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CFPB obtains stipulated judgment ordering student financing company to pay over $30 million in damages
On November 20, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware entered a stipulated judgment in favor of the CFPB and 11 other state enforcement agencies in connection with an adversary proceeding against a vocational training program. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the complaint alleged that the education firm (company) engaged in deceptive practices by misrepresenting its income share agreement as not a loan and not debt, and misleading borrowers into believing that no payments would need to be made until they received a job offer. According to the CFPB, the company trained consumers to become sales development representatives, an entry-level role that requires “little or no prior sales experience or training,” and made promises it could not deliver on, such as promising a “6-figure” career in software sales. The company also initially priced its services at $2,500 in 2018, and then increased it to $15,000 the following year without any value justification. The company would recoup its payment through income share agreements (ISA). The CFPB alleged multiple causes of action against the company, including violations of the CFPA, TILA, and the FDCPA, among others. The stipulated judgment includes orders requiring the company to refund student borrowers, cancel outstanding loans, and permanently shut down.
On November 16, the CFPB released its annual Fair Debt Collection Practices Act report, which highlighted challenges specific to medical debt collection. For example, 8,500 complaints were submitted in 2022 related to medical debt collection and described problems such as collectors billing for services never received, collecting the wrong amounts, miscommunication with insurance companies or financial assistance programs, or placing bills on credit reports without prior consumer contact. The report emphasized collectors may violate federal law when they pursue inaccurate medical bills and stressed the need for medical debt collectors to comply with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the No Surprises Act, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
The report also includes developments in state law regarding medical debt collection, including recent legislation in Colorado, New York, Maine, and Nevada. Additionally, the report contains sections related to supervision of debt collection activities, enforcement actions, education and outreach initiatives, rulemaking, and research and policy initiatives.
On November 30, the Director of the CFPB, Rohit Chopra, testified during the Senate Banking Committee’s hearing on the Bureau’s Semi-Annual Report to Congress. The Senate Banking Committee questioned Chopra on the Bureau’s oversight of financial institutions providing benefits under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), medical debt collection, so-called “junk fees,” and the increasing popularity of buy now, pay later (BNPL) products.
In response to questions regarding SCRA, Director Chopra stated that the CFPB estimates that fewer than 10% of servicemembers receive the 6% pre-service rate cap on loans as required by the SCRA. In response to a question on BNPL popularity, Chopra noted there was a high amount of BNPL usage on Black Friday, and the CFPB plans on creating basic consumer protection standards.
Director Chopra stated that the CFPB is developing rules or researching potential activity in several areas, including: (i) reporting certain medical debts to the credit bureaus; (ii) BNPL standards; and (iii) protecting consumer data, particularly in the context of credit reporting.
The CFPB recently issued its semi-annual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work for the period beginning October 1, 2022 and ending March 31, 2023. The report, which is required by Dodd-Frank, includes, (i) a list of significant rules and orders (including final rules, proposed rules, pre-rule materials, and upcoming plans and initiatives); (ii) an analysis of consumer complaints, (iii) lists of public supervisory and enforcement actions, (iv) assessments of actions by state regulators and attorneys generals related to consumer financial law; (v) assessment of fair lending enforcement and rulemaking; and (vi) an analysis of efforts to increase workforce and contracting diversity.
On November 21, the CFPB announced it approved an application from a community banking trade organization to pilot disclosures for construction loans. The application was submitted pursuant to the CFPB’s trial policy programs under Section 1032(e) of Dodd-Frank. According to the community banking trade organization, the application aims to increase the number of affordable loans that combine a construction phase loan with a mortgage, all within a single set of closing costs, i.e., a single-close construction-to-permanent loan. The community banking trade organization hopes to increase the number of these specific loans because first-time homebuyers in rural and small-town communities are more likely to build their first home than purchase existing ones. The community banking trade organization also stated that the current loan disclosure requirements offered by the CFPB were designed for either standard home purchase or refinance mortgage loans. The Bureau states that it wishes to receive applications for this pilot disclosure from lenders rather than single-market participants.
On November 16, the FTC released its letter of its annual summary of activities in 2022 to the CFPB. The CFPB used the findings in its annual report to Congress on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). In the letter, the FTC outlined several of its important procedural law enforcement activities, such as debt collection issues affecting small businesses, redressing consumers harmed by debt collection schemes, halting collection in consumer debt, and combating unauthorized charges to consumers. The second part of the letter outlines how the FTC enables public outreach and cross-agency coordination. For public outreach, the FTC proactively educates consumers about their rights under the FDCPA, and how debt collectors can comply with the law. The FTC also noted that it publishes material in both English and Spanish to broaden its outreach. In addition, the FTC added that it distributes print publications to libraries and businesses and logs more than 50 million views on its website pages. In its efforts to raise awareness about scams targeting the Latino community, the FTC highlighted its series of fotonovelas (graphic novels) in Spanish.
On November 15, the CFPB issued a report, titled “The CFPB Language Access Plan for consumers with limited English proficiency,” on expanding consumer needs in the financial marketplace for individuals with limited English proficiency. The CFPB released this report consistent with the mandates under E.O. 13166 to “educate and empower all consumers, provide information and assistance to traditionally underserved consumer and communities, enforce fair lending laws, and promote an equitable workforce for all consumers.”
The CFPB cites that 22 percent of the U.S. population over the age of five speak a language other than English at home. The CFPB commits itself to ensuring that tools, programs, and services are available to those who need language assistance by (i) understanding the needs of the population; (ii) conducting outreach and engagement; (iii) providing products and services in eight different languages other than English; and (iv) promoting fair and equitable access to the financial marketplace.
The CFPB’s report also lists several public enforcement actions involving communicating with consumer with limited English proficiency. The report mainly outlines how well the agency does in addressing the diverse language needs of the U.S. population, including translated disclosures, websites, and outreach and engagement sessions.
On November 15, the CFPB announced a consent order against a Chicago-based small-dollar lender for allegedly violating a 2019 order and by independently violating the CFPA. According to the 2019 consent order, the respondent allegedly withdrew funds from consumers’ bank accounts without permission and failed to honor loan extensions. Specifically, the respondent replaced consumers’ bank account information used to pay for existing loans with separate account information supplied by a “lead generator.” Respondent allegedly debited consumers’ payments through the accounts provided by the lead generator, instead of the consumers’ originally saved payment method. The 2019 order, among other things, (i) barred the respondent from making or initiating electronic fund transfers without valid authorization; (ii) barred the respondent from failing to honor loan extensions; (iii) required the respondent to pay a $3.8 million civil money penalty. In its most recent order, the CFPB alleged that through an investigation of the respondent’s compliance with the 2019 order, the respondent continued the same unauthorized withdrawals and canceled loan extensions. The Bureau also alleged that the respondent failed to disclose that making a partial payment could cancel a loan extension and misrepresent associated fees, and they failed to provide consumers copies of signed authorizations. The respondent also allegedly provided inaccurate due dates, misrepresented skipping payments, and misrepresented loan amounts. The respondent released a statement on the enforcement action, highlighting its cooperation with the CFPB, and internal technical issues.
In the most recent order, the respondent, without admitting nor denying the CFPB’s allegations, agreed to pay a $15 million civil money penalty and refund affected consumers. The respondent also agreed to stop providing certain types of consumer loans for seven years (beginning in 2022) and to reform its executive compensation agreements and policies to ensure that compensation accounts for executives’ compliance with consumer financial protection laws, including the Consent Order. The respondent must conduct an annual compensation review and provide a report of the review to the CFPB.
On November 13, the CFPB, OCC, and the Fed published final amendments to the official interpretations for regulations implementing Section 129H of TILA, which establishes special appraisal requirements for “higher-risk mortgages,” otherwise termed as “higher-priced mortgage loans” (HPMLs). The final rule increases TILA’s loan exemption threshold for the special appraisal requirements for HPMLs. Each year, the threshold must be readjusted based on the annual percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. The exemption threshold will increase from $31,000 to $32,400 effective January 1, 2024.
On November 13, the CFPB and the Fed released updated dollar thresholds for whether certain credit and lease transactions are subject to Regulation Z (Truth in Lending) and Regulation M (Consumer Leasing) requirements for 2024. The thresholds for both regulations were increased from $66,400 to $69,500, an increase of 4.6 percent. Transactions at or below the 2024 threshold of $69,500 will be “subject to the protections of the regulations.” The CFPB derives its thresholds from the June 1, 2023, report on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earnings and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The thresholds for 2023 were previously increased at a rate of 8.8 percent, a larger increase given the rate of inflation during the previous year.