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On June 7, the CFPB published analysis of how consumers transition out of credit invisibility. “Credit invisibility” refers to an individual who lacks a credit record at any of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. The report, entitled CFPB Data Point: Becoming Credit Visible, highlights the results of its latest study of the credit reporting industry, finding that consumers in low-income areas are more likely to gain credit visibility in negative ways such as through an account in collection or some form of public record. In a previous study, the CFPB estimated approximately 26 million Americans were credit invisible with an additional 19 million consumers having “unscorable” credit files—i.e. files that contain insufficient or too brief credit history. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Without such a record, lenders find it more difficult to assess a consumer’s creditworthiness, resulting in credit invisible individuals having a harder time accessing credit.
The report notes that credit invisibility can present a “Catch-22” scenario, whereby a consumer needs credit history to get access to credit but cannot establish a credit history without first being extended credit. However, the report concludes that because 91 percent of consumers acquire a credit record before turning 30, it is possible to avoid a “Catch-22” situation.
The Bureau highlighted the following key findings:
- Most consumers – almost 80 percent – become credit visible before age 25, but Consumers in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods are likely to be older when they establish a credit history.
- Members of all age groups and income levels most commonly use credit cards to establish credit history, with student loans ranking second.
- Approximately 1-in-4 consumers first establish credit history through an account either held by another responsible party—i.e. becoming an “authorized user”—or with a co-borrower. This trend is more common among higher-income groups.
- Consumers in lower-income neighborhoods, however, are more likely to establish a credit history through “non-loan items,” which usually convey negative information (e.g., third-party collections, delinquent utility bills, child support payments, etc.).
- In recent years, more consumers create a credit history using a credit card, except within the under 25 age group. The report attributed the trend in the under 25 age group to a number of factors including increased student loans and the restrictions of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, which made credit cards less available to young consumers.
Cordray Speaks at Consumer Advisory Board Meeting; Extends Comment Period for RFI on Small Business Lending Market
On June 8, CFPB Director Richard Cordray delivered prepared remarks at the Consumer Advisory Board Meeting in Washington, DC announcing, among other things, that the Bureau has extended the comment period of the “Request for Information Regarding the Small Business Lending Market” an additional 60-days. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the RFI—which was issued May 10—will provide feedback on various aspects of the small business lending market. Cordray noted the CFPB is “mindful of the potential complexity and cost of small business data collection and reporting” and that it plans to “explore ways to fulfill this duty in a balanced manner, seeking to provide timely data with the highest potential to meet the statutory objectives, while minimizing the burdens for both industry and the Bureau.” Allowing for more time to receive “quality responses from the public,” Cordray extended the comment period.
Additionally, Cordray discussed three other topics: (i) the Bureau’s emphasis on encouraging credit card market transparency to reduce consumer risk; (ii) updates to the Bureau’s continued “credit invisibility” research; and (iii) the need to formulate new rules governing the debt collection market.
On April 11, CFPB Director Richard Cordray delivered prepared remarks at the Operation HOPE Global Forums Annual Meeting in Atlanta addressing, among other things, financial challenges facing the “economically vulnerable”—most notably with respect to credit reporting and the handling of consumer disputes. As previously covered in InfoBytes, credit reporting was one of the top three consumer complaint categories for 2016. In his speech, Cordray cited a FTC study that found that “millions of people had an error on at least one of their credit reports that was serious enough to materially affect their credit score” and outlined the Bureau’s position for addressing these concerns such as (i) requiring credit reporting companies to improve quality control systems; (ii) creating easier access for consumer to dispute errors; and (iii) cleaning up information initially provided to the credit reporting companies by examining the ways in which banks and financial companies furnish the information.
On March 7, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities announced it has published a new brochure to help consumers better understand what information should be included in their credit report and what steps to take if there is an issue.
On March 6, CFPB Director Richard Cordray spoke at the LendIt USA Conference to outline three “areas of special interest” to the Bureau relating to innovations in consumer financial services. In his prepared remarks, Cordray highlighted the three areas as (i) the Project Catalyst initiative; (ii) issues regarding consumer control over personal financial data; and (iii) research concerning the benefits and risks of using unconventional data sources to underwrite loans as a means to open credit access for more consumers.
Project Catalyst, Cordray explained, is the Bureau’s major initiative which “operates on the principle that markets work best when they are wide open to competition from new ideas.” He further explained that the Bureau is trying to “learn about what does and does not work for consumers [as well as] potential challenges facing entrepreneurs and investors.” Project Catalyst hosts an “Office Hours” program to engage with startups, nonprofits, banks, and other financial companies, and conducts research pilot programs with companies of all sizes. It also works to devise new policies to foster innovations such as the “Trial Disclosure Waiver Policy,” which encourages the development of new technologies and approaches for designing and testing alternative consumer disclosures.
Cordray also spoke about the Bureau’s interest in understanding the ways consumers are exercising control over their personal financial data. Last November, the Bureau issued a Request for Information seeking input on the challenges consumers face when accessing, using, and securely sharing their financial records. Furthermore, Cordray emphasized at the conference that two pressing issues are (i) “how to satisfy the demands of the consumers without exposing the providers that maintain [the] data to undue costs and risks, and (ii) how to prevent consumers from subjecting themselves to undue risk, including [the misuse of their data].”
Finally, Cordray commented on the Bureau’s February Request for Information issued to better understand the potential consumer benefits and risks associated with using, applying, and analyzing “alternative data” to predict people’s creditworthiness. The request asked consumers for feedback about the difficulties they have encountered when accessing, using, and securely sharing their financial records.
On February 16, the CFPB published a Request for Information seeking information about the “use or potential use” of “alternative data” and/or modeling techniques that might help increase access to credit for consumers who otherwise lack sufficient credit history. As explained by the Bureau in a press release, and as previously covered by InfoBytes, millions of Americans have insufficient credit history to produce a credit score. Accordingly, the Bureau is seeking public feedback on the benefits and risks of utilizing alternative sources of information–such as bills for mobile phones and rent payments–that may be used to make lending decisions involving consumers whose lack of credit history might otherwise exclude them from lending opportunities.
In prepared remarks delivered at a field hearing on alternative data, CFPB Director Richard Cordray noted, among other things, that "equal access to credit means even more if overall access to credit is expanded and not constrained by lingering uncertainty about how regulators intend to apply fair lending laws. So we have crafted this Request for Information to help us better understand whether and how such uncertainty may be hindering credit access for disadvantaged populations. We also want to learn more about how the Consumer Bureau might reduce that uncertainty while holding fast to the anti-discrimination principles that are the cornerstones of federal law."
On January 3, the CFPB entered into separate consent orders (2017-CFPB-0001, 2017-CFPB-0002) with two credit reporting companies and their subsidiaries regarding the companies’ representations concerning credit scores sold to consumers, as well as the companies’ credit-related product sales practices. Under the terms of its consent order, one of the companies must pay a $2.5 million civil penalty in addition to almost $3.8 million in restitution to affected consumers. The consent order for the other company includes a $3 million civil penalty and payment of more than $13.9 million in restitution to affected consumers.
On December 12, the CFPB announced the release of a brief on credit invisibility, following up on a 2015 report, which found that 26 million Americans—or one in 10 adults—do not have a credit history with one of the nationwide credit reporting companies. According to CFPB research, an additional 19 million consumers have “unscorable” credit files—i.e., files that are thin or contain insufficient or too brief credit history—and thus, overall, there are 45 million consumers who may be denied access to credit because they do not have credit records that can be scored. The Bureau also provided a checklist for consumers that incorporates the information from the post and identifies actions that consumers can take concerning credit reports. According to the CFPB, consumers should obtain and read credit reports and act quickly to correct any errors they may find in the reports.
Seventh Circuit Finds No Enforceable Arbitration Agreement Case Involving Chicago-Based Credit Reporting Company
Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion affirming a district court’s denial of a credit reporting company’s motion to compel arbitration in a putative class action. The Seventh Circuit considered whether a particular online process was sufficient to form a contract between the company and its customer. Sgourros v. TransUnion Corp., No. 15-1371 (7th Cir. Mar. 25, 2016). The plaintiff in the case purchased a credit score report from the company that he alleged was inaccurate — it was 100 points higher than a lender’s report — and therefore he alleged that the report was useless. The plaintiff sued the company under various state and federal consumer protection laws. The company sought to compel arbitration, arguing that the plaintiff had agreed to the terms of a service agreement that included a mandatory arbitration clause because he clicked on various acceptance buttons in the online ordering process.
In this regard, the company took the position that the plaintiff had agreed to the terms of the service agreement by clicking the “I Accept & Continue to Step 3” button. The federal district court disagreed, concluding that no contract had been formed, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed. In reviewing the matter, the appellate court found that the online presentation process was insufficient to form a contract, because the web pages did not include a clear statement that the purchase was subject to the terms and conditions of the service agreement. The court observed that no such statement appeared either in the displayed text of the agreement visible within the scroll box, or in the statement displayed below the scroll box. The company argued that there was additional language in the service agreement stating that the purchase was governed by the service agreement, and the plaintiff should be bound by that language. However, the court held that since the additional language was not readily visible unless the plaintiff scrolled the agreement or opened the printable version, it was insufficient to put him on notice that the service agreement applied to the purchase. The court also observed:
Illinois contract law requires that a website provide a user reasonable notice that his use of the site or click on a button constitutes assent to an agreement. This is not hard to accomplish, as the enormous volume of commerce on the Internet attests. A website might be able to bind users to a service agreement by placing the agreement, or a scroll box containing the agreement, or a clearly labeled hyperlink to the agreement, next to an “I Accept” button that unambiguously pertains to that agreement. There are undoubtedly other ways as well to accomplish the goal.
Accordingly, the Seventh Circuit found that no enforceable agreement to arbitrate arose between the company and the plaintiff and remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings on the merits.
On January 27, the CFPB announced that it published its 2016 list of consumer reporting companies. The list includes contact information for the three largest nationwide reporting companies and various specialty reporting companies concentrating on specific geographic market areas and consumer segments. In addition, the list provides consumers with (i) tips on determining which specialty credit reports may be important to review depending upon the particular circumstances, such as applying for a job or a new bank account; (ii) information regarding how companies confirm the identity of the consumer requesting a copy of his or her credit report; and (iii) information on which companies also provide free credit scores. The CFPB also reminds consumers of their legal rights to (i) obtain the information in their credit reports, per the FCRA; and (ii) dispute inaccuracies contained in the report.
- 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