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On March 20, the CFPB and the FTC released (here and here) their annual report to Congress on the administration of the FDCPA, which highlights the 2018 efforts of the agencies. The agencies coordinate in enforcement; share supervisory and consumer complaint information; and collaborate on education under a memorandum of understanding that was reauthorized in February. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In the report, the Bureau acknowledges its intent to release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on debt collection covering issues such as “communication practices and consumer disclosures” in spring 2019. In addition to highlighting the Bureau’s debt collection education efforts, the report also states that in 2018 the Bureau (i) received approximately 81,500 debt collection complaints related to first-party and third-party collections; (ii) initiated six public enforcement actions alleging violations of the FDCPA, one resulting in an $800,000 civil money penalty; and (iii) identified one or more violations of the FDCPA through supervisory examinations.
As for the FTC, in addition to education efforts, the report states that in 2018 the agency (i) initiated or resolved seven enforcement actions, three of which were related to phantom debt collection, obtaining more than $58.9 million in judgments; (ii) returned money to thousands of consumers who were targeted by phantom debt collection operations; and (iii) banned 32 companies and individuals from working in the debt collection market.
On March 15, the CFPB and the New York Attorney General (NYAG) filed opening briefs in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in their appeal of the Southern District of New York’s (i) June 2018 ruling that the CFPB’s organizational structure, as defined by Title X of the Dodd-Frank Act, is unconstitutional; and (ii) the September 2018 order dismissing the NYAG’s claims under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau and the NYAG filed a lawsuit in February 2017, alleging that a New Jersey-based finance company and its affiliates (defendants) engaged in deceptive and abusive acts by misleading first responders to the World Trade Center attack and NFL retirees with high-cost loans by mischaracterizing loans as assignments of future payment rights, thereby causing the consumers to repay far more than they received. After the defendants moved to dismiss the actions, the district court allowed the NYAG’s claims to proceed under the CFPA, even though it had dismissed the Bureau’s claims, but then reversed course. Specifically, in September 2018, the court concluded that the remedy for Title X’s constitutional defect (referring to the Bureau’s single-director structure, with a for-cause removal provision) is to invalidate Title X in its entirety, which therefore invalidates the NYAG’s statutory basis for bringing claims under the CFPA. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
In its opening brief to the 2nd Circuit, the Bureau argues that the district court erred when it held that the for-cause removal provision of the single-director structure is unconstitutional. According to the Bureau, the single director “does not undermine the President’s oversight. If anything, the Bureau’s single-director structure enhances the President’s ‘ability to execute the laws…’” because the President can still remove the director for cause, which allows the director to be held responsible for her conduct. In the alternative, the CFPB argued that should the court find the for-cause removal provision unconstitutional, the proper remedy is to sever the provision from Title X in accordance with the statute’s severability clause and not hold the entire CFPA invalid.
In a separate brief, the NYAG makes similar constitutional and severability arguments as the Bureau, but also argues that even if the entirety of Title X were to be held invalid, the state law claims should survive under the federal Anti-Assignment Act.
On March 18, a coalition of 25 Democratic state Attorneys General urged the CFPB not to delay the August 19, 2019 compliance date for any aspect of the Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans rule (Rule) and warned that they would consider taking legal action if the Bureau does so. (CFPB’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which announced the proposed delay in the effective date, was covered by InfoBytes here.) The AGs assert that the Bureau did not provide enough legal justification for delaying the underwriting provisions until November 2020 because the 2017 Rule already provided affected lenders ample time to comply. Moreover, the AGs emphasize that the Bureau cannot use the related proposal of future rescission of the underwriting requirements as a justification for the compliance delay; the delay “must be justified on its own merits.” As for the merits of the Bureau’s justification, among other things, the AGs reject the Bureau’s conclusion that “it should not assign the weight that it did in the 2017 [Rule] to ‘the interest of enacting protections for consumers as soon as possible,’” arguing that diminishing the weight assigned to consumer protection is in opposition to the Bureau’s statutory mandate. The AGs also raise concern about the ambiguity in the compliance date for the payment-related provisions of the Rule and stress that the August 19, 2019 date should stay in effect because “lenders will have had 21 months to prepare.” The AGs conclude that they “will closely examine whether to take action to address any unlawful action by CFPB” should the proposed delay be finalized.
White House releases 2020 budget proposal; key areas include appropriations and efforts to combat terrorist financing
On March 11, the White House released its fiscal 2020 budget request, A Budget for a Better America. The budget was accompanied by texts entitled Major Savings and Reforms (MSR), which “contains detailed information on major savings and reform proposals”; Analytical Perspectives, which “contains analyses that are designed to highlight specified subject areas or provide other significant presentations of budget data that place the budget in perspective”; and an Appendix containing detailed supporting information. Funding through appropriations and efforts to combat terrorist financing remain key highlights carried over from last year. Notable takeaways of the 2020 budget proposal are as follows:
CFPB. In the MSR’s “Restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” section, the budget revives a call to restructure the Bureau, and proposes legislative action to implement a two-year restructuring period, subject the CFPB to the congressional appropriations process starting in 2021, and “bring accountability” to the Bureau. Among other things, the proposed budget would cap the Federal Reserve’s transfers to the Bureau at $485 million in 2020.
Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC). The 2020 budget proposal requests that Congress establish funding levels through annual appropriations bills for FSOC (which is comprised of the heads of the financial regulatory agencies and monitors risk to the U.S. financial system) and its independent research arm, the Office of Financial Research (OFR). Currently FSOC and OFR set their own budgets.
Flood Insurance. The Credit and Insurance chapter of the budget’s Analytical Perspectives section discusses FEMA initiatives such as modifying the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to become a simpler, more customer-focused program, and “doubling the number of properties covered by flood insurance (either the NFIP or private insurance) by 2022.” Separately, the budget proposal emphasizes that the administration believes that “flood insurance rates should reflect the risk homeowners face by living in flood zones.”
Government Sponsored Enterprises. Noted within the MSR, the budget proposes doubling the guarantee fee charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to loan originators from 0.10 to 0.20 percentage points from 2020 through 2021. The proposal is designed to help “level the playing field for private lenders seeking to compete with the GSEs” and would generate an additional $32 billion over the 10-year budget window.
HUD. The budget proposes to eliminate funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, stating that “[s]tate and local governments are better equipped to address local community and economic development needs.” The proposal would continue to preserve access to homeownership opportunities for creditworthy borrowers through FHA and Ginnie Mae credit guarantees. The budget also requests $20 million above last year’s estimated level to help modernize FHA’s information technology systems and includes legislative proposals to “align FHA authorities with the needs of its lender enforcement program and limit FHA’s exposure to down-payment assistance practices.”
SEC. As stated in both the budget proposal and the MSR, the budget again proposes to eliminate the SEC’s mandatory reserve fund and would require the SEC to request additional funds through the congressional appropriations process starting in 2021. According to the Appendix, the reserve fund is currently funded by collected registration fees and is not subject to appropriation or apportionment. Under the proposed budget, the registration fees would be deposited in the Treasury’s general fund.
SIGTARP. As proposed in the MSR, the budget revives a plan that would reduce funding for the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) “commensurate with the wind-down of TARP programs.” According to the MSR, “Congress aligned the sunset of SIGTARP with the length of time that TARP funds or commitments are outstanding,” which, Treasury estimates, will be through 2023. The reduction reflects, among other things, that less than one percent of TARP investments remain outstanding. This will mark the final time payments are expected to be made under the Home Affordable Modification Program.
Student Loan Reform. As with the 2019 budget proposal, the 2020 proposed budget seeks to establish a single income-driven repayment plan that caps monthly payments at 12.5 percent of discretionary income. Furthermore, balances would be forgiven after a specific number of repayment years—15 for undergraduate debt, 30 for graduate. In doing so, the proposal would eliminate subsidized loans and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, auto-enroll “severely delinquent borrowers,” and create a process for borrowers to share income data for multiple years. With certain exceptions, these proposals will only apply to loans originated on or after July 1, 2020.
Treasury Department. The budget states that combating terrorist financing, proliferation financing, and other types of illicit financing are a top priority for the administration, and $167 million has been requested for Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence to “continue its work safeguarding the financial system from abuse and combating other national security threats using economic tools.” The proposed budget also requests $125 million for the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to administer the Bank Secrecy Act and its work to prevent the financing of terrorism, money laundering, and other financial crimes. An additional $18 million was proposed for strengthening and protecting Treasury’s IT systems.
On March 12, the CFPB released its winter 2019 Supervisory Highlights, which outlines its supervisory and enforcement actions in the areas of auto loan servicing, deposits, mortgage servicing, and remittances. The findings of the report cover examinations that generally were completed between June 2018 and November 2018. Highlights of the examination findings include:
- Auto Loan Servicing. The Bureau determined that attempts to collect miscalculated deficiency balances from extended warranty products were unfair. The Bureau also found that deficiency notices were deceptive where eligible rebates were not sought or applied, although the notice purported to be calculated to include such rebates.
- Deposits. The Bureau found that companies engaged in a deceptive act or practice by failing to adequately disclose that when a payee accepts only a paper check through the institutions online bill-pay service, a debit may occur earlier than the date selected by the consumer.
- Mortgage Servicing. The Bureau noted several issues related to mortgage servicing, including servicers (i) charging consumers late fees greater than the amount permitted by mortgage notes; (ii) misrepresenting the reasons PMI could not be cancelled; and (iii) failing to complete loss mitigation applications with “reasonable diligence.”
- Remittances. The Bureau determined that remittance transfer providers erred when they failed to refund fees and taxes when funds were not made available to recipients by the date listed in the disclosure and the mistake did not result from one of the exceptions listed in the Remittance Rule.
The report notes that in response to most examination findings, the companies have already remediated or have plans to remediate affected consumers, and implement corrective actions, such as new policies and procedures.
Lastly, the report also highlights recent public enforcement actions and guidance documents issued by the Bureau.
On March 8, the CFPB and two payday loan trade groups filed a joint status report with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in the litigation over the Bureau’s final rule on payday loans, vehicle title loans, and certain other installment loans (Rule). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the two payday loan trade groups initiated the suit against the Bureau in April 2018, asking the court to set aside the Rule on the grounds that, among other reasons, the Bureau is unconstitutional and the rulemaking failed to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act. In June 2018 and November 2018, the court stayed the litigation and the compliance date of the Rule, after the Bureau’s announcement that it intended to issue a proposed rulemaking to reconsider parts of the Rule. In February 2019, the Bureau issued a proposal, which seeks to rescind certain provisions of the Rule related to the ability-to-repay underwriting standards and delay the compliance date of those affected provisions until August 2020. The proposal does not reconsider the payment-related provisions of the Rule, leaving the compliance date for those provisions at August 19, 2019. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
In the joint status report, both parties agree that the court’s stay of compliance date and stay of litigation should remain with regard to the underwriting provisions until the Bureau concludes the rulemaking process. As for the payment-related provisions, the payday loan trade groups request the court maintain both the litigation stay and compliance stay of payment provisions until the Bureau completes the underwriting rulemaking process, because the Bureau acknowledged in the proposals that it intends to examine issues related to the payment provisions and “and if the Bureau determines that further action is warranted, the Bureau will commence a separate rulemaking initiative,” which may ultimately moot the litigation. Moreover, the trade groups believe lifting the stays would lead to “piecemeal and potentially wasteful litigation.”
The Bureau also does not seek a lift to the stay of the litigation or compliance date for the payment-related provisions, but for separate reasons. The Bureau argues that the stay of the litigation should be “more limited,” at least until the 5th Circuit issues a decision on the Bureau’s constitutionality in a pending action (covered by InfoBytes here). As for the compliance date stay for the payment-related provisions, the Bureau believes it is not an issue the court needs to decide at this time, but acknowledges that should it request the court lift the stay in the future, the trade groups and the Bureau would have an opportunity to address whether lifting the stay should be delayed to “allow companies to come into compliance with the payments provisions.”
In response to the joint status report, on March 19, the court entered an order continuing the stay of the litigation and the compliance date for both the Rule’s underwriting provisions and its payment-related provisions.
On March 12, Director of the CFPB, Kathy Kraninger, testified at a hearing held by the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on the CFPB’s Semi-Annual Report to Congress. While Kraninger’s opening statement and question responses were similar to her comments made last week during a House Financial Services Committee hearing (detailed coverage here), notable highlights include:
- Fair Lending. Kraninger did not provide a status update on the Bureau’s pre-rulemaking activities as they relate to whether disparate impact is cognizable under ECOA, but emphasized that the Bureau is committed to the fair lending mission.
- Data Collection. In response to concerns over the Bureau’s history of expansive data collection, Kraninger noted that data collection is an especially important tool for rulemaking, but stated that going-forward she would ensure the Bureau only collects the information needed to carry out the Bureau’s mission, noting that the less personally identifiable information that is collected, the less that requires protection. She acknowledged the Bureau is reviewing the comments submitted in response to its fall 2018 data governance program report (covered by InfoBytes here) and stated the Bureau remains committed to reviewing the internal processes it has for collecting and using data.
- Military Lending Act (MLA). Kraninger stated that she disagrees with the Democratic Senator’s broad interpretation of Section 1024(b)(1)(C) of the Dodd-Frank Act allowing for the Bureau to examine for compliance with the MLA because that interpretation would permit the Bureau to examine for anything that is a “risk to consumers,” including things like safety and soundness, which is not currently under the Bureau’s purview. While she acknowledged that the Bureau has the direct authority to enforce the MLA, she repeatedly rejected the notion that this would also give the Bureau the authority to supervise for the MLA, as Dodd-Frank separates the Bureau’s enforcement and supervision powers.
- Payday Rule. Kraninger repeatedly emphasized that the reconsideration of the underwriting standards in the Payday Rule was to determine if the legal and factual basis used to justify certain practices as unfair and abusive was “robust” enough. She acknowledged that the Bureau will be reviewing all the comments to the proposal and that the evidence used for the original Rule will be part of the record for the reconsideration.
- GSE Patch. In response to questions regarding the 2021 expiration of the Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule’s 43 percent debt-to-income ratio exception for mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs), Kraninger acknowledged the “non-QM” market hasn’t materialized over the last few years, as was originally anticipated. However, Kraninger was reluctant to provide any further details, noting that she would not be making any “dramatic changes” to the mortgage market. Additionally, she acknowledged that the GSE patch has the potential to expire at the end of the conservatorship as well.
- CFPB Structure. Kraninger did not specify whether she believes the Bureau should be led by a board, rather than a single director, or whether the Bureau should be under appropriations. Specifically Kraninger stated that she would “welcome any changes Congress made that would increase the accountability and transparency of the Bureau,” and would “dutifully carry out” legislation that would place the Bureau under appropriations if the President signed it.
- Student Lending. Kraninger stated that the Bureau intends to re-engage with the Department of Education on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to assist with complaint and information sharing once a new Student Loan Ombudsmen has been hired. The MOUs were previously terminated by the Department in August 2018 (covered by Infobytes here).
On March 7, the OCC released Bulletin 2019-12, which identifies the key HMDA data fields for full and partial reporters. Specifically, the Bulletin highlights the 37 key data fields for banks required to report all of the data set forth in the CFPB’s October 2015 and August 2017 HMDA amendments, as well as, the 21 key data fields required for banks that qualify for the partial HMDA exemption pursuant to the May 2018 Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. According to the Bulletin, OCC examiners will focus on the identified key data fields during transaction testing pursuant to HMDA for data collected on or after January 1, 2018. The Bulletin rescinds OCC Bulletin 2017-41, “Home Mortgage Disclosure Act: Interagency Key Fields.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, in December 2018, the Federal Reserve Board, the FDIC, and the OCC issued joint guidance regarding the same key data fields that Federal Reserve examiners would use to evaluate the accuracy of HMDA data collected since January 1, 2018.
On March 7, Director of the CFPB, Kathy Kraninger, testified at a hearing held by the House Financial Services Committee entitled “Putting Consumers First? A Semi-Annual Review of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, the hearing covered the semi-annual report to Congress on the Bureau’s work from April 1, 2018 through September 30, 2018. Kraninger was confirmed as Director in December 2018, and this was her first testimony before the Committee in that role. In her opening remarks, Chairwoman Maxine Waters expressed concern with the changes that took place at the Bureau under former acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s time in office and announced a draft bill titled the “Consumers First Act,” which directs the Bureau to, among other things, “promptly reverse all anti-consumer actions taken during Mr. Mulvaney’s tenure.” In her opening testimony, Kraninger emphasized that she is committed to “stability, consistency, and transparency” in the Bureau’s actions and believes the Bureau’s focus should be on the prevention of harm, specifically emphasizing the importance of the Bureau’s mission to educate consumers. Additionally, highlights of Kraninger’s testimony include:
- Supervision and Enforcement. Kraninger repeatedly emphasized that supervision is an important tool in the Bureau’s toolkit to assist companies working to comply with laws and regulations. She asserted that enforcement is a tool that should only be used for bad actors who have “no intention” to comply with the law, and should not be used against entities seeking to comply and self-report compliance concerns. When asked to discuss the Bureau’s reported 35 open enforcement investigations, which include investigations opened under former Director Richard Corday, Kraninger noted that she reviews the actions as they come to a decision point but believes that the Bureau’s enforcement staff is carrying out the agency’s mission and following her guidance on how to proceed.
- Office Reorganizations. Kraninger fielded a number of questions regarding former acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s actions, including the reorganization of the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity and the dismantling of the Office of Students and Younger Consumers. As for fair lending, Kraninger emphasized that moving the office to be part of the Office of the Director helps to facilitate its policy interests across the Bureau and enhances the mission of fair lending. Concerning the Bureau’s work regarding student loans, Kraninger noted that there is still dedicated staff working on student loan issues in the Bureau’s Consumer Education and Engagement section and that they are currently looking to fill the vacant role for the Student Loan Ombudsman.
- Military Lending Act (MLA). Kraninger reiterated her position that she does not believe Dodd-Frank gives the Bureau the authority to supervise for compliance with the Act under Section 1024(b)(1)(C)—which many state Attorneys General and Democratic congressional leaders have contended it does—and repeated her request for Congress to grant the Bureau with the clear authority to do so (previously covered by InfoBytes here).
- UDAAP. Kraninger noted that the Bureau’s regulatory agenda includes a consideration of a pre-rulemaking activity covering the definition of “abusive,” stating that while the current statute has a definition that prevents companies from taking “unreasonable advantage” of a consumer, she believes there should be clarity on what is considered a “reasonable” advantage.
- Congressional Changes to CFPB. Kraninger stated that she will continue to undertake the responsibilities allocated to the Director under Dodd-Frank but welcomes Congressional action that would provide additional “accountability and transparency” to the agency.
The second part of the hearing consisted of testimony from industry and consumer group representatives in which they discussed the CFPB’s previous actions and their suggestions for actions Bureau leadership should take going forward. Copies of each witnesses’ testimony are available here.
On March 5, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina affirmed the recommendation of a Magistrate Judge and denied the motion of a law firm, one of its partners, and others’ (collectively, “defendants”) to dismiss an action alleging that the defendants violated the Federal Anti-Assignment Act (FAAA) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO). These alleged violations were based on the advance purchase of future military pension and disability benefits in exchange for current lump sum payments. According to the report of the Magistrate Judge, five military veterans (collectively, “plaintiffs”) alleged that the defendants operated a coordinated scheme to generate leads from veterans seeking money, and connected veterans to brokers and purchasers in order for the veteran to sell future pension and disability payments for a lump sum wire transfer. The plaintiffs also alleged the operators required the veterans to execute an insurance policy or structured asset agreement to ensure the loan is fully repaid upon the veteran’s death. The Magistrate Judge recommended the motions be denied, concluding that the plaintiffs sufficiently pled the details of the alleged scheme and that the defendants violated the FAAA by inducing veterans to enter into contracts to sell their retirement or disability benefits in advance of the date they are due and payable. Moreover, the Magistrate Judge found that the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged the individual plaintiffs violated RICO by engaging in a criminal enterprise that “coordinated various corporations and websites to buy the plaintiffs’ and other veterans’ benefits and funnel the proceeds through [a defendant]’s account.” Upon review of the report, the district court found “no clear error” by the Magistrate Judge, agreed with the recommendations, and denied the motions to dismiss.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, one of the individual defendants was recently fined $1 in civil money penalties by the CFPB for allegedly violating the Consumer Financial Protection Act by operating a website that connected veterans with companies offering high-interest loans in exchange for the assignment of some or all of their military pension payments.
- Buckley Webcast: The next consumer litigation frontier? Assessing the consumer privacy litigation and enforcement landscape in 2019 and beyond
- Buckley Webcast: The CFPB’s proposed debt collection rule
- Buckley Webcast: Trends in e-discovery technology and case law
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "What the flood? Don’t get washed away by a flood of changes" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mitigating the risks of banking high risk customers" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano, Kari K. Hall, Brandy A. Hood, and H Joshua Kotin to discuss "Regulations that matter in a deregulatory environment" at the American Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference Power Hour
- Buckley Webcast: Data breach litigation and biometric legislation
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Navigating the challenges of the latest data protection regulations and proven protocols for breach prevention and response" at the ACI National Forum on Consumer Finance Class Actions and Government Enforcement
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Assessing the CDD final rule: A year of transitions" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Douglas F. Gansler to discuss "Role of state AGs in consumer protection" at a George Mason University Law & Economics Center symposium