Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On May 13, the U.S. House passed, by a vote of 215-207, H.R. 2547, which would provide additional financial protections for consumers and place several restrictions on debt collection activities. Known as the “Comprehensive Debt Collection Improvement Act,” H.R. 2547 consolidates 10 separate proposed consumer protection bills into one comprehensive package.
Provisions under the package would cover:
- Confessions of Judgment (COJs). The bill would amend TILA and expand the ban on COJs to cover small business owners and merchant cash advance companies.
- Servicemembers. The bill would amend the FDCPA to prohibit debt collectors from threatening servicemembers, including by representing to servicemembers that failure to cooperate will result in a reduction of rank, revocation of their security clearance, or prosecution. Covered debtors would include active-duty service members, those released from duty in the past year, and certain dependents.
- Student Loans. The bill would amend TILA to require the discharge of private student loans in the case of a borrower’s death or total and permanent disability.
- Medical Debt. The bill would amend the FDCPA by making it an unfair practice to “engag[e] in activities to collect or attempt to collect a medical debt before the end of the 2-year period beginning on the date that the first payment with respect to such medical debt is due.” The bill would also amend the FCRA to, among other things, bar entities from collecting medical debt or reporting it to a consumer reporting agency without providing a consumer notice about their rights.
- Electronic Communication. The bill would amend the FDCPA to limit a debt collector from contacting a consumer by email, text message, or direct message on social media without receiving the debtor’s permission to be contacted electronically. It would also prevent debt collectors from sending unlimited electronic communications to consumers.
- Other Debt Provisions. The bill would (i) expand the definition of debt covered under the FDCPA to include money owed to a federal agency, states, or local government; certain personal, family, or household transactions; and court debts; (ii) restrict federal agencies from transferring debt to a collector until at least 90 days after the obligation becomes delinquent or defaults; (iii) require agencies to notify consumers at least three times—with notifications spaced at least 30 days apart—before transferring their debt; and (iv) limit the fees debt collectors can charge.
- Penalties. The bill would require the CFPB to update monetary penalties under the FDCPA for inflation. It would also (i) clarify that courts can award injunctive relief; (ii) cap damages in class actions; and (iii) add protections for consumers affected by national disasters.
- Non-Judicial Foreclosures. The bill would amend the FDCPA to clarify that companies engaged in non-judicial foreclosure proceedings are covered by the statute.
- Legal Actions. The bill would amend the FDCPA to outline requirements for debt collectors taking legal action to collect or attempt to collect a debt, including providing a consumer with written notice, as well as documents showing the consumer agreed to the contract creating the debt, and a sworn affidavit stating the applicable statute of limitations has not expired.
On May 17, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Massachusetts-based debt-settlement company for allegedly violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) and the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau alleged the company violated the TSR and/or the CFPA by, among other things, (i) requesting and receiving payment of fees for services before renegotiating, settling, reducing, or otherwise altering the terms of at least one debt pursuant to an agreement or before a consumer had made a payment under their agreement; (ii) misrepresenting to consumers that it would not charge fees for its services until it settled a debt and consumers made payments under the settlement to the creditor; (iii) charging fees based on the amount of debt after enrollment instead of the amount of debt at the time of enrollment; and (iv) failing to disclose the amount of time it would take the company to make a settlement offer or the amount of debt the consumer would need to accumulate to make a settlement offer to each creditor. The CFPB’s original complaint had sought an injunction against the company as well as damages, redress, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, and the imposition of civil money penalties.
The judgment, ordered by the court on May 19, requires the company to: (i) pay a $7.7 million judgment, which would be partially suspended upon the company paying harmed consumers $5.4 million; (ii) stop its deceptive practices and; (iii) pay a $1 civil money penalty.
On May 19, the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing entitled “Oversight of Prudential Regulators: Ensuring the Safety, Soundness, Diversity, and Accountability of Depository Institutions.” Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) opened the hearing by expressing her concerns about the “harmful deregulatory actions” taken by the previous administration’s appointees to “roll back key Dodd-Frank reforms and other consumer protections.” She noted, however, that she was pleased that the Senate is moving forward to reverse the OCC’s true lender rule and commented that she has asked House leadership to address the related Congressional Review Act resolution as soon as possible.
Fed Vice Chair for Supervision Randal K. Quarles provided an update on the Fed’s Covid-19 regulatory and supervisory efforts, noting that the Fed has “worked to align [the Fed’s] emergency actions with other relief efforts as the economic situation improves” and is maintaining or extending some measures to promote continued access to credit. When Congresswoman Velazquez inquired how government programs like the Paycheck Protection Program helped to stabilize businesses and improve the overall economy, Quarles answered, “We would have experienced a much deeper and more durable economic contraction, and would have had more lasting economic scarring with closed businesses and defaulting obligations  had those programs not been put in place.”
OCC Comptroller Michael Hsu discussed the agency’s increasing coordination with other federal and state regulators on fintech policy, in addition to OCC efforts to strengthen Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations and address climate change. The OCC has been encouraging innovation, Hsu said, but added that his “broader concern is that these initiatives were not done in full coordination with all stakeholders. Nor do they appear to have been part of a broader strategy related to the regulatory perimeter.” In his written testimony, Hsu emphasized his concerns with providing charters to fintechs, noting that in doing so, it would “convey the benefits of banking without its responsibilities,” but also “that refusing to charter fintechs will encourage growth of another shadow banking system outside the reach of regulators.” Hsu expressed in his oral statement the importance of finding “a way to consider how fintechs and payment platforms fit into the banking system” and emphasized that it must be done in coordination with the FDIC, Fed, and the states. He also explained that “the regulatory community is taking a fragmented agency-by-agency approach to the technology-driven changes taking place today. At the OCC, the focus has been on encouraging responsible innovation. For instance, we updated the framework for chartering national banks and trust companies and interpreted crypto custody services as part of the business of banking.” When Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-MI) asked how the OCC planned to address the “true lender” rule, which would soften the regulations for national banks to sell loans to third parties, Hsu stated that the OCC originally intended to review the rule, but that after the Senate passed S.J.Res. 15 to invoke the Congressional Review Act and provide for congressional disapproval and invalidation of the rule (covered by InfoBytes here), the agency decided to leave it up to congressional deliberation and will monitor it instead.
FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams discussed, among other things, the FDIC’s policy of granting industrial loan company charters. As previously covered by Infobytes, the agency approved a final rule in December 2020 establishing certain conditions and supervisory standards for the parent companies of industrial banks and ILCs. McWilliams defended the FDIC’s new rule during the hearing, stating it “ensures that the parent company serves as a source of financial strength for the ILC while providing clarity about the FDIC's supervisory expectations of both the ILC and its parent company.”
NCUA Chairman Todd Harper also outlined agency measures taken in response to the pandemic. Among other things, Harper noted that the NCUA is supporting low-income credit unions through the Community Development Revolving Loan Fund and that the agency is working to strengthen its Consumer Financial Protection Program (CFPP) to ensure fair and equitable access to credit. During the hearing, Harper stated, “there is an increased emphasis on fair lending compliance, and agency staff are studying methods for improving consumer financial protection supervision for the largest credit unions not primarily supervised by the CFPP.”
On May 14, the FDIC issued FIL-33-2021 to provide regulatory relief to financial institutions and help facilitate recovery in areas of Tennessee affected by severe storms, tornadoes, and flooding. The FDIC acknowledged the unusual circumstances faced by institutions affected by the storms and suggested that institutions work with impacted borrowers to, among other things, (i) extend repayment terms; (ii) restructure existing loans; or (iii) ease terms for new loans to those affected by the severe weather, provided the measures are done “in a manner consistent with sound banking practices.” Additionally, the FDIC noted that institutions “may receive favorable Community Reinvestment Act consideration for community development loans, investments, and services in support of disaster recovery.” The FDIC will also consider regulatory relief from certain filing and publishing requirements.
On May 10, the FDIC announced that an Oregon-based bank has agreed to settle allegations of unfair and deceptive practices in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act related to a wholly owned subsidiary’s debt collection practices for commercial equipment financing. According to the FDIC, the subsidiary unfairly and deceptively charged various undisclosed collection fees—such as collection call and letter fees and third-party collection fees—to borrowers with past due accounts. The FDIC additionally claimed that some of the subsidiary’s collection practices were also unfair and deceptive, including (i) placing excessive and sequential collection calls to borrowers even after requests were made to stop the calls; (ii) disclosing borrowers’ debt information to third parties; and (iii) telling borrowers that their commercial debt would be reported as delinquent to the consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), even though its policy and practice was to not report such delinquencies to the CRAs. Under the terms of the settlement order, the bank, which does not admit nor deny the violations, will voluntarily pay approximately $1.8 million in restitution to affected borrowers.
On May 14, the Federal Reserve Board announced the third extension of a temporary exception from the requirements of section 22(h) of the Federal Reserve Act and corresponding provisions of Regulation O to allow certain bank directors and shareholders to apply for Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from their affiliated banks. The extension is effective immediately and applies to PPP loans made from March 31 through June 30. If the PPP is extended, the rule change will ultimately end on March 31, 2022. The Fed reiterated that any PPP loans extended to bank directors and shareholders must be consistent with SBA’s PPP lending restrictions and done without favoritism from the bank. The original extension was announced on April 17 (covered by InfoBytes here).
On May 14, the Federal Reserve’s Division of Consumer and Community Affairs issued a letter informing supervised financial institutions that HMDA quarterly reporting will resume beginning with institutions’ 2021 first quarter data, due on or before May 31, 2021, for all covered loans and applications with a final action taken date between January 1 and March 31, 2021. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last year the Fed eased quarterly HMDA reporting requirements during the Covid-19 pandemic in order to provide supervised institutions with flexibility to reallocate resources to serving customers. The Fed’s newest letter, which supersedes previous guidance, notes that it “does not intend to cite in an examination or initiate an enforcement action against any entity that did not make the quarterly filing for data collected in 2020.”
On May 11, the U.S. Senate passed S.J. Res. 15 by a vote of 52 - 47 to invoke the Congressional Review Act and provide for congressional disapproval and invalidation of the OCC’s “True Lender Rule.” Issued last year, the final rule amended 12 CFR Part 7 to state that a bank makes a loan when, as of the date of origination, it either (i) is named as the lender in the loan agreement or (ii) funds the loan. The final rule also clarified that if “one bank is named as the lender in the loan agreement and another bank funds the loan, the bank that is named as the lender in the loan agreement makes the loan.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In applauding the passage of the resolution, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who introduced S.J. Res. 15, stated that “strik[ing] down the ‘Rent-A-Bank’ rule will help prevent predatory lenders from ripping off consumers by charging loan-shark rates under deceptive terms.” He noted that the legislation has support from a broad array of stakeholder and consumer protection groups, including a bipartisan group of state attorneys generals and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, as previously covered by InfoBytes here.
Ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) countered, however, that “[w]ithout the rule, the secondary market for these loans would be disrupted, which, again, disproportionately harms lower-income borrowers.” He further added that “[v]oting in favor of the CRA is a direct assault on fintech. It will make it harder for Congress to legislate here. It will make it harder for regulators to issue guidance and rules that promote fintech. Courts will see it as Congress buying into the notion that fintechs are ‘predatory’ lending. And it will scare away state legislatures from promoting fintech.”
S.J. Res. 15 now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
On April 26, the CFPB denied a petition by a title lending company to set aside a civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau in February. The CID requested information from the company to determine, among other things, whether “consumer-lending companies or title-loan companies, in connection with the extension of credit, servicing of loans, processing of payments, or collection of debt, have made false or misleading representations” to consumers. On February 25, the company had petitioned the Bureau to set aside the CID, arguing, in part, that (i) the Bureau failed to provide the company “‘with fair notice as to the nature of the Bureau’s investigation,” as required under section 1052(c)(2) of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA); (ii) the CID did not enable the company to adequately assess “the relevance or the burdensomeness of the individual requests”; and (iii) part of the Bureau’s investigation related to the company’s sale of non-filing insurance (NFI), which is a particular concern “because NFI is a topic that appears to be completely outside of the Bureau’s authority,” as the CFPA does not authorize the Bureau to regulate the business of insurance.
The Bureau rejected the company’s request to set aside or modify the CID, finding that: (i) the Bureau notified the company that it is investigating conduct in connection with the extension of credit, servicing of loans, processing of payments, or collection of debt’ as potential violations of §§ 1031 and 1036 of the CFPA, the Truth in Lending Act, the Military Lending Act, as well as a prior consent order to which the company is still subject; (ii) the company’s defenses are premature at the investigative stage, even if they “could be raised in defense against the potential legal claims contemplated by the CID”; (iii) although the company complained about the purported “vagueness of the description of the subjects of the investigation” and “whether all of the potential violations applied to the [c]ompany or only a portion,” the Bureau is not required to identify the subject of law enforcement investigations in its CIDs; and (iv) the notification at issue is “far more specific” than the notification of purpose in a different matter referenced by the company, and “identifies the precise conduct under investigation while expressly noting the conduct was committed ‘in connection with the extension of credit, servicing of loans, processing of payments, or collection of debt.’”
On May 7, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered two default judgments totaling more than $34.1 million in an action by the CFPB against a mortgage lender and several related individuals and companies (collectively, “defendants”) for alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Settlements have already been reached with the chief operating officer/part-owner of one of the defendant companies, as well as certain other defendants (covered by InfoBytes here, here, and here).
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau filed a complaint in 2020 claiming the defendants violated the FCRA by, among other things, illegally obtaining consumer reports from a credit reporting agency for millions of consumers with student loans by representing that the reports would be used to “make firm offers of credit for mortgage loans” and to market mortgage products, but instead, the defendants allegedly resold or provided the reports to companies engaged in marketing student loan debt-relief services. The defendants also allegedly violated the TSR by charging and collecting advance fees for their debt-relief services. The CFPB further claimed that the defendants violated the TSR and CFPA when they used telemarketing sales calls and direct mail to encourage consumers to consolidate their loans, and falsely represented that consolidation could lower student-loan interest rates, improve borrowers’ credit scores, and change their servicer to the Department of Education.
The May 7 default judgment entered against the student loan debt-relief companies requires the collective payment of more than $19.6 million in consumer redress and more than $11.3 million in civil money penalties to the Bureau. The companies are also permanently enjoined from offering or providing debt-relief services or from using or obtaining consumer reports for any purpose. Moreover, the companies and any associated individuals may not disclose, use, or benefit from consumer information contained in or derived from prescreened consumer reports for use in marketing debt-relief services.
A second default judgment was entered the same day against one of the individual defendants. The judgment requires the individual defendant to pay a more than $3.2 million civil money penalty and permanently enjoins him from providing debt relief services or from using or obtaining prescreened consumer reports for any purpose.