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On October 9, the OCC responded to a letter written by 26 Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee urging the agency to update its interpretation of the definition of “interest” under the National Bank Act (NBA) to limit the impact of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s 2015 decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here). The representatives’ letter (covered by InfoBytes here) argued that Madden deviated from the longstanding valid-when-made doctrine—which provides that if a contract that is valid (not usurious) when it was made, it cannot be rendered usurious by later acts, including assignment—and has “caused significant uncertainty and disruption in many types of lending programs.” The representatives urged the OCC to prioritize a rulemaking to address the issue. In response, the OCC agreed with the letter’s concerns, and stated that “administrative solutions to mitigate the consequences of the Madden decision may be available.” The OCC noted that it has filed amicus briefs in the past, reiterating the view that Madden was wrongly decided, but did not elaborate any further on potential plans for a rulemaking to address the issue.
On October 18, 22 state attorneys general submitted comments opposing HUD’s proposed rule amending the agency’s interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard (also known as the “2013 Disparate Impact Regulation”), arguing the proposal would “render disparate impact liability a dead letter under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in August, HUD issued the proposed rule, to bring the rule “into closer alignment with the analysis and guidance” provided in the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) and to codify HUD’s position that its rule is not intended to infringe on the states’ regulation of insurance. Specifically, the proposal codifies the burden-shifting framework outlined in Inclusive Communities, adding five elements that a plaintiff must plead to support allegations that a specific, identifiable, policy or practice has a discriminatory effect. Moreover, the proposal provides methods for defendants to rebut a disparate impact claim.
In the comment letter, the attorneys general argue that the proposal ignores “the Supreme Court’s binding interpretation of the FHA” in Inclusive Communities, stating that the Court “emphasiz[ed] the continued importance of the FHA’s disparate impact theory of liability in advancing the nation’s efforts to advance justice and equality.” Additionally, the attorneys general suggest that the proposal ignores HUD’s statutory mandate and is “arbitrary and capricious in light of its numerous substantive defects.” The attorneys general assert that no changes to the rule are necessary, as there are no revisions “that would add clarity, reduce uncertainty, decrease unwarranted regulatory burdens, or otherwise assist in determining lawful conduct.” The letter concludes with a threat of a “meritorious legal challenge” should HUD approve the changes.
Similarly, on October 16, FTC Commissioner, Rohit Chopra, voiced his concerns with the proposal in a comment letter, stating that it “appears to fundamentally misunderstand how algorithms, big data, and machine learning work in practice,” and that “it would provide safe harbors to the same technologies at issue in HUD’s own action against [a social media company].” Chopra opposes HUD’s proposal for three reasons: (i) algorithms can provide discriminatory results because they are not neutral; (ii) safe harbors should not be created “around technologies that are proprietary, opaque, and rapidly evolving”; and (iii) incentives are distorted by “outsourcing [the] liability for algorithmic discrimination to third parties.” Chopra concludes that the proposal should not be finalized because it “moves enforcement against discrimination backwards.”
On October 16, Maxine Waters, Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, released a majority staff report titled, “Settling for Nothing: How Kraninger’s CFPB Leaves Consumers High and Dry,” which details the results of the majority’s investigation into the CFPB’s handling of consumer monetary relief in enforcement actions since Richard Cordray stepped down as director in November 2017. The report argues that, under the leadership of Acting Director Mick Mulvaney and Director Kathleen Kraninger, the Bureau’s enforcement actions “have declined in volume and failed to compensate harmed consumers adequately.” Specifically, the report states that under Cordray’s leadership, “the average enforcement action by the [Bureau] returned $59.6 million to consumers, as compared to an average $31.4 million per action under Mulvaney,” but notes that $335 million of the $345 million in consumer relief obtained during Mulvaney’s tenure resulted from one settlement with a national bank (previously covered by InfoBytes here). With respect to Director Kraninger, the report acknowledges that the pace of enforcement actions increased compared to Mulvaney; however, the Bureau ordered “only $12 million in consumer relief” during her first six months, as compared to “approximately $200 million in consumer relief” during a similar six months of Cordray’s tenure.
The report highlights specifics from the investigation into settlements announced in early 2019, which resulted in civil penalties but not consumer monetary relief. The report argues that, based on the review of the internal documents received from the Bureau, the lack of consumer relief was due to the “politicization of the [Bureau],” which “contributed to the decline in the [Bureau]’s enforcement activity” rather than the merits of the enforcement actions, notwithstanding that the internal documents reflect the assessment of certain weaknesses in the Bureau’s positions. The report attributes such politicization to the introduction of political appointee positions throughout the Bureau that oversee each of the divisions. The report concludes by urging Congress to pass the Consumers First Act (HR 1500), which, among other things, seeks to limit the number of political appointees at the Bureau.
On October 15, the CFPB Private Education Loan Ombudsman published its annual report on consumer complaints submitted between September 1, 2017 and August 31, 2019. The report, titled Annual Report of the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman, is based on approximately 20,600 complaints received by the Bureau relating to federal and private student loan servicing, debt collection, and debt relief services. The report focuses primarily on complaints and student loan debt relief scams, which are, according to Private Education Loan Ombudsman Robert G. Cameron, “two subjects that, if promptly addressed, may have the greatest immediate impact in preventing potential harm to borrowers.” Of the 20,600 complaints, roughly 13,900 pertained to federal student loans with approximately 6,700 related to private student loans. Both categories reflect a decrease in total complaints from previous years. The report also notes that the Bureau handled roughly 4,600 complaints related to student loan debt collection.
The report goes on to discuss collaborative efforts between federal and state law enforcement agencies, including the CFPB, FTC, Department of Education, and state attorneys general, to address student loan debt relief scams. According to the report, the FTC’s Operation Game of Loans (previous InfoBytes coverage here) has yielded settlements and judgments totaling over $131 million for the past two years, while Bureau actions (taken on its own and with state agencies) have resulted in judgments exceeding $17 million.
The report provides several recommendations, including that policymakers, the Department of Education, and the Bureau “assess and consider the sharing of information, analytical tools, education outreach, and expertise” to prevent borrower harm, and that when harm occurs, “reduce the window in which harm is occurring through timely identification and remediation.” With regard to student loan debt relief scams, the report recommends, among other things, that enforcement should be expanded “beyond civil enforcement actions to criminal enforcement actions at all levels.”
On October 11, the OCC announced that a national bank has agreed to pay a $30 million civil money penalty to resolve allegations relating to the holding period of other real estate owned (OREO). According to the OCC’s consent order, the bank violated the statutory holding period for OREO. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on OCC OREO regulations here.) The OCC asserted that the bank’s processes and controls for identifying and monitoring the OREO holding period were deficient, and following an investigation it determined the bank allegedly “failed to meet its commitment to implement corrective actions, resulting in additional violations.” While the OCC noted that it will continue to monitor the bank’s corrective actions, it determined that the bank’s implementation of effective policies and procedures to ensure OREO compliance over the last 12 months has “significantly reduced its inventory of OREO assets.”
On October 10, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee released a letter from Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Patty Murray (D-Wash) to the new CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman, Robert Cameron, outlining their expectations for his tenure in the Ombudsman’s Office. The senators state that Cameron should, among other things, (i) advocate for student loan borrowers by utilizing the Bureau’s statutory authority and tools, including policymaking and evidence gathering for supervision and enforcement; (ii) reestablish the information sharing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the U.S. Department of Education and the Bureau; (iii) resume examinations of federal student loan servicers; and (iv) carry out his duties free of conflict of interests. The Senators request that Cameron provide additional information by October 25 regarding a potential conflict of interest (based on his prior work as Deputy Chief Counsel at a student loan servicer), the Bureau’s history of PSLF supervisory examinations, and current staffing in the Ombudsman Office.
On October 11, the CFPB announced the Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law that will examine the existing legal and regulatory environment facing consumers and financial services providers. The Bureau is accepting applications for the task force and seeking to fill the membership with a broad range of expertise in the areas of consumer protection and consumer financial products or services. Inspired by a commission established by the Consumer Credit Protection Act in 1968, the Bureau states that the task force will report to Director Kraninger and will “produce new research and legal analysis of consumer financial laws in the United States, focusing specifically on harmonizing, modernizing, and updating the enumerated consumer credit laws—and their implementing regulations—and identifying gaps in knowledge that should be addressed through research, ways to improve consumer understanding of markets and products, and potential conflicts or inconsistencies in existing regulations and guidance.”
On October 10, the FDIC issued Financial Institution Letter FIL-56-2019 to provide regulatory relief to financial institutions and help facilitate recovery in areas of Texas affected by Tropical Storm Imelda. In the letter, the FDIC encourages institutions to consider, among other things, (i) extending repayment terms; (ii) restructuring existing loans; or (iii) easing terms for new loans to borrowers affected by the severe weather. Additionally, the FDIC notes that institutions may receive Community Reinvestment Act consideration for community development loans, investments, and services in support of disaster recovery.
Separately on October 8, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued Circular 26-19-27 to encourage mortgagees to provide relief for VA borrowers affected by Hurricane Dorian. Among other forms of assistance, the Circular encourages loan holders and servicers to (i) extend forbearances to borrowers in distress as a result of the disaster; (ii) establish a 90-day moratorium from the disaster date on initiating new foreclosures on affected loans; (iii) waive late charges on affected loans; and (iv) suspend credit reporting. The Circular will be rescinded October 1, 2020. Mortgage servicers and veteran borrowers are also encouraged to review the VA’s Guidance on Natural Disasters.
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on disaster relief guidance here.
On October 8, the CFPB issued its Dodd-Frank mandated semi-annual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work from October 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019. In presenting the report, Director Kathy Kraninger stressed that the Bureau will continue to use the tools provided by Congress to protect consumers, including “vigorous and even-handed enforcement” with a focus on prevention of harm. Kraninger also reiterated her commitment “to strengthening the consumer financial marketplace by providing financial institutions clear ‘rules of the road’ that allow them to offer consumers a range of high-quality, innovative financial services and products.” Among other things, the report analyzed significant problems consumers face when obtaining consumer financial products and services, assessed actions taken by state attorneys general or state regulators relating to federal consumer financial law, and provided a recap of supervisory and enforcement activities.
While the Bureau did not adopt any significant final rules or orders during the preceding year, it did issue two significant notices of proposed rulemaking relating to certain payday lending requirements under the agency’s 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans.” (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) The Bureau also adopted several “less significant rules,” and engaged in significant initiatives concerning, among other things, (i) the disclosure of loan-level HMDA data; (ii) Residential Property Assessed Clean Energy proposed rulemaking; (iii) an assessment of significant rules, including the Remittance Rule, the Ability to Repay/Qualified Mortgage Rule, and the RESPA Mortgage Servicing Rule; (iv) trial disclosure programs; (v) innovation policies related to no-action letters and product sandbox and trial disclosure programs; and (vi) suspicious activity reports on elder financial exploitation.
On October 8, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it completed its home loan funding fee refund initiative, returning more than $400 million to VA borrowers. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report concluding that the VA improperly charged exempt veterans VA home loan funding fees. The OIG recommended that the VA develop a plan to, among other things, identify exempt veterans who were inappropriately charged funding fees and issue refunds. The VA reviewed nearly 20 years of loan originations, and identified 130,000 loans for potential refunds. VA notes that most fees were charged correctly, except for veterans whose exemption status changed after the closing of their loan. VA also announced changes to its program, in order to provide veterans with “the most up-to-date information possible on a Veteran’s funding fee exemption status,” including (i) enhancements to communications to veterans regarding the loan funding fee; (ii) new policy guidance directing lenders to inquire about a veteran’s disability claim status during the underwriting process; (iii) instructing lenders to obtain an updated Certificate of Eligibility for a veteran within three days of closing, if there was a disability claim pending; (iv) and procedural changes to ensure regulator internal oversight of funding fee activities.
- Magda Gathani to discuss "Cryptocurrency meets banks" at the Women in Housing & Finance Partner Series
- Garylene D. Javier to moderate "Innovation in an evolving privacy landscape" at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Consumer Financial Services Committee Winter Meeting
- Buckley Webcast: What’s next for privacy and data security in 2021 and beyond?