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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • Fed releases study on racial bias in mortgage lending

    Recently, the Federal Reserve Board published a study titled How Much Does Racial Bias Affect Mortgage Lending? Evidence from Human and Algorithmic Credit Decisions. Using confidential supervisory data collected under HMDA to estimate the extent of racial and ethnic discrimination in mortgage lending, the study found that racial bias has played “a limited role” in recent years in generating disparities seen in mortgage lending denials. The researchers acknowledged that as a self-reporting mechanism, HDMA reports may not reflect reality, “as a lender engaged in illegal discrimination would be unlikely to explicitly admit this.” The study also analyzed denial rates among fintech lenders, finding that by automating more of the application process, fintech firms have the potential to decrease racial discrimination. The study also found that excess denials are higher at fintech lenders, which is “the opposite result we would expect if excess denials reflect racially biased human judgment.” Additionally, the study found that group differences in risk characteristics drive most of the disparities in credit access. The study showed that Black and Hispanic applicants tend to be more leveraged and have much lower credit scores. Both groups of applicants are “less likely to receive algorithmic approval recommendations from government automated underwriting systems (AUS) than white applicants,” the study found. The study also noted caveats, such as that the researchers “only study discrimination in approval decisions conditional on formally applying.”

    Bank Regulatory Federal Issues Federal Reserve Discrimination Mortgages HMDA Fintech Consumer Finance

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  • DOE announces PSLF changes

    Federal Issues

    On October 25, the Department of Education (DOE) announced executive actions intended to bring loans managed by the DOE closer to forgiveness, including credit toward the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program for borrowers who have qualifying employment. According to the DOE, these actions will provide borrowers with many of the same benefits already going to those who have applied for PSLF under temporary changes (known as the Limited PSLF Waiver), before its October 31, 2022 end date. The announcement further noted that borrowers with Direct Loans or DOE-managed Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) will receive credit toward forgiveness on income-driven repayment (IDR) for all months spent in repayment, including payments prior to consolidation, regardless of whether they made partial or late payments or are on a repayment plan. Borrowers will also receive credit for specific periods in deferment and forbearance. Even with these actions, the DOE encouraged borrowers to take the necessary steps to apply for the Limited PSLF Waiver by October 31. The DOE also released a Fact Sheet outlining benefits for borrowers who have Direct or DOE-managed FFEL loans as well as Direct Loan borrowers seeking PSLF.

    Federal Issues Department of Education Student Lending PSLF Income-Driven Repayment Consumer Finance

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  • FHFA announces validation of FICO 10T and VantageScore 4.0 for GSE use

    Federal Issues

    On October 24, FHFA announced the validation and approval of both the FICO 10T credit score model and the VantageScore 4.0 credit score model for use by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). The agency also announced that the GSEs will require two credit reports from the national consumer reporting agencies, rather than three. According to the announcement, FHFA expects implementation of FICO 10T and VantageScore 4.0 to be a multiyear effort, but once in place, lenders will be required to deliver both FICO 10T and VantageScore 4.0 credit scores with each loan sold to the GSEs. FHFA noted that FICO 10T and VantageScore 4.0 are more accurate than the classic FICO model because they include payment history for factors like rent, utilities, and telecommunications. FHFA also released a Fact Sheet on the newly approved models, which “will improve accuracy, strengthen access to credit, and enhance safety and soundness.”

    Federal Issues FHFA FICO Credit Scores Consumer Finance GSEs Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Credit Report Consumer Reporting Agency

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  • District Court grants FDCPA defendant’s motion for summary judgment

    Courts

    On October 18, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted a second summary judgment motion by a debt collection agency (defendant) in an FDCPA suit, after the plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration, ruling that a collection letter sent to the plaintiff was not false, deceptive, misleading, unfair or unconscionable. According to the order, the plaintiff received two bills after being treated at a hospital for an automobile accident: one in the amount of $675, which was adjusted from $900 because the plaintiff lacked insurance, and a second bill from a doctor’s network for $468. The hospital placed the unpaid account with the defendant who in turn sent a collection letter to the plaintiff, which was the only contact between the plaintiff and the defendant. The plaintiff filed suit, alleging that under Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law the defendant was permitted to attempt to collect only $141.15, and that its failure to do so violated the FDCPA. This value was based on the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) code associated with the doctor’s network bill, but the hospital’s bill did not contain a CPT code. The district court found that the plaintiff did not demonstrate any material issue of disputed fact that the services provided by the hospital were or should have been billed under the same CPT code as the doctor’s network bill, nor did the plaintiff provide sufficient evidence to prove that the amount billed by the hospital violated state law, and therefore, granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

    Courts FDCPA Debt Collection Consumer Finance State Issues Pennsylvania

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  • 7th Circuit: Plaintiff lacks standing to bring FCRA claim on credit report disputes

    Courts

    On October 18, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of an FCRA action in favor of a defendant bank. According to the opinion, the plaintiff real estate investor obtained a loan secured by a mortgage from the defendant bank. The mortgage required the plaintiff to maintain a certain level of hazard insurance or the defendant bank could lender-place such insurance, with the cost of the lender-placed insurance amounts becoming additional debt secured by the mortgage. After the plaintiff underpaid on his flood insurance premiums, the defendant bank obtained lender-placed insurance. When the plaintiff did not pay the increased monthly payment associated with the lender-placed insurance amounts in full, the defendant bank informed the plaintiff that he was in default and that the entire amount of the loan would be accelerated if the default was not cured. While the plaintiff continued to submit partial payments, the defendant began reporting certain 2011 payments as 60 days or more late to the credit reporting agencies (CRAs). In 2012, the plaintiff disputed these purportedly late payments with the CRAs.

    The plaintiff sued claiming, among other things, that the defendant violated the FCRA by failing to responsibly investigate the 2012 disputes. On appeal, after determining that the district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to rely on unsupported statements in the plaintiff's affidavit, the 7th Circuit found that the district court erred in requiring the plaintiff to prove damages as an element of his FCRA claim. However, the appellate court held that the plaintiff ultimately lacked standing to bring a claim under the FCRA because, as the appellate court highlighted, the injury that the plaintiff alleged—a decrease in his credit score in November 2011—could not be fairly traced to the defendant’s alleged action—a failure to reasonably investigate credit reporting disputes in January 2012.

    Courts Appellate Seventh Circuit FCRA Force-placed Insurance Credit Reporting Agency Credit Report Consumer Finance

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  • CFPB releases education ombudsman’s annual report

    Federal Issues

    On October 20, the CFPB Education Loan Ombudsman published its annual report on consumer complaints submitted between September 1, 2021 and August 31, 2022. The report is based on approximately 8,410 complaints received by the Bureau regarding federal and private student loans—a 59 percent increase from the previous reporting period. Of these complaints, roughly 2,000 were related to debt collection, while approximately 900 mentioned Covid-19 (the categories increased by 122 and 23 percent, respectively). The report discussed certain risks raised in the consumer complaints, including difficulty pursuing claims and defenses against predatory institutions of higher learning, improper collection attempts on non-qualified private student loans that have been discharged in bankruptcy, and processing errors and servicer misrepresentations that have caused federal student loan borrowers to not be able to take full advantage of pandemic-related relief.

    The report advised policymakers to consider several recommendations, including: (i) examining whether holders of private student loans originated to fund predatory for-profit schools are abiding by state and federal law; (ii) ensuring holders and servicers of private loans are not collecting on non-qualified discharged debt; and (iii) examining whether servicers may be creating barriers to pandemic-related relief. The Bureau also advised policymakers to consider whether to make loan forgiveness programs “opt out” rather than “opt in,” and whether simplifying consumer-facing incentives for consolidating commercial Federal Family Education Loan Program into Direct Consolidation Loans could benefit borrowers if made permanent.

    Federal Issues CFPB Student Lending Consumer Finance Student Loan Servicer Debt Collection Covid-19

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  • Senators urge CFPB to increase transparency on “Remittance Rule”

    Federal Issues

    On October 19, a group of five Democratic senators sent a letter to CFPB Director Rohit Chopra requesting that the Bureau strengthen its rule regarding remittances transfers. According to the letter, though remittance providers are required to display the exchange rate and fees associated with a transaction, as required by a May 2020 final rule (covered by InfoBytes here), some providers collect additional revenue by increasing exchange rates. The senators explained that because of various “loopholes in the rules, remittance providers may technically comply with the CFPB’s remittance rule requirements while providing insufficient price transparency to allow consumers to make informed comparisons and choose the lowest-cost provider.” The senators requested that the Bureau “strengthen the remittance rule to ensure greater transparency” so that remittance providers are not able to “advertise ‘no-fee remittances’ while simultaneously inflating exchange rates without limit or without providing accurate third-party costs.” Additionally, the senators stressed that the Bureau “should require remittance providers to display mid-market exchange rates, while only collecting revenue through added costs, including fixed third-party fees, openly displayed as ‘total cost,’ as recommended by the Remittance Community Task Force.” The senators also recommended that the Bureau “rescind the permanent exemption for non-covered third-party fees and encourage the adoption of new technology that would provide transparent, pre-transfer cost information.”

    Federal Issues CFPB U.S. Senate Remittance Transfer Rule Remittance Consumer Finance

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  • CFPB discusses impact of overdraft fees on seniors

    Federal Issues

    On October 19, the CFPB released an issue brief, Overdraft Fees and Economically Insecure Older Adults, examining the economic effects of overdraft fees on economically insecure older adults. The Bureau noted that older adults of color, older women, LGBTQ+ older adults, and retirees are more likely to be economically insecure and may face greater challenges with overdraft fees. The brief also found that older adults pay fees for overdraft services less frequently than other age groups but stated that the economically insecure could be “particularly impacted” because “they are often unable to adjust their carefully managed budgets” when they incur fees. Among other things, the brief provided recommendations to financial institutions for implementing age-friendly banking practices, such as offering view-only account access and/or convenience accounts for financial caregivers. The brief also noted that financial institutions should provide customer service to respond to consumers’ concerns about bank fees in person, by phone, and online. The Bureau stated that it will “track the impact of overdraft fees on older adults” through analysis of consumer complaints, among other things.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Overdraft

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  • CFPB opines on junk data in credit reports

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On October 20, the CFPB issued an advisory opinion, Fair Credit Reporting; Facially False Data, as part of a series of actions being taken by the Bureau to ensure consumer reporting companies comply with consumer financial protection laws. The advisory opinion emphasizes, among other things, that “a consumer reporting agency that does not implement reasonable internal controls to prevent the inclusion of facially false data, including logically inconsistent information, in consumer reports it prepares is not using reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy under section 607(b) of the [FCRA].” According to the Bureau, consumer reporting companies are legally required to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of information that they collect and report. As part of that requirement, companies must implement policies and procedures to screen for and eliminate junk data, including being able to detect and remove inconsistent account information and information that cannot be accurate. Additionally, companies’ internal controls must also be able to identify and prevent reporting of illegitimate credit transactions for a minor.

    For more details on the CFPB’s advisory opinion program, please see InfoBytes coverage here.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues CFPB Junk Fees FCRA Credit Report Credit Furnishing Consumer Finance

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  • District Court rules FCRA allegation filed before expiration of 30-day investigation period is not ripe

    Courts

    On October 14, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina adopted a magistrate judge’s report and recommendation to grant summary judgment in favor of a defendant accused of violating the FCRA. According to the plaintiff’s amended complaint, the plaintiff opened a loan with the defendant and later entered into a modified agreement that reduced his monthly payments and the future projected balance. He later noticed that his credit report showed (i) the reported balance for his account to be higher than it should have been under the terms of the modified agreement, and (ii) three months of late payments. The plaintiff filed a dispute with the credit reporting agency (CRA) arguing, among other things, that the balance was being misstated. The plaintiff filed another dispute with the CRA regarding the late payments. Plaintiff filed the instant action before the end of the 30-day investigation period for disputes regarding the late payments. The magistrate judge recommended summary judgment be granted to defendant related to claims alleging violation of Section1681s-2b for both (i) the claim predicated on the restated balance, and (ii) the claim predicted on the late payments, but for different reasons. The “late payment” claim “was not ripe when the action was filed” because the 30-day investigation period had not yet expired when the plaintiff filed his amended complaint. For the “restated balance” claim, the magistrate judge’s report found that the parties had a genuine legal dispute over their interpretations of the modified agreement—whether the balance due should be reduced at the time of the modification agreement or at the end of the modification term, which was not a factual inaccuracy: “the Report found violations of 15 U.S.C. 1681a-2(b) must be based on factual inaccuracies, not legal disputes, and as Plaintiff bases his claim on a legal dispute, he cannot prevail on his FCRA claim.”  This district court agreed noting that the plaintiff did not appear to object to the legal determination that “as a matter of a law a violation of a §1681s-2(b) could not be based on a legal dispute over the terms of a contract[.]” The report also noted that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that he is entitled to actual damages—a requirement for a negligent violation of the FCRA—nor did he show that the defendant willfully violated the FCRA in order to be entitled to statutory or punitive damages. The district court agreed with the report and recommendations and dismissed the case with prejudice.

    Courts FCRA Dispute Resolution Consumer Reporting Agency Consumer Finance Credit Report

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