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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • CFPB Consumer Financial Protection Week roundup

    Federal Issues

    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.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Credit Scores Credit Builder Loans Servicemembers Student Lending

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  • CFPB’s semi-annual report to Congress discusses Covid-19 response

    Federal Issues

    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.

    Federal Issues CFPB Mortgages Credit Scores Credit Report Congress Dodd-Frank Consumer Finance Covid-19

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  • FTC files “piggybacking” charges against credit repair operation

    Federal Issues

    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.

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement Credit Repair Credit Scores FTC Act ECOA Fraud Unfair Deceptive

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  • CFPB issues semi-annual report to Congress

    Federal Issues

    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.

    Federal Issues CFPB Credit Cards Supervision Credit Report ACFIN Credit Scores Congress Dodd-Frank Payday Rule Fintech Consumer Finance

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  • District Court’s reversal of jury verdict in FDCPA case overturned

    Courts

    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.

    Courts Appellate Fifth Circuit State Issues FDCPA Debt Collection Credit Ratings Credit Report Credit Scores

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  • CFPB reexamines the effect of NCAP on credit scores and credit performance

    Federal Issues

    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.”

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Credit Scores Credit Reporting Agency

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  • New York blocks use of social networks in credit decisions

    State Issues

    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.”

    State Issues Consumer Finance Lending State Legislation Credit Scores

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  • CFPB report examines bankruptcy trends

    Federal Issues

    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.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Bankruptcy Credit Scores

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  • FHFA issues final rule on new credit score models

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    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.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FHFA Credit Scores Fannie Mae Freddie Mac EGRRCPA

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  • FTC halts operations of credit-repair company

    Federal Issues

    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.

    Federal Issues FTC Credit Repair Credit Scores Courts TILA EFTA FTC Act Telemarketing Sales Rule

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