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On October 11, the CFPB issued an advisory opinion concerning consumers’ requests for information regarding their accounts with large banks and credit unions (financial institutions). According to the Bureau, Section 1034(c) of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (the “law”) requires insured depository institutions that offer consumer financial products or services and that have total assets of more than $10 billion, as well as their affiliates, to “comply in a timely manner with consumer requests for information concerning their accounts for consumer financial products and services, subject to limited exceptions.” The advisory opinion includes the following guidance and interpretations:
- Requirements of the law apply even if a customer does not expressively invoke the law.
- Requirements of the law apply to consumer requests for information including information that appears on periodic statements or in online portals including: (i) the amount of the balance in a deposit account; (ii) the interest rate on a loan or credit card; (iii) individual transactions or payments; (iv) bill payments; (vi) recurring transactions; (vii) terms and conditions; and (viii) fee schedules.
- The term “supporting written documentation” in the law requires financial institutions to provide, upon request, “written documents that will substantiate information provided in response to consumer questions, or that will assist consumers with understanding or verifying information regarding their accounts.”
- Financial institutions must provide account information and documentation that is in their “control” and “possession.” This excludes (i) confidential commercial information; (ii) information collected to prevent fraud or money laundering or detecting or making any report regarding unlawful conduct; (iii) information required by law to be kept as confidential; and (iv) supervisory information and nonpublic information.
- The law does not contain language stating or suggesting that financial institutions cannot impose unreasonable conditions on consumer information, but there is no reason Congress intended for the law to allow financial institutions to do so. Generally, the Bureau believes requiring fees and obstacles that impede a consumer’s ability to access their rights granted by the law is a violation of the provision. A financial institution could violate this law by imposing “excessively long wait times to make a request to a customer service representative, requiring consumers to submit the same request multiple times, requiring consumers to interact with a chatbot that does not understand or adequately respond to consumers’ requests, or directing consumers to obtain information that the institution possesses from a third party instead,” among other things.
- There is no fixed time limit for an institution to respond to a consumer’s request, but the CFPB does not view the timing requirements of this law to differ from the timing requirements of other applicable federal laws or regulations.
- Responses must provide all information requested accurately to be considered compliant.
CFPB Director Rohit Chopra delivered remarks on a press call, in which he emphasized that the Bureau’s investigations have uncovered many examples of junk fee-related misconduct by large financial institutions. He reminded consumers that financial institutions should not charge them excessive fees when trying to manage their finances. “Congress passed a law a decade ago requiring heightened customer service standards," said Chopra. "To date, this law has not been enforced. We are changing that.” Chopra also announced that later this month, the CFPB will propose rules to create more competition in banking to make switching financial institutions for better rates and less junk fees, more accessible.
The CFPB additionally issued the results of its recent oversight inspections of major financial institutions, which resulted in financial institutions refunding $140 million in junk fees, $120 million of which were for “surprise overdraft fees and double-dipping on non-sufficient funds fees.”
On October 5, the CFPB released new membership details for its advisory boards and councils, including the Consumer Advisory Board, Community Bank Advisory Council, Credit Union Advisory Council, and Academic Research Council. The Bureau noted that under Dodd-Frank, it is tasked with establishing a Consumer Advisory Board to provide insights on various consumer finance matters. These board members represent different districts of the Fed and are recommended by Federal Reserve Bank presidents. The Community Bank Advisory Council and Credit Union Advisory Council guide the CFPB on financial issues concerning community banks and credit unions respectively. Meanwhile, the Academic Research Council contributes to shaping research plans and agendas, and offers feedback on research methodologies and data collection strategies.
Members of these advisory boards and councils serve voluntarily and do not receive compensation. They also cannot officially represent the CFPB or the Fed, and their selection does not imply endorsement of their respective organizations.
On October 3, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Community Financial Services Association of America v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—a case presenting the most significant challenge yet to the constitutionality of the CFPB. As previously covered by InfoBytes, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with the plaintiff industry groups that the CFPB’s funding structure violates the appropriations clause. At oral argument, the U.S. Solicitor General observed that the lower court decision was the “first time any court in our nation’s history has held that Congress violated the Appropriations Clause by enacting a statute providing funding.” She noted that Congress has approved similar “standing appropriations” for agencies including the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Post Office, and the U.S. Mint.
Several conservative justices pushed back against the CFPB’s and Solicitor General’s stance. For example, Chief Justice Roberts called it “very aggressive view” of Congress’ authority, and Justice Alito emphasized that the CFPB’s funding mechanism was unique in that its funding comes from the Federal Reserve, which is itself not funded through normal appropriations. However, Justice Thomas challenged counsel for the industry groups, noting that “we need a finer point” on “what the constitutional problem is,” beyond the uniqueness of the funding mechanism. Justice Barrett, too, stated she was “struggling to figure out” what standard courts might use in determining whether a cap on an agency’s appropriation is too high.
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on Community Financial Services Association of America v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here.
On October 4, Seth Froman, the CFPB’s General Counsel and senior advisor to Director Chopra, delivered remarks at the New Jersey Citizen Action Education Fund’s Financial Justice Summit. He heralded the work and mission of the CFPB, and focused on the impact of medical debt. He emphasized the CFPB’s concerns that families are being “saddled with medical bills they should not – or do not – owe,” and mentioned a recent enforcement action ordering a medical debt collector to pay more than a million dollars in penalties and redress “because the collector continued to collect on debts without verifying that they were valid after consumers disputed them.” He further discussed the impact of medical bills on consumer credit, such that consumers have a “strong incentive to pay the medical bill, even when they think it’s not the right amount or don’t owe it at all.”
On September 28, Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered a keynote speech at the Center for American Progress, in which she chronicled the history of the CFPB and defended the agency against political attacks. Further, ahead of the oral arguments that took place before the Supreme Court on October 3, Senator Warren criticized the holding of the 5th Circuit, which ruled that the agency’s funding mechanism was unconstitutional. She noted that “none of the federal banking regulators is funded through appropriations,” and that “Congress decided to protect the integrity of these regulators from the chaos and politicking of the annual appropriations process by giving them independent funding structures.”
On September 27, the CFPB released a data point report titled 2022 Mortgage Market Activity and Trends, which analyzes residential mortgage lending activity and trends for 2022. The 2022 HMDA data reflects the fifth year of data that incorporates amendments to HMDA made by Dodd-Frank.
The CFPB noted in its press release accompanying the report that “in 2022, mortgage applications and originations declined markedly from the prior year, while rates, fees, discount points, and other costs increased. Overall affordability declined significantly, with borrowers spending more of their income on mortgage payments and lenders more often denying applications for insufficient income.” They also noted that “as in years past, independent lenders continued to dominate home mortgage lending, with the exception of home equity lines of credit.” Specifically, Lenders previously reported a 2.4 percent increase in closed-end site-built single-family originations from 2020 to 2021. In 2022, lenders reported 6.7 million closed-end site-built single-family originations, a 50.9 percent decrease from 13.7 million in 2021. Other highlighted trends in mortgage applications and originations found in the 2021 HMDA data point include, among other things:
- The total number of applications dropped 38.6 percent, and originations decreased by 44.1 percent;
- Borrowers’ costs and fees for taking out mortgages rose 22 percent from 2021, and a higher percentage of borrowers paid discount points than any year since this type of data has been collected;
- Refinances were down by 73.2 percent from 2021, with most refinances being cash-out refinances, which the CFPB noted can increase the risk of foreclosure. The CFPB noted that “in a reversal of recent trends, the median credit score of refinance borrowers declined below the median credit score of purchase borrowers.” Home-equity refinances, however, rose in 2022, with depository institutions dominating the home-equity lines of credit;
- Black and Hispanic white borrowers, borrowers of low- or moderate-income, and borrowers taking out loans secured with properties in low- or moderate-income neighborhoods accounted for a large share of refinance loans;
- Due to a rise in mortgage interest rates, average monthly mortgage payments increased by more than 46 percent;
- Debt to income ratio became more likely to be reported as a denial reason for denied applications across racial/ethnic groups in 2022.
In CFPB Director Rohit Chopra’s statement regarding the results of the 2022 HMDA data, he stated, “The significant changes in the rate environment in 2022 are having considerable impacts on the mortgage market. I expect these trends will continue in 2023 given further increases in average mortgage interest rates.”
On September 21, the CFPB announced the beginning of its anticipated rulemaking regarding consumer reporting, including a proposal to remove medical bills from credit reports. This announcement builds upon a hearing the CFPB held in July 2023 on medical billing and collections, highlighting its range of negative impact on marginalized communities (covered by InfoBytes here). In the CFPB’s announcement, Director Rohit Chopra emphasized the inconsequential “predictive value” of medical bills in credit reports despite their prevalence in American households, thus the agency's goal is to alleviate the burden on individuals facing medical debt. The Bureau’s press release highlighted components to its outline of proposals and alternatives under consideration, such as (i) prohibiting consumer reporting companies from including medical bills in consumers’ credit reports; (ii) prohibiting creditors from relying on medical bills for underwriting decisions; and (iii) prohibiting debt collectors from leveraging the credit reporting system to pressure consumers into paying their debts. The rule would not prevent creditors from accessing medical bill information, such as validating need for medical forbearances, or evaluating loan applications for paying medical debt.
In addition to the proposed removal of medical debt from consumer reports, the Bureau’s outline includes other notable proposals regarding consumer reports. The Bureau’s proposals include”
- As previously covered by InfoBytes, applying the FCRA to data brokers by altering the FCRA definitions of “consumer report” and “consumer reporting agency”, to “address whether and how the FCRA applies to newer actors and practices in the credit reporting marketplace, including questions such as coverage of data brokers and certain consumer reposting agency practices regarding marketing and advertising.” In particular, the Bureau is also considering a proposal that would provide that data brokers selling “consumer reports” containing consumers’ payment history, income, and criminal records would be considered a consumer reporting agency. The Bureau is also exploring clarifications on when data brokers qualify as consumer reporting agencies and furnish consumer reports.
- Clarifying whether “credit header data” qualifies as a consumer report, which could limit the disclosure or sale of credit header data without valid reasoning.
- Clarifying that certain targeted marketing activities that do not directly share information with a third party nevertheless are subject to the FCRA.
- Proposing a definition of the terms “assembling” and “evaluating” to include intermediaries or vendors that “transmit consumer data electronically between data sources and users.”
- Clarifying whether and when aggregated or anonymized consumer report information constitutes or does not constitute a consumer report. Specifically, the Bureau contemplates providing that a data broker’s sale of particular data points such as “payment history, income, and criminal records” would “generally be a consumer reports, regardless of the purpose for which the data was actually used or collected, or the expectations of that data broker
- Establishing the steps that a company must take to obtain a consumer’s written instructions to a obtain a consumer report.
- Addressing a consumer reporting agency’s obligation under the FCRA to protect consumer reports from a data breach or unauthorized access.
On September 14, U.S. District Judge Karen K. Caldwell issued an order granting an injunction sought by the Kentucky Bankers Association and eight Kentucky-based banks to enjoin the CFPB from implementing and enforcing requirements for small business lenders until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the CFPB’s funding structure (previously covered by InfoBytes here and here).
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plaintiff banks filed their motion for a preliminary injunction seeking an order to enjoin the CFPB from enforcing the Small Business Lending Rule against them for the same reasons that a Texas district court enjoined enforcement of the rule (Texas decision covered by InfoBytes here). The CFPB argued, among other things, that the plaintiff banks failed to satisfy the factors necessary for preliminary relief, that the plaintiff banks are factually wrong in asserting that the Rule would require lenders to compile “‘scores of additional data points’ about their small business loans,” and the “outlier ruling of the 5th Circuit” in the Texas case does not demonstrate that the plaintiff banks are entitled to the relief they seek.
In the order granting the preliminary injunction, Judge Caldwell discussed the factors for determining whether injunctive relief is appropriate. Notably, Judge Caldwell determined that the irreparable harm factor weighs in favor of the plaintiffs, stating “[p]laintiffs are already incurring expenses in preparation for enforcement of the Rule and will not be able to recover upon a Supreme Court ruling that the CFPB’s funding structure is unconstitutional.” Additionally, Judge Caldwell indicated that the likelihood of success factor “does not tip the scale in either direction,” and the substantial harm to others if the preliminary injunction is granted, and the public interest factors “carry little weight” because “[b]efore the Rule becomes enforceable, a decision on the merits will be issued by the highest court in the land.”
Judge Caldwell found that the imposition of the preliminary injunction “will create no harm to the CFPB nor the public since the rule would not otherwise be enforceable in the interim” and granted the preliminary injunction “in the interest of preserving the status quo until the Supreme Court has made its decision.”
On September 19, the CFPB issued guidance about legal requirements that creditors must follow when using artificial intelligence and other complex models.
In prior guidance, the agency stated that lenders must provide specific and accurate reasons for adverse actions against consumers. The latest guidance expanded upon that prior guidance to clarify that lenders cannot simply use CFPB sample adverse action forms and checklists when taking adverse actions against consumers, but must explain the reasons for such adverse actions to help improve consumers’ chances for future credit, and protect consumers from illegal discrimination.
In its announcement of the updated guidance, the CFPB discussed the potential that consumers may be denied credit as a result of the increased use of complex, predictive decision-making technologies to analyze large datasets that may include consumer surveillance data or other information that the consumer may not believe is relevant to their finances. The agency confirmed that creditors must disclose the specific reasons for adverse action, even if consumers may be surprised, upset, or angered to learn their credit applications were being graded on data that may not intuitively relate to their finances. According to the guidance, a creditor is not absolved from the requirement to specifically and accurately inform consumers of the reasons for adverse actions because the use of predictive decision-making technologies in their underwriting models makes it difficult to pinpoint the specific reasons for such adverse actions.
On September 18, the CFPB released a final rule revising the dollar amounts for provisions implementing TILA and its amendments that impact loans under the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act of 1994 (HOEPA) and qualified mortgages (QM). The Bureau is required to make annual adjustments to dollar amounts in certain provisions in Regulation Z, and has based the adjustments on the annual percentage change reflected in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) in effect on June 1, 2023. The following thresholds are effective January 1, 2024:
- For HOEPA loans the adjusted total loan amount threshold for high-cost mortgages will be $26,092, and the adjusted points-and-fees dollar trigger for high-cost mortgages will be $1,305;
- For qualified mortgages under the General QM loan definition, the thresholds for the spread between the annual percentage rate and the average prime offer rate will be: “2.25 or more percentage points for a first-lien covered transaction with a loan amount greater than or equal to $130,461; 3.5 or more percentage points for a first-lien covered transaction with a loan amount greater than or equal to $78,277 but less than $130,461; 6.5 or more percentage points for a first-lien covered transaction with a loan amount less than $78,277; 6.5 or more percentage points for a first-lien covered transaction secured by a manufactured home with a loan amount less than $130,461; 3.5 or more percentage points for a subordinate-lien covered transaction with a loan amount greater than or equal to $78,277; or 6.5 or more percentage points for a subordinate-lien covered transaction with a loan amount less than $78,277”; and
- For all QM categories, the adjusted thresholds for total points and fees will be “3 percent of the total loan amount for a loan greater than or equal to $130,461; $3,914 for a loan amount greater than or equal to $78,277 but less than $130,461; 5 percent of the total loan amount for a loan greater than or equal to $26,092 but less than $78,277; $1,305 for a loan amount greater than or equal to $16,308 but less than $26,092; and 8 percent of the total loan amount for a loan amount less than $16,308.”
With respect to credit card annual adjustments, the Bureau noted that its 2024 annual adjustment analysis on the CPI-W in effect on June 1, did not result in an increase to the current minimum interest charge threshold (which requires “creditors to disclose any minimum interest charge exceeding $1.00 that could be imposed during a billing cycle”).