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House subcommittee discusses CFPB reform proposals
On March 9, the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Monetary Policy held a hearing to discuss proposals that would alter the structure and authority of the CFPB. The subcommittee heard from several witnesses, including the CEO of the American Financial Services Association (AFSA), the Bureau’s former deputy director, and the Minnesota attorney general.
During the hearing, members discussed legislation that would reform the Bureau, including: (i) the Consumer Financial Protection Commission Act, which would make the Bureau an independent commission; (ii) the Transparency in CFPB Cost-Benefit Analysis Act, which would require the Bureau to include a statement justifying any proposed rulemaking (including “why the private market, State, local, or tribal authorities cannot adequately address the problem”), as well as provide qualitative and quantitative cost assessments and data or studies used in preparing a proposal; (iii) the CFPB-IG Reform Act, which would create a separate inspector general for the Bureau; and (iv) the Taking Account of Bureaucrats’ Spending (TABS) Act, which would make the Bureau an independent agency from the Federal Reserve System called the “Consumer Financial Empowerment Agency” that would be funded through congressional appropriations rather than the Fed.
In his prepared testimony, the AFSA CEO alleged several examples of regulatory overreach taken by the Bureau, including: (i) imposing limits on arbitration, despite the Bureau’s own finding that arbitration benefits consumers; (ii) releasing guidance, instead of legislative rulemaking, which creates ambiguity for companies and consumers; (iii) using “regulation by enforcement” to change TILA and creating an ability to repay standard that does not exist in any consumer financial law or regulation; (iv) issuing press releases that serve as regulations and provide recommendations inconsistent with the plain language of laws such as the SCRA; and (v) creating potential harm to servicemembers through misinterpretations of the Military Lending Act. He further explained that a press release issued by the Bureau last year on junk fees (covered by InfoBytes here) “goes beyond its authority” and creates confusion for both depository institutions and finance companies who are unsure what the rules are. He emphasized that “the best way to protect consumer is to protect access to credit,” and the best method for achieving this “is to have clearly defined terms and conditions that both industry and the regulatory community can understand and follow.”
The former CFPB deputy director also asserted in his prepared testimony that the agency is prone to exceeding statutory limits or requirements. He commented that “[w]hile one or two of these actions could perhaps be dismissed as over-exuberance, the frequency with which these issues arise suggests that the agency lacks adequate internal or external controls to ensure it operates within the law,” and that in “the absence of these controls . . . [it] compels the conclusion that the CFPB is ripe for reform.” He also maintained that having the Bureau go through the annual appropriations process would help the agency “focus its priorities” and “improve its effectiveness and efficiency.” He further noted that expanding the Bureau’s UDAAP authority to cover conduct it observes in the marketplace (such as applying UDAAP credit discrimination laws to any decision making by a financial institution) is “a decision fundamentally for Congress.”
The Minnesota attorney general, however, highlighted joint enforcement actions taken with the Bureau in his prepared testimony, stating that by serving “as a critical enforcement partner,” the agency is operating as Congress intended when it created the Bureau in response to the 2008 financial crisis. “The CFPB’s destruction would topple the whole system like dominos,” he stressed, adding that the funding arguments fall short as several federal agencies are not funded by Congress.
Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chair of the Senate Banking Committee, and Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, issued a statement strongly disagreeing with the introduced legislation. “We will continue to work with our colleagues to stop any anti-consumer bill and protect the CFPB so that consumers can continue to have an agency solely dedicated to protecting their hard-earned money,” the lawmakers said.
CFPB seeks feedback on LO comp
On March 10, the CFPB issued a Request for Comment (RFC) seeking feedback on the Regulation Z Mortgage Loan Originator Rules, including the provisions often referred to as the Loan Originator Compensation or “LO Comp” Rule. (See also blog post here.) The Bureau states that a significant focus of the RFC is to assist in determining whether the Rule should be amended or rescinded to minimize the Rule’s economic impact upon small entities.
The Mortgage Loan Originator Rules, among other things, prohibit compensation to loan originators that is based on the terms of a mortgage transaction (or proxies for terms), prohibit a loan originator from receiving compensation from both the creditor and consumer on the same transaction, prohibit steering a consumer to a particular loan because it will result in more compensation for the loan originator unless the loan is in the consumer’s interest, require certain records related to compensation be kept, and implement licensing and qualification requirements for loan originators.
The RFC is open-ended insofar as it requests public comment on any topic related to the impact of the Mortgage Loan Originator Rules pursuant to section 610 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (Section 610). Section 610 mandates a review of all agency rules which have a significant economic impact upon a substantial number of small entities within ten years of its effective date. In conducting a Section 610 review, the agency must consider (i) the continued need for the rule; (ii) the nature of complaints or comments received concerning the rule from the public; (iii) the complexity of the rule; (iv) the extent to which the rule overlaps, duplicates, or conflicts with other Federal rules, and, to the extent feasible, with State and local governmental rules; and (v) the length of time since the rule has been evaluated or the degree to which technology, economic conditions, or other factors have changed in the area affected by the rule.
Notably, the RFC references feedback it has previously received from stakeholders related to the Mortgage Loan Originator Rules, specifically referring to recommendations it has received related to (i) whether to permit different loan originator compensation for originating State housing finance authority loans as compared to other loans (i.e., on bond loans); (ii) whether to permit creditors to decrease a loan originator’s compensation due to the loan originator’s error or to match competition; and (iii) how the Rule provisions apply to loans originated by mortgage brokers and retail loan originators differently. Each of these topics has been a source of significant industry input, including in response to the CFPB’s 2018 Request for Information Regarding the Bureau's Adopted Regulations.
The Bureau is most likely simply following standard procedure to comply with Section 610, which mandates the CFPB conduct a review within ten years for all rules that significantly impact small entities. But it is possible that the Bureau may be open to making certain adjustments to the Rule that industry has been clamoring for since the Rule was implemented, particularly as the Bureau chose to specifically reference three such recommendations.
HUD establishes 40-year loss-mit option
On March 8, HUD published a final rule in the Federal Register to allow mortgagees to increase the maximum term of a loan modification from 360 to 480 months for FHA-insured mortgages after a borrower defaults. HUD explained that “[i]ncreasing the maximum term limit will allow mortgagees to further reduce the borrower’s monthly payment as the outstanding balance would be spread over a longer time frame, providing more borrowers with FHA-insured mortgages the ability to retain their homes after default.” The change also aligns FHA with modifications made available to borrowers with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both of which provide a 40-year loan modification option. HUD considered public comments in response to a proposed rule published last April (covered by InfoBytes here), and noted that commenters said a 40-year loan modification option would provide significant relief to struggling borrowers. Concurrently, HUD published Mortgagee Letter 2023-06 to establish the standalone 40-year loan modification policy. The final rule is effective May 8.
Biden administration urges states to join fee crack down
On March 8, the Biden administration convened a gathering of state legislative leaders to hold discussions about so-called “junk fees”—described as the “unnecessary, unavoidable, or surprise charges” that obscure true prices and are often not disclosed upfront. While the announcement acknowledged actions taken by federal agencies over the past few years to crack down on these fees, the administration recognized the role states play in advancing this effort. The Guide for States: Cracking Down on Junk Fees to Lower Costs for Consumers outlined actions states can take to address these fees, and provided several examples of alleged junk fees, including hotel resort fees, debt settlement fees, event ticketing fees, rental car and car purchase fees, and cable and internet fees. The guide also highlighted “the banking industry’s excessive and unfair reliance on banking junk fees.” The administration pointed out that a number of businesses have changed their policies in response to the increased scrutiny of junk fees and said several banks have ended fees for overdraft protection. The same day, the CFPB released a new Supervisory Highlights, which focused on junk fees uncovered in deposit accounts and the auto, mortgage, student, and payday loan servicing markets (covered by InfoBytes here).
Additionally, HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge published an open letter to the housing industry and state and local governments, encouraging them to “limit and better disclose fees charged to renters in advance of and during tenancy.” Fudge noted that “actions should aim to promote fairness and transparency for renters while ensuring that fees charged to renters reflect the actual and legitimate costs to housing providers.”
California Attorney General Rob Bonta also issued a statement responding to the administration’s call to end junk fees. “Transparency and full disclosure in pricing are crucial for fair competition and consumer protection,” Bonta said, explaining that in February the state senate introduced legislation (see SB 478) to prohibit the practice of hiding mandatory fees.
House Republicans question CFPB’s card late-fee proposal
On March 1, several Republican House Financial Services Committee members sent a letter to CFPB Director Rohit Chopra expressing concerns over the Bureau’s credit card late fee proposal. Among other things, the lawmakers claimed that last year the Bureau broke precedent by failing to address, for the first time, credit card late fees when the agency issued the annual fee adjustments as required under Regulation Z, which implements TILA (covered by InfoBytes here). “In prior years when the CFPB did not make inflation adjustments, because inflation was low, it explained the statistical basis for not indexing the fee,” the letter said. “However, the CFPB has yet to explain or justify why there was not an increase in the most recent annual adjustment announcement—a striking lack of transparency and accountability, and especially so in an era of outsized inflation.” The lawmakers also addressed the Bureau’s February notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to amend Regulation Z and its commentary. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau said the NPRM would lower the safe harbor dollar amount for first-time and subsequent-violation credit card late fees to $8, eliminate the automatic annual inflation adjustment, and cap late fees at 25 percent of the consumer’s required minimum payment. According to the lawmakers, the changes would disincentivize consumers to make timely payments and impact consumer behavior by shifting “delinquent payment costs to other, innocent, consumers who absorb the associated costs through higher rates or inability to further access unsecured credit that they may need to smooth their consumption.”
The lawmakers posed several questions to the Bureau, including asking why the agency failed to convene a panel as mandated by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 to advise on the rulemaking “[g]iven the broad applicability of this rule making to small institutions.” The Bureau was also asked to provide the data used to determine the dollar limits, as well as any communications the agency had with the Biden administration in the development of the NPRM.
CFPB report looks at junk fees; official says they remain agency focus
On March 8, the CFPB released a special edition of its Supervisory Highlights focusing on junk fees uncovered in deposit accounts and the auto, mortgage, student, and payday loan servicing markets. The findings in the report cover examinations completed between July 1, 2022 and February 1, 2023. Highlights of the supervisory findings include:
- Deposit accounts. Examiners found occurrences where depository institutions charged unanticipated overdraft fees where, according to the Bureau, consumers could not reasonably avoid these fees, “irrespective of account-opening disclosures.” Examiners also found that while some institutions unfairly assessed multiple non-sufficient (NSF) fees for a single item, institutions have agreed to refund consumers appropriately, with many planning to stop charging NSF fees entirely.
- Auto loan servicing. Recently examiners identified illegal servicing practices centered around the charging of unfair and abusive payment fees, including out-of-bounds and fake late fees, inflated estimated repossession fees, and pay-to-pay payment fees, and kickback payments. Among other things, examiners found that some auto loan servicers charged “payment processing fees that far exceeded the servicers’ costs for processing payments” after a borrower was locked into a relationship with a servicer selected by the dealer. Third-party payment processors collected the inflated fees, the Bureau said, and servicers then profited through kickbacks.
- Mortgage loan servicing. Examiners identified occurrences where mortgage servicers overcharged late fees, as well as repeated fees for unnecessary property inspections. The Bureau claimed that some servicers also included monthly private mortgage insurance premiums in homeowners’ monthly statements, and failed to waive fees or other changes for homeowners entering into certain types of loss mitigation options.
- Payday and title lending. Examiners found that lenders, in connection with payday, installment, title, and line-of-credit loans, would split and re-present missed payments without authorization, thus causing consumers to incur multiple overdraft fees and loss of funds. Some short-term, high-cost payday and title loan lenders also charged borrowers repossession-related fees and property retrieval fees that were not authorized in a borrower’s title loan contract. The Bureau noted that in some instances, lenders failed to timely stop repossessions and charged fees and forced consumers to refinance their debts despite prior payment arrangements.
- Student loan servicing. Examiners found that servicers sometimes charged borrowers late fees and interest despite payments being made on time. According to the Bureau, if a servicer’s policy did not allow loan payments to be made by credit card and a customer representative accidentally accepted a credit card payment, the servicer, in certain instances, would manually reverse the payment, not provide the borrower another opportunity for paying, and charge late fees and additional interest.
CFPB Deputy Director Zixta Martinez recently spoke at the Consumer Law Scholars Conference, where she focused on the Bureau’s goal of reigning in junk fees. She highlighted guidance issued by the Bureau last October concerning banks’ overdraft fee practices, (covered by InfoBytes here), and commented that, in addition to enforcement actions taken against two banks related to their overdraft practices, the Bureau intends to continue to monitor how overdrafts are used and enforce against certain practices. The Bureau noted that currently 20 of the largest banks in the country no longer charge surprise overdraft fees. Martinez also discussed a notice of proposed rulemaking issued last month related to credit card late fees (covered by InfoBytes here), in which the Bureau is proposing to adjust the safe harbor dollar amount for late fees to $8 for any missed payment—issuers are currently able to charge late fees of up to $41—and eliminate a higher safe harbor dollar amount for late fees for subsequent violations of the same type. Martinez further described supervision and enforcement efforts to identify junk fee practices and commented that the Bureau will continue to target egregious and unlawful activities or practices.
CFPB and NLRB to share info on employer-driven debt practices and illegal surveillance
On March 7, the CFPB and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) entered into an information sharing agreement to create a formal partnership for addressing unlawful practices involving employer surveillance and employer driven debt. The agencies stressed in the joint announcement that their Memorandum of Understanding will help identify and end employer practices that cause workers to incur debt by forcing them to pay for employer-mandated training or equipment that they might not need, or that surveil workers and sell their personal data to financial institutions, insurers, and other employers. These actions, the agencies said, may violate the FCRA and other consumer financial protection laws. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last June the Bureau launched an inquiry into employer-driven debt practices. The request for information focused on debt obligations incurred by consumers in the context of an employment or independent contractor arrangement, and sought information on “prevalence, pricing and other terms of the obligations, disclosures, dispute resolution, and the servicing and collection of these debts.”
“Many workers discover that getting a job can mean piling up debt instead of making a living,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said in the announcement. “Information sharing with the [NLRB] will support our efforts to end debt traps that stop workers from leaving one job for another.” NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo agreed, adding that as the “economy, industries and workplaces continue to change, we are excited to work with CFPB to strengthen our whole-of-government approach and ensure that employers obey the law and workers are able to fully and freely exercise their rights without interference or adverse consequences.”
Hsu presses for global supervision of crypto
On March 6, acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu commented that the collapse of a major cryptocurrency exchange has underscored a need for consolidated supervision of global cryptocurrency firms. Speaking before the Institute for International Banker’s Annual Washington Conference, Hsu offered thoughts on how to build and maintain trust in global banking. “To be trustworthy, global crypto firms need a lead regulator who has authority and responsibility over the enterprise as a whole,” Hsu said. “Until that is done, crypto firms with subsidiaries and operations in multiple jurisdictions will be able to arbitrage local regulations and potentially play shell games using inter-affiliate transactions to obfuscate and mask their true risk profile.” Hsu pointed out that in order to conduct business in the U.S. foreign banks must be supervised by a home country via “a lead regulator with visibility and authority over the entirety of the bank’s global activities.” In contrast, not a single crypto firm is currently subject to consolidated supervision, Hsu said.
Hsu drew comparisons between a now-defunct international bank that led to significant changes in how global banks are supervised and the collapsed crypto exchange, arguing that there are “striking similarities” between the two, including that both (i) “faced fragmented supervision by a combination of state, federal, and foreign authorities”; (ii) “lacked a lead or ‘home’ regulator with authority and responsibility for developing a consolidated and holistic view of the firms”; (iii) “operated across jurisdictions where there was no established framework for regulators to share information on the firms’ operations and risk controls”; and (iv) “used multiple auditors to ensure that no one could have a holistic view of their firms.” To close the gap in the crypto sector, Hsu said action “will have to take place outside of bank regulatory channels,” but noted that the Financial Stability Board and other international bodies have already “recognized the need for a comprehensive global supervisory and regulatory framework for crypto participants.”
CFPB publishes HMDA review
On March 3, the CFPB published findings from a voluntary review of the 2015 HMDA Final Rule issued in October 2015, as well as subsequent related amendments that eased certain reporting requirements and permanently raised coverage thresholds for collecting and reporting data about closed-end mortgage loans and open-end lines of credit (covered by InfoBytes here). Under Section 1022(d) of Dodd-Frank, the Bureau is required to conduct an assessment of each significant rule or order adopted by the agency under federal consumer financial law. The Bureau noted that it previously determined that the 2015 HMDA Final Rule “is not a significant rule for purposes of section 1022(d)” and said the decision to conduct the review was voluntary.
The Report on the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Rule Voluntary Review found, among other things, that (i) “[c]onsistent with the 2015 HMDA Final Rule’s increase in the closed-end reporting threshold for depository institutions, HMDA coverage of first lien, closed-end mortgages decreased between Q1 of 2017 and Q1 of 2018, from 97.0 percent to 93.8 percent”; (ii) for all financial institutions originating closed-end mortgages, “the share of those institutions reporting HMDA data decreased between 2015 and 2020, with the largest decreases observed in 2017 and 2020” after the reporting threshold rose from 25 loan originations to 100 loan originations; (iii) revising data points to include the age of applicant and co-applicant race, ethnicity, gender, and income, increased the amount of compiled data; and (iv) analyzing data assists in detecting fair lending risk and discrimination in mortgage lending. “HMDA’s expanded transactional coverage improved the risk screening used to identify institutions at higher risk of fair lending violation by improving the accuracy of analysis and thus reducing the false positive rate at which lenders were mistakenly identified as high risk,” the report said.
The report also noted that interest rate data “provides an important observation that enables data users, including government agencies, researchers, and consumer groups to analyze mortgage pricing in order to better serve HMDA’s purposes. In particular, interest rate information brings a greater transparency to the market and facilitates enforcement of fair lending laws.” The Bureau further noted that HMDA data is “crucial” to federal regulators when conducting supervisory examinations and enforcement investigations. The Bureau commented that the “requirement to report new HMDA data points greatly increased the accuracy of supervisory data since the additional data points are now used to assess fair lending risks and are subject to supervisory exams for accurate filing to HMDA,” adding that the data is “also used to estimate appropriate remuneration amounts for harmed consumers.”
DOJ initiates SCRA action over auto auctions and dispositions
On March 3, the DOJ filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina against a North Carolina-based towing company for allegedly auctioning off, selling, or disposing of vehicles owned by servicemembers through the use of court judgments obtained without filing proper military affidavits. Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), plaintiffs seeking a default judgment must “file an accurate military affidavit stating whether or not the defendant is in military service, or that the plaintiff is unable to determine the defendant’s military service status.” Towing companies are also required by the statute to make a good faith effort to determine if a defendant is in military service. A court may not enter a default judgment in favor of a plaintiff until after a servicemember has been appointed an attorney.
According to the complaint, the towing company disposed of servicemembers’ vehicles without complying with these requirements from at least 2017. The DOJ further claims that several factors should have alerted the towing company to the fact that the vehicles belonged to a servicemember, including that many of the vehicles were originally towed from locations on or near a military installation and many of the vehicles “had military decals, patches, and decorations, were financed through lenders geared towards members of the military, and contained military uniforms and paperwork, including orders.” The DOJ seeks damages for the affected servicemembers and civil penalties, as well as a court order enjoining the towing company from engaging in the illegal conduct.