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On March 4, the Small Business Administration (SBA) issued an interim final rule (IFR) to implement recent changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) calculation for IRS Form 1040, Schedule C filers. Self-employed individuals who file Schedule C will now be able to calculate their maximum loan amount using gross income. This calculation change only applies to loans approved after March 4, 2021, and borrowers that have already had their loans approved cannot increase their PPP loan amount based on the new maximum loan formula. SBA also notes that a previously provided safe harbor presumption of making “the statutorily required certification concerning the necessity of the loan request in good faith” will not apply to Schedule C filers that elect to calculate their First Draw PPP loan using gross income if they report more than $150,000 in gross income. These borrowers will be subject to additional SBA review as they will most likely have additional sources of liquidity to support business operations. The IFR further removes eligibility restrictions that prohibit businesses owned at least 20 percent by individuals (i) who have a non-financial fraud felony conviction in the last year, or (ii) who are delinquent or in default on their federal student loans. These changes apply to both First Draw and Second Draw PPP loans.
To assist borrowers, SBA released the following revised forms: First Draw application form and Schedule C gross income form, Second Draw application form and Schedule C gross income form, and lender applications for First Draw and Second Draw loans. The IFR takes effect March 4.
On March 3, the CFPB filed a complaint against an Illinois-based third-party payment processor and its founder and former CEO (collectively, “defendants”) for allegedly engaging in unfair practices in violation of the CFPA and deceptive telemarketing practices in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule. According to the complaint, the defendants knowingly processed remotely created check (RCC) payments totaling millions of dollars for over 100 merchant-clients claiming to offer technical-support services and products, but that actually deceived consumers—mostly older Americans—into purchasing expensive and unnecessary antivirus software or services. The tech-support clients allegedly used telemarketing to sell their products and services and received payment through RCCs, the Bureau stated, noting that the defendants continued to process the clients’ RCC payments despite being “aware of nearly a thousand consumer complaints” about the tech-support clients. According to the Bureau, roughly 25 percent of the complaints specifically alleged that the transactions were fraudulent or unauthorized. The Bureau noted that the defendants also responded to inquiries from police departments across the country concerning consumer complaints about being defrauded by the defendants. Further, the Bureau cited high return rates experienced by the tech-support clients, including an average unauthorized return rate of 14 percent—a “subset of the overall return rate where the reason for the return provided by the consumer is that the transaction was unauthorized.” The Bureau is seeking an injunction, as well as damages, redress, disgorgement, and civil money penalties.
On February 26, the FDIC released a list of administrative enforcement actions taken against banks and individuals in January. During the month, the FDIC issued 11 orders consisting of “two consent orders, two section 19 orders, two prohibition orders, two orders to pay civil money penalties, one order terminating consent order, and two orders terminating consent orders and orders for restitution.” Among the orders is a civil money penalty issued against a Tennessee-based bank related to alleged violations of the Flood Disaster Protection Act. Among other things, the FDIC claims that the bank (i) failed to provide required lender-placed flood insurance notices to borrowers about the availability of flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Act; (ii) provided an incomplete lender-placed flood insurance notice to a borrower; (iii) allowed flood insurance to lapse during the terms of several loans without placing flood insurance on borrowers’ behalf; (iv) failed to maintain an adequate amount of flood insurance; and (v) failed to provide timely notice of special flood hazards and the availability of federal disaster relief assistance. The order requires the payment of a $4,000 civil money penalty.
On February 25, the FTC and the Utah Division of Consumer Protection announced the addition of two additional defendants in an action taken against a Utah-based company and its affiliates (collectively, “defendants”) for allegedly using deceptive marketing to persuade consumers to attend real estate events costing thousands of dollars. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC and the Utah Division of Consumer Protection claimed that the defendants violated the FTC Act, the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA), and Utah state law by marketing real estate events with false claims and using celebrity endorsements. The defendants allegedly promised consumers they would (i) earn thousands of dollars in profits from real estate investment “flips” by using the defendants’ products; (ii) receive 100 percent funding for their real estate investments, regardless of credit history; and (iii) receive a full refund if they do not make “a minimum of three times” the price of the workshop within six months. In October 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah granted a temporary restraining order against the defendants, prohibiting the defendants from continuing to make unsupported marketing claims and from interfering with consumers’ ability to review their products.
On February 22, the CFPB filed its fourth status report in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California as required under a stipulated settlement reached in February with a group of plaintiffs, including the California Reinvestment Coalition. The settlement (covered by InfoBytes here) resolved a 2019 lawsuit that sought an order compelling the Bureau to issue a final rule implementing Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires the Bureau to collect and disclose data on lending to women and minority-owned small businesses.
Among other things, the Bureau notes in the status report that it has satisfied the following required deadlines: (i) last September it released a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 (SBREFA) outline of proposals under consideration (InfoBytes coverage here); and (ii) it convened an SBREFA panel last October and released the panel’s final report last December (InfoBytes coverage here). The settlement next requires the parties to confer about a deadline for the Bureau to issue a Section 1071 notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM). According to the status report, the Bureau’s rulemaking staff is in the process of evaluating the panel’s recommendations as well as stakeholder feedback, and has begun briefing new Bureau leadership “on the significant legal and policy issues that must be resolved to implement the Section 1071 regulations” and prepare the NPRM. The Bureau notes that the parties continue to discuss an appropriate deadline for issuing the NPRM, emphasizing that if the parties agree on a deadline, they “will jointly stipulate to the agreed date and request that the court enter that deadline.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, acting Director Dave Uejio stated recently that he has “pledged” the Bureau’s Division of Research, Markets, and Regulations “the support it needs to implement section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act without delay.”
Find continuing Section 1071 coverage here.
On March 2, FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs where he was asked about his plans should he be confirmed as the permanent CFPB director. Chopra released prepared remarks in which he discussed challenges stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, specifically those related to loan defaults, auto repossessions, credit reporting, debt collection, and foreclosures. Highlighting the need for “fair and effective oversight” in the mortgage market, Chopra also emphasized the importance of addressing systemic inequities faced by families of color. In opening remarks, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), in support of Chopra’s nomination, highlighted several of Chopra’s previous achievements at the Bureau as its first student loan ombudsman and emphasized his “strong record of protecting consumers and small businesses, promoting competitive markets, and holding bad actors accountable.”
Chopra fielded questions from Committee members on a range of topics, including credit reporting, student lending, servicemember protections, and mortgage lending. Chopra stressed his commitment to improving the “transparency, efficiency, and effectiveness” of the Bureau’s supervision and enforcement programs. He further emphasized the need to combat lending discrimination and that fair lending enforcement will be a priority for the Bureau, noting that the Bureau’s Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity office “is established by Congress and  should play a critical role in making sure the law is being followed.” With respect to credit reporting and debt collection, Chopra stated, “[I]f there are unlawful, egregious practices, it is important for enforcement to make sure that they stop. . . .[T]hat’s what’s best for consumers, that’s what’s best for the honest market participants and that’s the role Congress has asked the CFPB to play.”
With respect to fintech, Chopra said the Bureau needs to “take a hard look” at large technology companies’ expansion into financial services and their potential impact on consumer privacy and data security. He also raised concerns about the potential for bias in algorithm decision-making and underwriting. “[L]ooking at how big data, particularly by large platforms who have detailed behavioral data on all of us is something we must carefully look at. Because, it will change financial services fundamentally,” Chopra stressed. He also discussed the importance of providing restitution for consumers, reaffirming his commitment to ensuring that companies found to have committed violations of law are required to repay consumers for what was taken. “[W]hen victims of fraud and misconduct are not made whole, that doesn’t just hurt them. It also hurts every other business who is trying to follow the law and treat them  the right way,” Chopra stated.
If confirmed by the Senate Banking Committee, Chopra’s nomination will head to the full Senate for a vote.
On March 1, the CFPB released a report, Housing Insecurity and the COVID-19 Pandemic, analyzing the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the housing market, particularly with respect to low-income and minority households. According to the Bureau, as of December 2020, more than 11 million households were overdue on their rent or mortgage payments, placing them at heightened risk of losing their homes to foreclosure or eviction as Covid-19 relief programs expire in the upcoming months. Of these households, the Bureau noted that Black and Hispanic households bear a disproportionate financial burden and “were more than twice as likely to report being behind on housing payments than white families.” Additional statistics include: (i) 2.1 million households are more than 90 days behind on their payments; (ii) roughly 263,000 families noted as being “seriously behind” on their mortgages (and not enrolled in forbearance plans) will have limited options to avoid foreclosure once relief programs end; (iii) an estimated 8.8 million tenant households are behind on their rent, with 9 percent of renters reporting that they are likely to be evicted in the next two months; and (iv) of the 2.7 million borrowers noted as being in active forbearance as of January 2021, more than 900,000 of these borrowers will have been in forbearance for more than a year as of April 2021. The Bureau noted most borrowers that have exited forbearance after six or fewer months “have been able to resume payments without any issue.” However, borrowers who have been in forbearance longer are more likely to have difficulties resuming payments.
In a blog post released the same day, acting Director Dave Uejio acknowledged that mortgage servicers and landlords have been working to help keep borrowers and renters in their homes, noting that “[m]ost mortgage servicers are working hard to engage with the record number of homeowners in forbearance and the many other homeowners struggling to make payments.”
On February 24, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory alerting financial institutions to potential fraud and other financial crimes targeting Covid-19 economic impact payments (EIP). The advisory is based on FinCEN’s analysis of Covid-19 related information obtained from Bank Secrecy Act data, public reporting, and law enforcement partners, and outlines potential methods of EIP fraud, associated red flags, and information for reporting suspicious activity related to such fraud. According to FinCEN, U.S. authorities have detected a wide range of EIP-related fraud, including (i) fraudulent, altered, or counterfeit checks; (ii) theft of EIPs; (iii) phishing schemes using EIPs as a lure, in which emails, letters, phone calls, and text messages are used by fraudsters in order to obtain personal information such as account numbers and passwords; and (iv) private companies with control over a person’s finances that seize a person’s EIP for wage garnishment or debt collection and do not return the inappropriately-seized payment.
FinCEN also issued a notice for filing suspicious activity reports (SAR) related to Covid-19. The notice consolidates filing instructions and key terms for fraudulent activities, crimes, and cyber/ransomware attacks related to the pandemic. FinCEN reminded financial institutions to consult previously issued advisories and notices to access additional SAR filing instructions and other Covid-19-related advisories and alerts (available here).
On February 25, the FHFA announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) will extend their moratorium on single-family foreclosures and real estate owned (REO) evictions until June 30. The foreclosure moratorium applies only to homeowners with a GSE-backed, single-family mortgage, and the REO eviction moratorium applies only to properties that were acquired by the GSEs through foreclosure or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure transactions. Additionally, FHFA announced that borrowers may be eligible for up to a three-month forbearance extension so long as they are on a Covid-19 forbearance plan as of February 28 (details on the Covid-19 forbearance covered by InfoBytes here), and that the Covid-19 payment deferral may now cover up to 18 months of missed payments (previously covering up to 15 months of missed payments, additional details covered by InfoBytes here). The extensions are implemented in Fannie Mae Lender Letter LL-2021-07 and Freddie Mac Guide Bulletin 2021-8.
On February 24, the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing entitled “How Invidious Discrimination Works and Hurts: An Examination of Lending Discrimination and Its Long-term Economic Impacts on Borrowers of Color.” The subcommittee’s memorandum regarding the hearing discussed the importance of exploring “available tools and potential legislative solutions to detect hidden discrimination and deter discrimination in lending and housing,” and addressed topics such as modern-day redlining, racial wealth gaps, and matched-pair testing (a method for detecting impermissible differences in treatment based on protected classes).
Subcommittee members also discussed recently introduced H.R. 166, the “Fair Lending for All Act,” which would, among other things: (i) direct the CFPB to establish an Office of Fair Lending Testing charged with testing creditors’ ECOA compliance, and permit the Bureau to refer ECOA violations to the attorney general for appropriate action; (ii) extend the protected classes under the law to sexual orientation, gender identity, and an applicant’s location based on zip code or census tract; (iii) establish criminal penalties under ECOA for knowing and willful violations of prohibited credit discrimination, including personal liability for executive officers and directors; (iv) require the Bureau to review loan applications for compliance with ECOA and other federal consumer laws; and (v) amend HMDA Section 304(b)(4) to add the new prohibited credit discrimination categories.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to join CFPB panel at CBA’s Washington Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to moderate “Pandemic relief response and lasting impacts on access, credit, banking, and equality” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Post-pandemic CFPB exam preparation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Making fair lending work for you" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Reading the tea leaves of President Biden’s initial financial appointees" at LendIt Fintech
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss “CA, NY, federal licensing and disclosure” at the Equipment Leasing & Finance Association Legal Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Compliance under Biden" at the WSJ Risk & Compliance Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference