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  • 3rd Circuit: Debt buyer not required to be licensed under Pennsylvania law

    Courts

    On September 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s ruling in an FDCPA suit, finding that a defendant debt buyer was not required to be licensed under Pennsylvania law when it attempted to collect interest that had accrued at a rate of more than 6 percent under the original credit card agreement. According to the opinion, the plaintiff opened a credit card with a bank, which had an interest rate of 22.9 percent. The plaintiff defaulted on a debt he accrued on the card, and the debt was subsequently charged-off and sold by the bank to the defendant. The plaintiff argued that the defendant violated the FDCPA since the interest rate was limited by the Pennsylvania Consumer Discount Company Act (CDCA), which states that an unlicensed firm “in the business of negotiating or making loans or advances of money on credit [less than $25,000]” may not collect interest at an annual interest rate over 6 percent. The district court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the defendant was entitled to collect interest above 6 percent because it held a license under a different state law.

    On the appeal, the 3rd Circuit found that the CDCA applies to companies that arrange for or negotiate loans with certain parameters, and that there is nothing in the plaintiff’s amended complaint to suggest that the defendant is in the business of negotiating loans. The appellate court noted that the plaintiff’s allegations “indicate that [the defendant] purchases debt, such as [plaintiff’s] credit card account that [the bank had] charged off. But even with that allegation as a starting point, it is not reasonable to infer that an entity that purchases charged-off debt would also be in the business of negotiating or bargaining for the initial terms of loans or advances.” The appellate court further noted that “the amended complaint cuts against such an inference: it alleges that [the bank], not [the defendant], set the annual interest rate for [plaintiff’s] use of the credit card for loans and advances at 22.90%. Thus, with the understanding that negotiate means ‘to bargain’ and not ‘to transfer,’ [the plaintiff’s] allegations do not support an inference that [defendant] is in the business of negotiating loans or advances.”

    Courts Licensing FDCPA Debt Collection Debt Buyer Appellate Third Circuit Consumer Finance Pennsylvania

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  • District Court grants partial summary judgment to debt collector in credit reporting and debt collection action

    Courts

    On September 21, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland partially granted a defendant debt collector’s motion for summary judgment in a credit reporting and debt collection action. The plaintiff disputed debt related to two electric bills for two different residences that were eventually combined into one account. After the plaintiff informed the electric company that she would not be paying the bill, the debt was eventually referred for collection to the defendant. The plaintiff disputed the debt, and the defendant conducted an investigation. The plaintiff continued to contend that the defendant was certifying the debt without proof and claimed the defendant’s agents called her a liar and incorrectly asserted that she had not made payments. The defendant argued that it was entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff’s FCRA and FDCPA claims, contending, among other things, that FCRA 1681e(b) “expressly applies to [credit reporting agencies] and not to furnishers.”

    The court first reviewed the plaintiff’s FCRA claims as to whether the defendant conducted a reasonable investigation. The court stated that the plaintiff bore the burden to establish whether the defendant failed to conduct a reasonable investigation, and noted that because she failed to provide certain evidence to the defendant “there is no genuine dispute that the investigation conducted by [defendant] was not unreasonable” or that the defendant reported accurate information to the CRAs about the debt. With respect to some of the FDCPA claims, the court denied the defendant summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff created a genuine dispute about whether the defendant violated § 1692d (the provision prohibiting a debt collector from engaging in harassment or abuse). According to the opinion, evidence suggests that the defendant’s agents incorrectly informed the plaintiff that she had never made a payment on one of the accounts, called her a liar when she protested this information, and used a “demeaning tone” in their communications. “[A] reasonable jury could conclude that the language would have the natural consequence of abusing a consumer relatively more susceptible to harassment, oppression, or abuse,” the court wrote.

    Additionally, the court ruled on Maryland state law claims introduced in the plaintiff’s opposition to summary judgment. The court ruled against her Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act claim regarding the alleged use of abusive language, writing that the agents were not “grossly abusive” and that the plaintiff failed to generate a genuine dispute on this issue. Nor did the plaintiff show a genuine dispute as to whether the debt was inaccurate or that the defendant knew the debt was invalid. The court also entered summary judgment in favor of the defendant on the plaintiff’s Maryland Consumer Protection Act and Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Act claims.

    Courts FCRA FDCPA Consumer Finance State Issues Maryland Debt Collection Credit Report

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  • Chopra highlights CFPB efforts on competitive consumer financial markets

    Federal Issues

    On September 21, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra discussed Bureau efforts to ensure markets for consumer financial products and services are “fair, transparent, and competitive.” Speaking during the Exchequer Club Fireside Chat, Chopra explained that the agency’s authorizing statute specifically directs the Bureau to promote competition by consistently enforcing the law regardless of whether an entity takes deposits. He clarified that there should not be different standards for assessing when a firm violates the law, and highlighted several ways that the Bureau is working to fulfill its mandate to ensure competitive markets. One example Chopra provided relates to reshaping the Bureau’s approach to promoting new products and offerings, especially as they relate to refinancing options. He pointed to Bureau efforts to ensure both banks and nonbanks could launch products to save private student loan borrowers money as an example of making sure all potential market entrants could benefit. Chopra stated that the Bureau is also requesting feedback from investors, lenders, and the public on topics related to improving mortgage refinancing options (covered by InfoBytes here), and is working on ways to stimulate more credit card and auto loan refinancing. Additionally, Chopra touched on other areas of focus, including consumer finance offerings that rely on emerging technologies such as banking in augmented reality and the metaverse, nonbank supervision and oversight, bright-line regulatory approaches, competitive pricing and back-end fees, regulatory arbitrage, and personal financial data rights.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Competition Mortgages Nonbank

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  • CFPB seeks better refi, loss-mitigation options

    Federal Issues

    On September 22, the CFPB issued a request for information (RFI) regarding ways to improve mortgage refinances for homeowners and how to support automatic short-term and long-term loss mitigation assistance for homeowners who experience financial disruptions. According to the Bureau, refinancing volume has decreased almost 70 percent from last year as interest rates have risen. Additionally, periods of economic turmoil, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, can pose significant challenges for mortgage borrowers, the Bureau noted. Throughout the pandemic, 8.2 million borrowers entered a forbearance program, and as of July 2022, 93 percent have exited. Of those who have exited forbearance, five percent are delinquent or in active foreclosure. The Bureau is interested in the features of pandemic-related forbearance programs that should be made more generally available to borrowers. Specifically, the RFI requests information regarding, among other things: (i) targeted and streamlined refinance programs; (ii) innovative refinancing products; and (iii) automatic forbearance and long-term loss mitigation assistance. Comments are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB Consumer Finance Mortgages Refinance Forbearance Federal Register

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  • CFPB releases 2021 HMDA data

    Federal Issues

    On September 15, the CFPB released a Data Point report titled 2021 Mortgage Market Activity and Trends, which analyzes residential mortgage lending activity and trends for 2021. The 2021 HMDA data encompasses the fourth year of data that incorporates amendments to HMDA by Dodd-Frank. The changes include new data points, revisions to some existing data points, and authorizes the CFPB to require new data points. As covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the CFPB issued a final rule that implemented significant changes that reflected the needs of homeowners and the evolution in the mortgage market.

    The Bureau previously reported a 66.8 percent increase in originations from 2019 to 2020, largely driven by refinances. However, most of the increase from 2020 to 2021 was a result of jumbo home purchase loans. Other highlighted trends in mortgage applications and originations found in the 2021 HMDA data point include, among other things:

    • 4,332 financial institutions reported at least one closed-end record in 2021, down by 3.1 percent from 4,472 financial institutions who reported in 2020;
    • At least one closed-end mortgage loan had been reported by 4,332 financial institutions, down by 3.1 percent from 4,472 financial institutions in 2020;
    • Black borrowers’ share of home purchase loans increased from 7.3 percent in 2020 to 7.9 percent in 2021; and
    • “The refinance boom, especially in non-cash-out refinance that dominated mortgage market activities in 2019 and 2020, peaked in March 2021.”

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance HMDA Mortgages Dodd-Frank

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  • VA clarifies Covid-19 forbearance timeline

    Federal Issues

    On September 19, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a change to Circular 26-21-20 extending the rescission date to align with the end of Covid-19 pandemic, including conforming changes to VA’s expectation as to the completion of a forbearance period. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the VA issued Circular 26-21-20 in September 2021 to clarify timeline expectations for forbearance requests submitted by affected borrowers. The September 2021 Circular stated thar “[f]or borrowers who have not received a COVID-related forbearance as of the date of this Circular, servicers should approve requests from such borrowers provided that the borrower makes the request during the National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic,” and that all Covid-19 related forbearances would end by September 30, 2022. However, Change 1 stated that “September 30, 2022” should be replaced with “six months after the end of the National Emergency Concerning the Novel COVID-19 Pandemic.” The circular is rescinded March 1, 2023.

    Federal Issues Department of Veterans Affairs Covid-19 Mortgages Forbearance Consumer Finance

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  • FTC, DFPI shut down operation offering mortgage relief

    Federal Issues

    On September 19, the FTC and the California Department of Financial Protection (DFPI) announced a lawsuit against several companies and owners for allegedly operating an illegal mortgage relief operation. (See also DFPI’s announcement here.) The filing marks the agencies’ first joint action, which alleges the defendants’ conduct violated the California Consumer Financial Protection Law, the FTC Act, the FTC’s Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule (the MARS Rule or Regulation O), the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Covid-19 Consumer Protection Act. The agencies claimed that the defendants preyed on distressed consumers with false promises of mortgage assistance relief. According to the complaint, the defendants made misleading claims during telemarketing calls to consumers, including those with numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, as well as through text messages and in online ads. In certain cases, defendants represented they were affiliated with government agencies or were part of a Covid-19 pandemic assistance program. Among other things, defendants falsely claimed they were able to lower consumers’ interest rates or payments, and instructed consumers not to pay their mortgages, leading to late fees and significantly lower credit score. Defendants also allegedly told consumers not to communicate directly with their lenders, which caused consumers to miss default notices and face foreclosure. Additionally, defendants charged consumers illegal up-front fees ranging from $500 to $2,900 a month, and told consumers they were negotiating loan modifications that in most cases never happened.

    The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted a restraining order temporarily shutting down the defendants’ operations. In freezing the defendants’ assets and ordering them to submit financial statements, the court noted that the agencies established a likelihood of success in showing that the defendants “have falsely, deceptively, and illegally marketed, advertised, and sold mortgage relief assistance services.”

    Federal Issues FTC DFPI State Issues California Mortgages Consumer Finance Mortgage Relief Enforcement California Consumer Financial Protection Law FTC Act MARS Rule Regulation O Telemarketing Sales Rule Covid-19 Consumer Protection Act Covid-19 UDAP

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  • Debt buyer will pay $12 million following allegations of unfair, deceptive practices

    State Issues

    On September 20, the Massachusetts attorney general announced that a California-based debt collection company and its subsidiaries agreed to pay $12 million, including restitution and debt relief, for allegedly engaging in unfair and deceptive debt buying practices. According to the assurance of discontinuance, the debt collector allegedly violated state law by, among other things, (i) purchasing debts without obtaining all relevant documentation from the seller to ensure the debts were valid and accurate; (ii) exceeding the number of calls permitted when attempting to collect a debt and placing harassing debt collection calls; (iii) failing to prevent its collection law firm from using falsified or otherwise incorrect information about the existence of lawsuits and judgments; and (iv) attempting to collect debts that were beyond the statute of limitations or time-barred. The debt collector also allegedly “represented that certain vulnerable consumers were required to make good faith payments or enter an agreement for judgment with payment on a debt when the consumer had only exempt sources of income like social security disability benefits and pensions,” the AG said in the announcement. While the debt collector expressly denied the allegations, it agreed to pay $4.5 million and will reform its debt collection practices and cease to collect on more than 4,200 debts placed with the collection law firm for which a judgment could not be verified. These debts total approximately $7.5 million.

    State Issues State Attorney General Enforcement Debt Collection Consumer Finance

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  • 2nd Circuit: NY law on interest payments for escrow accounts is preempted

    Courts

    On September 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that New York’s interest-on-escrow law impermissibly interferes with the incidentals of national bank lending and is preempted by the National Bank Act (NBA). Plaintiffs in two putative class actions obtained loans from a national bank, one before and the other after certain Dodd-Frank provisions took effect. The loan agreements—governed by New York law—required plaintiffs to deposit money into escrow accounts. After the bank failed to pay interest on the escrowed amounts, plaintiffs sued for breach of contract, alleging, among other things, that under New York General Obligations Law (GOL) § 5-601 (which sets a minimum 2 percent interest rate on mortgage escrow accounts) they were entitled to interest. The bank moved to dismiss both actions, contending that GOL § 5-601 did not apply to federally chartered banks because it is preempted by the NBA. The district court disagreed and denied the bank’s motion, ruling first that RESPA (which regulates the amount of money in an escrow account but not the accruing interest rate) “shares a ‘unity of purpose’ with GOL § 5-601.” This is relevant, the district court said, “because Congress ‘intended mortgage escrow accounts, even those administered by national banks, to be subject to some measure of consumer protection regulation.’” Second, the district court reasoned that even though TILA § 1639d does not specifically govern the loans at issue, it is significant because it “evinces a clear congressional purpose to subject all mortgage lenders to state escrow interest laws.” Finally, with respect to the NBA, the district court determined that “the ‘degree of interference’ of GOL § 5-601 was ‘minimal’ and was not a ‘practical abrogation of the banking power at issue,’” and concluded that Dodd-Frank’s amendment to TILA substantiated a policy judgment showing “there is little incompatibility between requiring mortgage lenders to maintain escrow accounts and requiring them to pay a reasonable rate of interest on sums thereby received.” As such, GOL § 5-601 was not preempted by the NBA, the district court said.

    On appeal, the 2nd Circuit concluded that the district court erred in its preemption analysis. According to the appellate court, the important question “is not how much a state law impacts a national bank, but rather whether it purports to ‘control’ the exercise of its powers.” In reversing the ruling and holding that that GOL § 5-601 was preempted by the NBA, the appellate court wrote that the “minimum-interest requirement would exert control over a banking power granted by the federal government, so it would impermissibly interfere with national banks’ exercise of that power.” Notably, the 2nd Circuit’s decision differs from the 9th Circuit’s 2018 holding in Lusnak v. Bank of America, which addressed a California mortgage escrow interest law analogous to New York’s and held that a national bank must comply with the California law requiring mortgage lenders to pay interest on mortgage escrow accounts (covered by InfoBytes here). Among other things, the 2nd Circuit determined that both the district court and the 9th Circuit improperly “concluded that the TILA amendments somehow reflected Congress’s judgment that all escrow accounts, before and after Dodd-Frank, must be subject to such state laws.”

    In a concurring opinion, one of the judges stressed that while the panel concluded that the specific state law at issue is preempted, the opinion left “ample room for state regulation of national banks.” The judge noted that the opinion relies on a narrow standard of preempting only those “state laws that directly conflict with enumerated or incidental national bank powers conferred by Congress,” and stressed that the appellate court declined to reach a determination as to whether Congress subjected national banks to state escrow interest laws in cases (unlike the plaintiffs’ actions) where Dodd-Frank’s TILA amendments would apply. 

    Courts State Issues Appellate Second Circuit New York Mortgages Escrow Interest National Bank Act Class Action Dodd-Frank RESPA TILA Consumer Finance

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  • New York expands access to PSLF program

    State Issues

    On September 15, the New York governor signed S.8389-C/A. 9523-B , which amends the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSFL) program statewide. Among other things, the legislation: (i) adds clarifying legal definitions, such as “certifying employment,” “employee,” “full-time,” “public service employer,” “public service loan forgiveness form,” and “public service loan forgiveness program”; (ii) establishes a standard hourly threshold for full-time employment at thirty hours per week for the purposes of accessing PSLF; and (iii) permits public service employers to certify employment on behalf of individuals or groups of employees directly with the U.S. Department of Education. The legislation is effective immediately.

    State Issues New York State Legislation Student Lending PSLF Department of Education Consumer Finance

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