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  • GSEs issue Equitable Housing Finance Plans

    Federal Issues

    On June 8, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) released their Equitable Housing Finance Plans for 2022-2024 (available here and here), affirming their commitment to addressing racial and ethnic disparities in homeownership and wealth. The plans were developed following FHFA’s September 2021 request for public input, which invited comments to help the GSEs prepare their first plans and to aid FHFA in overseeing the plans (covered by InfoBytes here). Among other things, the plans (which will be updated annually) include activities to (i) address future consumer education initiatives for renters and homeowners; (ii) help tenants build credit profiles and enable better access to financial services; (iii) expand counseling services to support housing stability; (iv) launch technology to increase access to sustainable credit and fair home appraisals; and (v) deploy Special Purpose Credit Programs to address barriers to sustainable homeownership, focusing particularly on consumers living in formerly redlined and underserved areas with majority Black populations. FHFA’s press release also announced the establishment of a new pilot transparency framework for the GSEs, which will require Fannie and Freddie to publish and maintain a list of pilot programs and “test-and-learn activities” on their public websites to help FHFA determine whether such activities address disparities identified in the plans.

    Earlier in the week, FHFA released its inaugural Mission Report describing housing finance activities taken in 2021 by the GSEs and Federal Home Loan Banks related to targeted economic development and affordable, equitable, and sustainable housing. The report highlighted, among other things, that the gap between mortgage acceptance rates for minority and white borrowers “remains persistent,” with Black and Latino borrowers representing 6.3 percent and 14.2 percent of all mortgages purchased by the GSEs, respectively, in the fourth quarter of 2021. The report also discussed fair lending geographical trends as well as data on multifamily and single-family loan acquisitions.

    Federal Issues FHFA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac GSEs Fair Lending Consumer Finance Mortgages Underserved Disparate Impact FHLB

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  • District Court dismisses suit alleging improper inspection fees

    Courts

    On June 6, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted a defendant bank’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiff’s inspection fee allegations are barred on collateral estoppel grounds. The plaintiff filed a class action suit claiming the defendant’s computer software orders property inspections after borrowers’ loans are in default and then charges borrowers for the improper inspection fees. According to the opinion, the defendant initiated foreclosure proceedings in 2012 against the plaintiff in state court after she missed payments. The parties litigated the matter for several years in state court, and in 2018, the plaintiff filed a motion for leave to add class action claims related to the defendant’s inspection fee collection system. The state court denied plaintiff’s motion, finding the proposed claims to be without merit and futile. Final judgment of foreclosure was granted to the bank. Similar proceedings involving the same class action counterclaims occurred after the defendant requested that the judgment be vacated to add an additional lien holder as a defendant. The defendant again applied for entry of final judgment, but withdrew this application allegedly in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Ultimately the state court dismissed the foreclosure action without prejudice for lack of prosecution. The plaintiff filed an instant complaint in federal court.

    The defendant argued that the plaintiff “should be collaterally estopped from bringing these claims because the New Jersey Superior Court ruled on the exact issues [plaintiff] raises here in the prior foreclosure action brought by [defendant] against [plaintiff] in state court, ultimately dismissing them with prejudice.” The plaintiff countered “that because the foreclosure action was dismissed without entry of judgment, collateral estoppel does not apply.” In agreeing with the defendant, the court stated that “the doctrine of collateral estoppel applies whenever an action is ‘sufficiently firm to be accorded conclusive effect,” adding that the state court’s orders in the foreclosure action are “sufficiently firm as to warrant conclusive effect.” According to the court, “[t]hese decisions—particularly the second dismissal with prejudice—were clearly intended to be the final adjudication of the precise issues that [plaintiff] is now attempting to relitigate in the instant action.”

    Courts State Issues Foreclosure Collateral Estoppel Fees Class Action Consumer Finance

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  • Senate Banking Committee sends letter to Yellen on consumer data activities

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On June 7, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Senator Sherrod Brown sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen requesting that the Financial Stability Oversight Council conduct a review on the effect of the collection and sale of consumer data by financial institutions to determine whether such activities pose a systemic threat to U.S. financial stability and security. The letter raised concerns that such data could be used for nefarious purposes including "glean[ing] consumers’ tolerance for price hikes, or using certain people’s spending patterns to target them for blackmail or ransomware.”

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Senate Banking Committee Consumer Finance Department of Treasury FSOC

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  • FTC bans MCA providers, returns $2.7 million to consumers

    Federal Issues

    On June 6, the FTC obtained a stipulated court order permanently banning a company and owner from participating in the merchant cash advance and debt collection industries. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last June the FTC filed an amended complaint against two New York-based small-business financing companies and a related entity and individuals (including the settling defendants), claiming the defendants engaged in deceptive and unfair practices by, among other things, misrepresenting the terms of their merchant cash advances, using unfair collection practices, deceiving consumers about personal guarantees, forcing consumers and businesses to sign confessions of judgment, providing less funding than promised due to undisclosed fees, and making unauthorized withdrawals from consumers’ accounts. Under the terms of the stipulated order, the settling defendants are required to pay a more than $2.7 million monetary judgment to go towards refunds for harmed consumers and must vacate any judgments against former customers and release any liens against their customers’ property. The announcement notes that the settling defendants are also “prohibited from misleading consumers about any key facts about any good or service, including any fees, the total cost of the product, and other facts that reflect their deceptions in this case.”

    Earlier in January, a stipulated order was entered against two other defendants (covered by InfoBytes here), which permanently banned them from participating in the merchant cash advance and debt collection industries and required the payment of a $675,000 monetary judgment.

    Federal Issues Enforcement FTC Merchant Cash Advance Debt Collection Consumer Finance Small Business Lending FTC Act UDAP Deceptive Unfair

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  • FTC shares 2021 enforcement report with CFPB

    Federal Issues

    On June 3, the FTC announced that it submitted its 2021 Annual Financial Acts Enforcement Report to the CFPB. The report covers FTC enforcement activities regarding the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), the Consumer Leasing Act (CLA), and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA). Highlights of the enforcement matters covered in the report include, among other things:

    • Automobile Credit and Leasing. The report discussed the FTC’s July 2021 settlement with the owners of car dealerships in Arizona and New Mexico (collectively, “defendants”) resolving claims that the defendants misrepresented consumer information on finance applications and misrepresented financial terms in advertisements in violation of TILA and CLA (covered by InfoBytes here).
    • Payday Lending. The report highlighted the FTC’s settlement against a payday lending enterprise for allegedly overcharging consumers millions of dollars, deceiving them about the terms of their loans, and failing to make required loan disclosures. According to the report, the owners and operators of the settling entities are banned from making loans or extending credit, nearly all debt held by the company will be deemed paid in full, and the companies involved are being liquidated, with the proceeds to be used to provide redress to consumers harmed by the company.
    • Credit Repair and Debt Relief. The report discussed the FTC’s settlement with the operators of a student loan debt relief scheme, who were charged with falsely promising consumers the company could lower or eliminate student loan balances, illegally imposing upfront fees for credit repair services, and signing consumers up for high-interest loans to pay the fees without making required loan disclosures in violation of TILA. The order bans the defendants from providing debt relief services and collecting any further payments from consumers who purchased the services, and requires the defendants to return money to be used to refund consumers.

    Additionally, the report addressed the FTC’s research and policy efforts and highlighted the FTC’s Military Task Force’s work on military consumer protection issues.

    Federal Issues FTC CFPB Enforcement TILA CLA EFTA Consumer Finance UDAP

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  • HUD announces $65,000 payment for FHA violations

    Federal Issues

    On June 2, HUD announced a conciliation agreement with a mortgage lender to resolve allegations that it engaged in discriminatory lending practices based on race and national origin, in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The agreement arises from a complaint filed with HUD by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), which alleged that testing in the Seattle-Tacoma area revealed that Black and Hispanic testers were treated differently than White testers who sought housing loans. While the respondent denied that it provided less favorable treatment to testers based on race or national origin, it has agreed to pay $65,000 to NCRC and will “contribute an additional $10,000 to a Seattle-area non-profit organization specializing in providing financial literacy and housing education and counseling for persons in majority-minority census tracts in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area.” The respondent will also conduct an event in the Seattle metro area to improve homeownership rates of Black homebuyers and will provide additional fair lending training to employees. The conciliation agreement does not constitute an admission by respondent or evidence of a finding by HUD of a violation of the FHA.

    Federal Issues HUD Enforcement Consumer Finance Fair Lending Mortgages Fair Housing Act Discrimination

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  • FTC says consumers lost more than $1 billion to crypto fraud

    Federal Issues

    On June 3, the FTC reported that consumers lost over $1 billion to fraud involving cryptocurrencies from January 2021 through March 2022. The FTC’s recent Consumer Protection Data Spotlight found that cryptocurrency is becoming the payment of choice for many scammers and that most reported cryptocurrency losses involved fake investment opportunities (totaling $575 million in reported losses since January 2021). The spotlight stated that nearly four out of every ten dollars reported lost to a fraud originating on social media was lost in crypto, far more than any other payment method. Following losses related to cryptocurrency schemes, the next largest losses involved romance scams ($185 million) and business and government impersonation scams ($133 million collectively).

    Federal Issues Digital Assets FTC Cryptocurrency Consumer Finance Fraud Consumer Protection

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  • CFPB highlights abuses in military allotment system

    Federal Issues

    On June 2, the CFPB posted a blog post highlighting abuses within the military allotment system with respect to servicemembers’ automatic recurring payments. According to the Bureau, the allotment system was established to help servicemembers make payments directly from their paychecks, especially when deployed away from home. However, according to the CFPB some lenders have been abusing the allotment system, with certain lenders using the system “as a means of prioritizing repayment of that lender’s loan over the servicemember’s payments of other expenses.” The Bureau noted that servicemembers have other options for automatic payments that are usually free of charge and provide more legal protections than the allotment system, and reiterated that the Department of Defense (DoD) made significant changes in 2014 that prohibited new allotments to purchase, lease, or rent personal property like cars, furniture, and electronics, and “expanded the allotment prohibition in the Military Lending Act (MLA) to include a wider range of credit products, like installment loans, that cannot be repaid by allotment” (revised MLA regulations covered by InfoBytes here).

    Through consumer complaints and the work of the agency’s Office of Servicemember Affairs, the Bureau stated it continues to hear about significant concerns in this space, including that some lenders are requiring servicemembers to repay by allotment (a violation of the MLA), and other lenders are entering into partnerships with allotment processing banks to create “allotment-funded savings accounts” for servicemembers in order to evade DoD protections. The blog post emphasized the Bureau’s commitment to protecting servicemembers from abuses and provided information for servicemembers on filing complaints should they believe they have been unfairly treated by a company through the military allotment system.

    Federal Issues CFPB Servicemembers Department of Defense Military Allotment System Consumer Finance

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  • Coding glitch hits credit scores

    Federal Issues

    Recently, a consumer reporting agency (CRA) informed lenders and industry members that it experienced a coding issue when it changed some of the technology to its legacy online model platform. As a result of the issue, the CRA advised that the miscalculation impacted approximately 12 percent of credit scores, although credit reports were not affected. 

    In response, on June 1, Fannie Mae issued a notice regarding the coding error.  Fannie Mae reminded lenders “of their obligations under the Selling Guide to correct erroneous credit data, ensure the accuracy of the credit data submitted to Desktop Underwriter® (DU® ) at the time of loan sale, and to provide any corrected information to us.” Freddie Mac issued a similar notice advising lenders of their credit reporting and data correction responsibilities. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are monitoring the situation and may issue additional guidance regarding the coding issue.

    Federal Issues Consumer Finance Consumer Reporting Agency Credit Scores Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Mortgages

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  • District Court certifies TCPA class action against debt collector

    Courts

    On May 31, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington granted a plaintiff’s motion for class certification in an action alleging a defendant debt collector placed unsolicited calls to borrowers’ cell phones when attempting to collect federal student loan debt. The plaintiff contended that the defendant violated the TCPA by calling her up to seven times a day without her consent using an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer) and prerecorded calls or artificial voice calls. According to the plaintiff, in 2019, the defendant obtained her cell phone number through skip-tracing services performed by one of its vendors. The defendant allegedly had access to a call recording from a 2017 conversation between a Department of Education contractor and the plaintiff during which the plaintiff provided her phone number. The defendant, however, allegedly was not aware of the recording nor did it seek to access the file until after the plaintiff filed suit. The defendant also supposedly received a file from the contractor containing the plaintiff’s number but not until after it already acquired the number from the skip-tracing vendor. The defendant denied that it used an autodialer or made prerecorded calls or artificial voice calls. The defendant also claimed that “because it had constructive access to the recording of plaintiff’s 2017 phone conversation with [the contractor] and received the [] file with plaintiff’s number, it had plaintiff’s prior express consent to receiving calls.”

    The court certified the class, ruling that the question of whether access to the files in question was sufficient to confer consent under the TCPA is “a closer legal question, but not one that overcomes predominance at this stage.” According to the court, “the issue of whether defendant can show that its right of access to [the contractor’s] files constituted prior express consent is one that is currently capable of classwide resolution. Accordingly, while the affirmative defenses defendant presses will no doubt be important to the outcome of the litigation, they presently do not undercut the central common issues in this case.”

    Courts Class Action TCPA Debt Collection Autodialer Consumer Finance

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