the company allows consumers to defer payment for the alarm and security-system equipment over the life of a long-term contract, and therefore extends credit to its customers. The company—in extending credit to its customers—allegedly obtained and used consumers’ credit scores to determine the amount of activation fees it would charge for its products and services, and then charged consumers who had lower credit scores higher fees without providing those consumers with required risk-based pricing notices. Under the FCRA and implementing regulation, Regulation V, companies are required to provide notice to consumers if a consumer receives less favorable credit terms based on a review of his or her credit report. Under the proposed settlement, the company is required to pay a $600,000 civil money penalty, of which $100,000 will be offset provided the company pays that amount to settle related litigation with the State of Arkansas that is currently pending in state court. The company will also be required to provide proper risk-based pricing notices under the FCRA.
As part of the CFPB’s Consumer Financial Protection Week, the Bureau released several reports and tools, including a recently published study analyzing the impact of credit builder loans (CBLs) on consumer credit scores. The study, Targeting Credit Builder Loans: Insights from a Credit Builder Loan Evaluation (accompanied by a practitioner’s guide and research on CBLs), provides insight for community-based organizations and financial institutions on expanding financial inclusion through the use of CBLs, which are designed to assist individuals with no credit records or poor credit histories to build or repair their credit. According to the Bureau, the central feature of a CBL is that a borrower makes payments before receiving funds. When a CBL is opened by a borrower, the lender moves its own funds into a locked escrow account and the borrower makes installment payments, including interest and fees, typically over a period of six to 24 months. These payments appear on the borrower’s credit report, and the lender deposits the principal payments into the borrower’s savings account “after each payment or in entirety when the borrower completes the program.” According to the Bureau, a typical CBL ranges from $300 to $1,000. The Bureau’s study examined 1,531 credit union members who were offered CBLs. The research revealed that a CBL increased the likelihood of having a credit score by 24 percent for borrowers without an existing loan, and that borrowers without existing debt saw their credit scores rise by 60 points more than borrowers carrying existing debt. Additionally, the Bureau found an association between having a CBL and an increase in a borrower’s savings balance. The Bureau cautioned, however, that the study’s findings also indicated that CBLs appeared to cause a decrease in credit scores for borrowers with existing debt, suggesting that these borrowers experienced difficulty making payments on both their CBL and their existing debt obligations.
The Bureau also released the results from the Making Ends Meet survey, which provides insight into how U.S. consumers cope with financial shortfalls. The survey, conducted prior to the Covid-19 pandemic in May 2019, offers a nationally representative assessment of consumers with credit records. Among its findings, the report noted that 52 percent of survey respondents said they could cover expenses for two months or less without their main source of income, while 20 percent could cover expenses for only two weeks or less.
A report exploring the credit records of young servicemembers that compares servicemembers’ credit profiles to the credit profiles of civilians was also recently published, along with an online tool to help students make informed decisions about paying for college.
On July 7, the CFPB issued its semi-annual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work from October 1, 2019, through March 31, 2020. The report, which is required by the Dodd-Frank Act, addresses, among other things, problems faced by consumers with regard to consumer financial products or services; significant rules and orders adopted by the Bureau; and various supervisory and enforcement actions taken by the Bureau. In her opening letter, Director Kathy Kraninger discusses the Bureau’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, stating that the Bureau has participated in “countless joint statements, virtual co-appearances, and shared broadcasts to stakeholders with [their] prudential partners” and has “directly engage[d] consumers with the right information, at the right time.”
Among other things, the report highlights first time homebuyers and credit scores as areas in which consumers face significant problems, citing to the Bureau’s Market Snapshot on First-time Homebuyers and the quarterly consumer credit trends report on public records. In addition to highlighting the Bureau’s previous efforts during the reporting period, the report notes upcoming initiatives and plans, including (i) the Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law’s public listening sessions in the fall; (ii) the cost-benefit analysis symposium in July; and (iii) further work on their Covid-19 pandemic responses.
On March 9, the FTC filed a complaint against a Colorado-based credit repair company and its owner for allegedly making false representations to consumers regarding their ability to improve credit scores and increase access to mortgages, personal loans, and other credit products in violation of the Credit Repair Organizations Act, the FTC Act, and the Telemarketing Sales Rule. In its complaint, the FTC alleged that the defendants charged consumers illegal, upfront fees ranging from $325 to $4,000 per tradeline with the deceptive promise that they could “piggyback” on a stranger’s good credit, thereby artificially inflating their own credit score in the process. As the FTC explained, “piggybacking” occurs when a consumer pays to be registered as an “additional authorized user” on a credit card held by an unrelated account holder with positive payment histories. The FTC alleged that the defendants’ practices did not, in fact, significantly improve consumers’ credit scores as promised, and that while the defendants claimed on their website that their piggybacking services were legal, the FTC “has never determined that credit piggybacking is legal” and the practice does not fall within the protections of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the defendants will be banned from selling access to another consumer’s credit as an authorized user and from collecting advance fees for credit repair services. The defendants will also be required to pay a $6.6 million monetary judgment, which be partially suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay.
On February 3, the CFPB issued its semi-annual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work from April 1, 2019, through September 30, 2019. The report, which is required by the Dodd-Frank Act, addresses, among other things, problems faced by consumers with regard to consumer financial products or services; significant rules and orders adopted by the Bureau; and various supervisory and enforcement actions taken by the Bureau. In her opening letter, Director Kathy Kraninger reported that she has focused, “whenever appropriate and possible” on two areas: (i) encouraging saving, by establishing a program called “Start Small, Save Up”; and (ii) unleashing innovation by reducing regulatory constraints and revising innovation policies and promoting cooperation between state and federal regulators, as demonstrated with the launch of the American Consumer Financial Innovation Network last year.
Among other things, the report highlights credit scores, credit reporting, and the consumer credit card market as areas in which consumers face significant problems. The report notes that credit reports and credit scores greatly affect credit available to consumers. With respect to the availability of general purpose credit cards the report cites Bureau findings that in 2018, consumers with high credit scores had an 83 percent approval rate, whereas consumers with subprime credit scores had only a 17 percent approval rate. In addition to these areas of focus, the report notes the issuance of one significant final rule—Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans; Delay of Compliance Date; Correction Amendments—last year. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Several less significant rules were also finalized, including (i) Technical Specifications for Submissions to the Prepaid Account Agreements Database; (ii) Availability of Funds and Collection of Checks (Regulation CC); and (iii) Home Mortgage Disclosure (Regulation C)–2019 Final Rule.
On December 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling overturning a jury verdict in favor of the consumer for a debt collection company’s (company) violation of the FDCPA and the Texas Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (Texas Act). The consumer sued the company claiming that after she sent the company a letter disputing a debt, the company failed to report to the credit bureaus that the debt was “disputed.” At trial, the jury awarded the consumer $61,000 for the company’s alleged FDCPA and Texas Act violations. Afterwards, the district court granted the company’s post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law, overturned the jury’s verdict, and dismissed the case, ruling that the consumer failed to provide evidence that the disputed debt was a consumer debt.
On appeal, the 5th Circuit held that it is within the jury’s discretion to make credibility determinations and that it was permissible for the jury to credit the consumer’s testimony about the consumer nature of the debt—a determination which cannot be disturbed unless it is impossible that the testimony is true. In addition, the appellate court noted that the jury has discretion to draw inferences and that it reasonably inferred that the disputed debt was, in fact, a consumer debt, as the consumer claimed.
On December 10, the CFPB released the latest quarterly consumer credit trends report, which evaluated the extent to which removal of public records from credit reports affects consumer credit scores and credit performance. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the three major U.S. credit reporting agencies began using stricter guidelines when considering consumer public records, such as tax liens and civil judgments, to be included in consumer credit reports as a result of the National Consumer Assistance Plan (NCAP). The NCAP, among other things, imposed restrictions on medical debt reporting and civil public records such as tax liens, civil judgments, and bankruptcies. Observing that the “NCAP public records provision resulted in the removal of all civil judgments and almost half of tax liens from credit reports by the end of July 2017,” this report compared consumer credit scores and credit performance for consumers that had public records removed from their credit report and consumers who did not. According to the report, “there was only a slight increase in credit scores following the NCAP,” and “the NCAP did not seem to have a large effect on the relationship between credit scores and consumers’ credit performance for consumers whose credit report included a lien or judgment compared with consumers whose credit report did not.”
On November 25, the Governor of New York signed S2302, a measure which prohibits entities that are “licensed lenders” in New York, as well as consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), from including a consumer’s social network information in credit decisions. S2302 amends New York’s general business law and the banking law to prohibit licensed lenders and CRAs from considering “the credit worthiness, credit standing, or credit capacity of members of the consumer’s social network” or “the average credit worthiness, credit standing, or credit capacity of members of the consumer’s social network or any group score that is not the [consumer’s] own credit” information. Specifically, the amendment prohibits licensed lenders and CRAs from collecting, evaluating, reporting, or maintaining the information in a file. Additionally, the consumer’s internet viewing history also may not be factored into the licensed lender’s or agency’s “credit scoring formulas.”
On September 25, the CFPB released the latest quarterly consumer credit trends report, which examines how the volume and types of bankruptcy filings have changed from 2001 to 2018. The report focuses on consumers who filed for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy during the reported timeframe. Key findings of the report include: (i) in 2005, there was a rush to file for bankruptcy before the income limits of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) went into effect, increasing the share of Chapter 7 filings to 80 percent of all personal bankruptcy filings that year; (ii) from 2015 to 2018, with the effects of the recession fading, Chapter 7 filings appear to have stabilized at about 63 percent; (iii) Chapter 7 and 13 filers, on average, had more than twice the mortgage debt during the recession than in the periods before and after; and (iv) median credit scores increase steadily from year-to-year after consumers file a bankruptcy petition, with Chapter 7 filers’ scores increasing more quickly than Chapter 13, on average.
On August 13, the FHFA announced its final rule on the validation and approval of third-party credit score model(s) that can be used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the GSEs), implementing Section 310 of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. The final rule defines a four-phase process for a GSE to validate and approve credit score models: (i) solicitation of applications from credit score model developers; (ii) submission and review of applications; (iii) credit score assessment; and (iv) business assessment, which, among other things, evaluates the impact of using the credit score model on industry operations and mortgage market liquidity. Additionally, the final rule lays out timing and notices for GSE decisions under the process. After a GSE approves or disapproves of an application, within 45 days the FHFA must approve or disapprove of the GSE’s proposed determination. If any applications are approved, the credit score solicitation will be made publicly available. The rule will take effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.
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