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On June 21, the FTC announced that the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut temporarily halted the operation of an alleged credit repair scheme based on allegations the company charged illegal upfront fees and falsely claimed to substantially improve consumers’ credit scores in violation of the FTC Act, the Credit Repair Organizations Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), the Consumer Review Fairness Act, TILA, and the EFTA. According to the complaint, since 2014, the company, among other things, (i) claims they can improve consumers’ credit scores by removing negative items and hard inquiries from credit reports; (ii) charges advance fees for their services; (iii) does not provide the required disclosures for its services, including credit transaction disclosures related to the financing of the service fees; (iv) engages in electronic funds transfers from consumers’ bank accounts without proper authorization; and (v) threatens consumers with legal action after consumers complain about the lack of results. The court order requires the company to temporarily cease its operations and ensures the company’s assets are frozen.
On May 30, the CFPB released the latest quarterly consumer credit trends report, which examines the fluctuations in consumers’ credit scores and the timing of consumers’ applications for credit. The report analyzes consumers whose credit scores showed large increases or decreases between 2009 and 2017. Key findings of the report include, (i) consumers with large credit score changes, in either direction, tend to be younger and have considerably lower credit scores on average; (ii) application rates drop sharply as credit scores reach their minimums, and then, after hitting bottom application rates trend steadily upward; and (iii) patterns in application rates generally hold regardless of the levels of minimum and maximum credit scores.
The report notes that while the Bureau did not perform “a full accounting of the underlying mechanism” that leads to the observed patterns, there are a few possible explanations, including (i) consumers are more aware of their credit scores due to the wider availability of them, which would influence timing of applications; (ii) hard inquiries and results from hard inquiries may contribute to the observed peaks and troughs in the scores; (iii) marketing practices by card issuers may contribute to increased applications after a consumer’s credit score qualifies the consumer for a prescreened offer.
On July 23, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced that it will not decide this year whether to update the credit score model used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises), as previously announced. Instead, FHFA will focus on implementing Section 310: Credit Score Competition, of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (Public Law 115-174) (the Act). Section 310 requires FHFA to establish, through the rulemaking process, standards and criteria to govern the verification and validation of credit score models used by the Enterprises. According to the press release, prior to Section 310 becoming law, FHFA and the Enterprises had been engaged in an ongoing initiative to evaluate a new credit score model’s potential impact on “access to credit, safety and soundness, operations in the mortgage finance industry, and competition in the credit score market.” However, after Section 310 was enacted in May, FHFA “determined that proceeding with efforts to reach a decision based on our [initiative] and timetable would be duplicative of, and in some respects inconsistent with, the work we are mandated to do under Section 310 of the Act. In light of that, we are communicating to Congress that we are transferring our full efforts to working with the Enterprises to implement the steps required under Section 310.” FHFA will release a proposed rule open for public comment in the future to govern the verification of credit score models.
On February 2, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced that it is extending the deadline for input on how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the GSEs) should update their current credit score requirements. Interested parties now have until March 30 to respond to the 22 questions outlined in the Request for Input (RFI) issued by FHFA on December 20, 2017. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the RFI sought input on four options for replacement of the Classic FICO credit score model currently used by the GSEs. The four options include (i) requiring the use of either the FICO 9 credit score model or the VantageScore 3.0 credit score model; (ii) requiring the use of both the FICO 9 and the VantageScore 3.0 credit score models; (iii) allowing lenders to choose between either the FICO 9 or the VantageScore 3.0 credit score models; or (iv) allowing lenders to deliver multiple scores through a waterfall approach that would establish a primary and a secondary score.
On December 20, the Federal Housing Financial Agency (FHFA) announced a Request for Input (RFI) seeking feedback from interested parties regarding how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the GSEs) should update their current credit score requirements. Specifically, the GSEs plan to stop using the Classic FICO credit score model and to replace it with one of four options. These options include (i) requiring the use of either the FICO 9 credit score model or the VantageScore 3.0 credit score model; (ii) requiring the use of both the FICO 9 and the VantageScore 3.0 credit score models; (iii) allowing lenders to choose between either the FICO 9 or the VantageScore 3.0 credit score models; or (iv) allowing lenders to deliver multiple scores through a waterfall approach that would establish a primary and a secondary score. The FHFA’s RFI asks interested parties to provide feedback on these options by responding to 22 questions outlined in the RFI by February 20.
On December 21, FHFA released the 2018 Scorecard outlining specific conservatorship priorities for the GSEs and their joint venture, Common Securitization Solutions, LLC (CSS). The 2018 Scorecard continues to identify many of the priorities outlined in the 2017 Scorecard. In addition, the 2018 Scorecard highlights the FHFA’s focus on gathering information to support its assessment of single-family rental strategies and extends the timeline for implementation of the Single Security Initiative on the Common Securitization Platform to the second quarter of 2019.
CFPB Fines Loan-Servicing Software Company $1.1 Million for Flaws Leading to the Reporting of Inaccurate Consumer Information
On November 17, the CFPB ordered a loan-servicing software company to pay a $1.1 million penalty for errors that resulted in the company furnishing incorrect consumer information related to over one million borrowers to the credit reporting agencies. The consent order alleges that the company violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act when its third-party software application generated and furnished inaccurate and incomplete information to consumer reporting agencies because of known software defects. The company allegedly did not share the existence of the defects with its auto-lender clients. In addition to the civil money penalty, the company was ordered to: (i) explain its errors to its clients; (ii) fix the faulty software; and (iii) provide the Bureau with a compliance plan outlining how it plans to identify and fix the defects, as well as ensure that the software is capable of reporting accurate information.
On November 13, the CFPB’s Office of Financial Education (OFE) published two requests for information (RFI) in the Federal Register concerning free access to credit scores. The first RFI requests information related to (i) consumers’ experience when accessing free credit scores, and (ii) the experience of companies and nonprofits when offering free access to credit scores to their customers and the general public. The Bureau plans to use the information gathered through the RFI to, among other things, “identify educational content that is providing the most value to consumers, and additional educational content that the Bureau or others could develop to increase consumers’ understanding of credit scores and credit reports.” Comments must be received by February 12, 2018.
The second RFI requests information on companies that provide existing customers free access to a credit score. This information will be used to update OFE’s March 2017 list of companies that offer this service. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Following its update to the list, the CFPB intends to publish information “to educate consumers about the availability of credit scores and credit reports and how this information can be used effectively.” Comments must be received by January 12, 2018.
On October 30, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall announced that a state court granted a permanent injunction against a credit repair company and its owner/operators for allegedly engaging in deceptive and illegal credit repair practices. According to the Office of the Attorney General, defendants allegedly (i) used deceptive advertising that guaranteed improved credit scores and made various false promises; (ii) charged consumers before services were completed or charged rates different from those that were advertised; (iii) failed to allow consumers to cancel the service within three days as required by federal law governing credit repair businesses; and (iv) indiscriminately disputed negative credit report items--a practice known as “jamming”—to create the illusion of improved credit and a temporary rise in credit score. The order permanently closes the company, bans the defendants from engaging in any credit repair or consumer finance activity, and prohibits defendants from owning or managing any business in Alabama or involving Alabama consumers.
On September 14, the CFPB’s Project Catalyst initiative issued its first “no-action” letter to a consumer lending firm that provides an online lending platform that uses alternative data when making lending decisions. As previously discussed in InfoBytes, Project Catalyst explores innovation in the consumer financial services sector and examines the potential challenges facing consumers, entrepreneurs, and investors. With the issuance of the no-action letter—at the lender’s request—the CFPB indicated that it does not, at the present, intend to take enforcement action against the lender under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. However, the letter does not waive the Bureau’s right to choose to “conduct supervisory activities or engage in an enforcement investigation” should the lender fail to comply with the outlined terms. Further, the letter stipulates that the Bureau has the right to evaluate other matters concerning the lender. According to a press release issued by the Bureau, the lender has agreed to “share certain information with the CFPB regarding the loan applications it receives, how it decides which loans to approve, and how it will mitigate risk to consumers, as well as information on how its model expands access to credit for traditionally underserved populations.”
Earlier this year the CFPB issued a request for information seeking input about the use of alternative data, and it believes the information it will receive under the terms of the no-action letter will help to “further its understanding of how these types of practices impact access to credit generally and for traditionally underserved populations, as well as the application of compliance management systems for these emerging practices.” (See previous InfoBytes summary here.)
On June 27, the CFPB filed two complaints in the District Court for the Central District of California against several credit repair companies and affiliated individuals. The CFPB alleged that these defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protect Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule by charging consumers illegal fees and misleading consumers about services (see complaints here and here).
According to a CFPB press release, the defendants allegedly “[c]harged illegal advance fees” such as initial consultation fees, and set-up fees prior to providing certain services. Defendants also allegedly “[f]ailed to disclose limits on ‘money-back guarantees’” and “[m]isled consumers about the benefits of their services” by suggesting they could remove negative information from credit reports and “substantial[ly] increase” credit scores.
The CFPB submitted a proposed final judgment for each suit. In the first suit, the CFPB proposed a civil money penalty of over $1.5 million, and restrained defendants from working in credit repair services or maintaining an ownership interest in any company that provides credit repair services for a period of five years. In the second suit, the CFPB sought similar injunctive relief, and also proposed “equitable monetary relief in the form of disgorgement . . . in the amount of $500,000.”
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Navigating the challenges of the latest data protection regulations and proven protocols for breach prevention and response" at the ACI National Forum on Consumer Finance Class Actions and Government Enforcement
- Tim Lange to discuss "Ease your pain at the state level: Recommendations for navigating the licensing issues in the states" at the Online Lenders Alliance Compliance University
- Amanda R. Lawrence, Aaron C. Mahler, and Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Expanded role for the FTC ahead: Implications for bank and nonbank financial institutions" at an American Bar Association Banking Law Committee Webinar
- Buckley Webcast: Flirting with alternatives — Opportunities and challenges created by alternative data, modeling, and technology
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Reporting requirements for credit unions: CTRs and SARs" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions BSA Seminar
- Daniel P. Stipano and Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Vendor management: What is the NCUA looking for?" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions BSA Seminar
- Sasha Leonhardt and John B. Williams to discuss "Privacy" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Summer Regulatory Compliance School
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss "CRA modernization" at the National Association of Industrial Bankers and the Utah Association of Financial Services Annual Convention
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Ethical guidance in conducting internal investigations – The intersection of Yates and Upjohn" at the American Bar Association Southeastern White Collar Crime Institute
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Risk management in enforcement actions: Managing risk or micromanaging it" at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Annual Meeting
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Navigating the conflicting federal and state laws for doing business with cannabis companies" at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Annual Meeting
- Tim Lange to discuss "Services and value" at the North American Collection Agency Regulatory Association Annual Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Data privacy litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "HMDA data is out, now what?" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Assessing the CDD final rule: A year of transitions" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "How to balance a successful (and stressful) career with greater personal well-being" at the American Bar Association Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference