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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • FDIC approves final rule for trust, mortgage servicing account insurance

    On May 18, the FDIC published a final rule that amends the deposit insurance regulations for trust accounts and mortgage servicing accounts. According to the FDIC, the final rule is “intended to make the deposit insurance rules easier to understand for depositors and bankers, facilitate more timely insurance determinations for trust accounts in the event of a bank failure, and enhance consistency of insurance coverage for mortgage servicing account deposits.”

    The final rule, among other things: (i) establishes updates to the Banker Resources Guide Deposit Insurance Page with the Small Entity Compliance Guide (Community Bank Information) to promote understanding of the regulations; (ii) amends the deposit insurance regulations by merging the revocable and irrevocable trusts categories; (iii) “amends the regulation to expand the current per-borrower coverage of up to $250,000 to include any funds paid into the account to satisfy the principal and interest obligation of the mortgagors to the lender”; and (iv) establishes that certain “depositors within excess of $1.25 million in trusts deposits at a particular IDI may want to make changes given the new coverage limits” effective April 1, 2024.

    Bank Regulatory Federal Issues FDIC Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Mortgages Mortgage Servicing Deposit Insurance

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  • CFPB report finds variance in mortgage servicers’ pandemic response

    Federal Issues

    On May 16, the CFPB released a report examining data collected across 16 large mortgage servicers from May through December 2021 on the servicers’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Bureau, there is significant variation in how servicers collected information on borrowers’ language preference, stating that “the substantial lack of information about borrowers’ language preference and varying data quality made it challenging to make any comparison between servicers.” However, the report also found that “the number of non-[limited English proficiency] borrowers who were delinquent without a loss mitigation option after forbearance declined over time, with the greatest decrease between October and November 2021, while the number of unknown and limited English proficiency (LEP) borrowers did not reflect the same decrease.” The report noted that servicer response to the Bureau’s requests for borrower demographics, including “a breakdown of the total loans they service by race, and race information for forbearances, delinquencies, and forbearance exits” was limited, precluding comparisons. The report encouraged "servicers to ensure that they are preventing discrimination in the provision of loss mitigation assistance.” Other key findings from the report included: (i) by the end of 2021, more than 330,000 borrowers’ loans remained delinquent – with no loss mitigation solution in place; (ii) the average hold times of more than ten minutes and call abandonment rates exceed 30 percent for certain servicers; (iii) the percentage of borrowers in delinquency and who had a non-English language preference increased during the reviewed period, but the percentage decreased for borrowers in delinquency and who identified English as their preferred language; (iv) more than half of the borrowers in the data received are categorized as race “unknown”; and (v) most borrowers exiting Covid forbearance exited with a loan modification (27 percent), while 15.2 percent exited in a state of delinquency.

    Federal Issues Mortgages Mortgage Servicing Covid-19 CFPB Forbearance Consumer Finance

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  • HUD offers 40-year mortgage modification

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On April 18, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2022-07, which establishes a 40-year loan modification as part of the Covid-19 Recovery Loss Mitigation Options. According to HUD, the new option is “designed to help those borrowers who cannot achieve a minimum targeted 25 percent reduction in the Principal and Interest portion of their mortgage payment through FHA’s existing 30-year mortgage modification with a partial claim.” Mortgage servicers may start implementing the new 40-year modification with partial claim option immediately; however, servicers must offer this solution to eligible borrowers with FHA-insured Title II forward mortgages, except those funded through Mortgage Revenue Bonds under certain circumstances, within 90 calendar days. As previously covered by InfoBytes, HUD published a proposed rule to increase the maximum term limit allowable on loan modifications for FHA-insured mortgages from 360 to 480 months. Comments are due by May 31.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues HUD FHA Mortgages Federal Register Covid-19 Loss Mitigation Mortgage Servicing Consumer Finance

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  • States urge CFPB to prohibit mortgage servicers from charging convenience fees

    State Issues

    On April 11, a coalition of state attorneys general, led by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, announced that they are urging the CFPB to prohibit mortgage servicers from charging convenience fees, which the AGs also referred to as “junk fees” or “pay-to-pay” fees. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB announced an initiative to reduce “exploitative” fees charged by banks and financial companies and requested comments from the public on fees that are associated with consumers’ bank accounts, prepaid or credit card accounts, mortgages, loans, payment transfers, and other financial products that are allegedly not subject to competitive processes that ensure fair pricing. In the letter, the AGs expressed their support for the Bureau’s request for information on the various fees imposed on consumers generally, but called attention to a specific type of fees imposed by mortgage servicers – the “pay-to-pay fees” – which, notwithstanding that consumers can pay using numerous free mechanisms, the AGs find to be “unfair and abusive” to consumers. The AGs called the fees “particularly insidious in the mortgage industry” because, unlike other markets in which such fees are imposed, “homeowners have no choice in their mortgage servicer.” Because of the nature of the secondary mortgage market, homeowners’ expectations of entering into a long-term relationship with their originating institution are misplaced and they cannot know in advance or determine which company will service their loans – even if they choose to refinance. The AGs also warned that the choice to make payments by an alternative method with no fee (such as online or by check instead of over the phone) may be illusory in the face of pending payment posting deadlines and threatened late fees. In such scenarios, the AGs asserted that the convenience fee operates as an alternative late fee “cheaper, but with a shorter grace period, and in contravention to the contractual terms in most mortgages that outline the specific amount and timing” of late fees. The AGs also took umbrage to mortgage servicers charging fees for the very service they are expected to perform, stating that “[t]he most basic function of a mortgage servicer is to accept payments. The concept that a servicer ought to be able to impose an additional charge for performing its core function is fundamentally flawed.”

    Ultimately, the AGs suggested that the Bureau prohibit mortgage servicers from imposing convenience fees on consumers, but, alternatively, the AGs encouraged the Bureau to prohibit servicers from charging convenience fees that exceed the actual cost of processing a borrower’s payment. Furthermore, the AGs requested that the Bureau require servicers to fully document their costs supporting the imposition of convenience fees.

    The same day, a group of AGs from 16 Republican-led states released a letter, arguing that more federal oversight would be “duplicative or unwarranted,” given that states already regulate many fees for consumer financial products and services. According to the letter, the AGs noted that “state legislatures and regulators have carefully weighed consumer protection interests and the open and transparent operation of markets in a manner intended to deliver the maximum benefit to the interests of their states,” and argued that they “are much better positioned to understand and assess the diverse interests of their states.” In addition, the letter argued that the Bureau has “limited authority to regulate” fees in consumer financial services markets. The AGs mentioned that the Bureau “may seek to use its authority to prohibit unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices to regulate fees,” but considered it “unclear” “that fees disclosed in accordance with state or federal law, in some cases authorized by state law, and agreed to by a consumer in writing constitute ‘unfair, deceptive or abusive’ fees, notwithstanding the CFPB’s characterization of some fees as ‘not meaningfully avoidable or negotiable” at the time they are assessed.’” The letter further characterized the Bureau’s approach as “uncooperative,” “top-down,” and “an unfounded expansion of its authority” that may infringe upon state law.

    State Issues State Attorney General CFPB Mortgages Mortgage Servicing Fees Consumer Finance

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  • CFPB addresses servicers’ obligations to respond to borrower inquiries

    Courts

    On April 4, the CFPB filed an amicus brief in a case on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concerning a mortgage loan servicer allegedly failing to answer multiple inquiries from two separate consumers regarding their loans despite the requirement under Regulation X that servicers respond when a borrower submits a request for information that “states the information the borrower is requesting with respect to the borrower’s mortgage loan.” The plaintiffs filed suit after the defendant servicer declined to provide the information requested, stating that it would not respond “because the issues raised are the same or very closely related to the issues raised” in pending litigation surrounding the mortgages.

    The U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims, noting that under RESPA, “a mortgage loan servicer only has an obligation to provide a written response to a [qualified written request] that seeks ‘information relating to the servicing of such loan,’” and that the plaintiffs’ inquiries regarding the ownership of their loans and requesting other miscellaneous information did not “trigger[] [the defendant’s] obligations to respond under Regulation X” because a servicer has a ‘duty to respond’ only if a request for information ‘relates to the servicing of the loan.’”

    In urging the appellate court to overturn the decision, the Bureau argued that under Section 1024.36 of Regulation X “servicers generally must respond to ‘any written request for information from a borrower’ that seeks ‘information ... with respect to the borrower’s mortgage loan.’” According to the Bureau, although a servicing-related request would fall under this provision, it is just one type of request that seeks information ‘with respect to’ a loan and thereby triggers a servicer’s obligation to respond” under the rules. The Bureau stated that Regulation X broadly requires servicers to respond to requests that seek information “with respect to” a borrower’s mortgage loan, explaining that it “included explicit language to that effect in the 2013 Rule to make clear that the rule created a unified set of requirements such that servicers’ obligations to respond were the same for a qualified written request as for any other information request,” and that it “did not exclude information requests that do not relate to servicing from the scope of § 1024.36.” The Bureau agreed with the plaintiffs that there is “no litigation exception to a servicer's obligation to respond to information requests under Regulation X.” The Bureau further noted in a blog post that,“[a] pending lawsuit does not take away a borrower’s right to a response from their loan servicer under Regulation X.”

    Courts Amicus Brief Ninth Circuit Appellate CFPB Consumer Finance RESPA Regulation X Mortgages Mortgage Servicing

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  • FHFA suspends foreclosure for borrowers applying for HAF funds

    Federal Issues

    On April 6, FHFA announced that servicers with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are required to suspend foreclosure activities for up to 60 days if the servicer is notified that a borrower has applied for mortgage assistance under the Treasury Department’s Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the HAF was created to provide direct assistance for mortgage payments, property insurance, utilities, and other housing-related costs to help prevent delinquencies, defaults, and foreclosures after January 21, 2020.

    Federal Issues FHFA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Mortgages Foreclosure Consumer Finance Mortgage Servicing

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  • District Court rejects borrower’s RESPA, TILA mortgage servicing claims

    Courts

    On March 15, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio granted a defendant mortgage loan servicer’s motion for summary judgment in an action claiming violations of federal law based on alleged defects in the servicing of the plaintiff’s loan. According to the court, after settling similar claims against his two prior loan servicers, the plaintiff sued the companies that own and service his mortgage loan (collectively, defendants) disputing the precise amount of his delinquency and claiming the defendants failed to properly apply his mortgage payments or to respond to his notice of error (NOE). The plaintiff contended, among other things, that the defendants’ response to the NOE, misapplication of payments, and inaccurate periodic mortgage statements breached the terms of the mortgage agreement and violated RESPA, FDCPA, and TILA. In granting summary judgment, the court agreed with the defendants, finding that plaintiff’s breach of contract claim was foreclosed by a prior settlement agreement with his former servicer. The court also found that the servicer’s response to plaintiff’s NOE did not violate RESPA because it “fully addressed both ‘errors’ that the plaintiff presented,” and the perceived errors “amounted to confusion about basic arithmetic.” The court emphasized that “[n]othing in RESPA or Regulation X gives borrowers authority to dictate the parameters of a lender’s investigation,” and concluded that the servicer’s investigation and response was sufficient since the servicer provided the documents used to conclude that there was no misapplication of funds and “[e]ven a cursory investigation would have revealed that the specific errors alleged in the NOE did not occur.”

    In granting the defendants’ request for summary judgment regarding claims that the plaintiff received five inaccurate mortgage statements in violation of the FDCPA and TILA, the court concluded that the periodic statements contained all the fields required under Regulation Z, and explained that allegations contesting the accuracy of the information contained in the statements did not violate TILA because “12 C.F.R. § 1026.42(d) does nothing to regulate the accuracy of information presented in a periodic statement.” As to the plaintiff’s FDCPA claim, which was premised on allegations that plaintiff’s prior servicer misapplied funds which caused defendants to collect amount that plaintiff did not owe, the court found that that the disputed periodic statement was truthful and accurate and that the plaintiff released the defendants of any liability under the FDCPA in his settlement agreement with the prior servicer.

    Courts RESPA FDCPA TILA Regulation X Consumer Finance Mortgages Mortgage Servicing

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  • OCC applies heightened risk governance standards to mortgage servicer

    Recently, the OCC published Interpretive Letter #1180 addressing the application of heightened risk governance standards under 12 C.F.R. Part 30, Appendix D, OCC Guidelines Establishing Heightened Standards (Guidelines) to a supervised bank. Specifically, the OCC determined that the bank’s operations were highly complex and presented a heightened risk. This determination was based on information provided by the Supervisory Office, which concluded that the bank’s operations, including significant mortgage servicing activities, warranted application of the Guidelines to the bank. “The Guidelines provide that a covered institution should establish and adhere to a written risk governance framework to manage and control its risk-taking activities,” the OCC stated, adding that the Guidelines “also provide minimum standards for an institution’s board of directors to oversee the risk governance framework.” In the interpretive letter, the OCC stated that it had notified the bank last December that it was considering exercising its reservation of authority to apply the Guidelines; however, the bank responded that application of the Guidelines was not appropriate at that time. The bank is expected to comply with the Guidelines by February 29, 2024.

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, last October the OCC issued a consent order against the bank for allegedly maintaining inadequate risk management controls related to its servicing and default servicing activities. The OCC asserted that the bank had previously been informed about the alleged risk management deficiencies and did not take timely corrective action. Under the terms of the consent order, the bank was required to take comprehensive corrective measures, including developing and implementing internal controls that are “commensurate with the types and complexity of risks associated with all transactions the [b]ank executes.” 

    Bank Regulatory Federal Issues OCC Risk Management Mortgages Mortgage Servicing

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  • CFPB reminds servicers to use HAF funds to prevent foreclosure

    Federal Issues

    On March 14, the CFPB published a blog post strongly encouraging mortgage servicers to participate in the Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) to help borrowers avoid foreclosure and resolve delinquencies. While participation is voluntary, the Bureau reminded servicers that it remains focused on preventing avoidable foreclosures, and HAF funds can only help “if mortgage servicers work with state housing finance agencies and HUD-approved housing counselors to help borrowers” complete the process. HAF funds may allow borrowers to pay down the amount owed on a mortgage and help them enter loan modifications with lower payments. The Bureau also encouraged servicers to offer HAF program training to customer service representatives to ensure borrowers are provided accurate information about the loss mitigation process. Additionally, servicers should maintain policies and procedures that are designed to properly evaluate loss mitigation applications and should review existing policies and procedures to ensure borrowers are not improperly referred to foreclosure, especially in cases where a borrower’s HAF application is pending, or a borrower is awaiting HAF funds. The Bureau reminded servicers that it will continue to closely monitor servicer conduct and review mortgage servicing complaints to ensure compliance with all applicable federal consumer financial laws.

    Federal Issues CFPB Mortgages Consumer Finance Mortgage Servicing Foreclosure

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  • FHFA re-proposes GSE seller/servicer eligibility requirements

    Federal Issues

    On February 24, FHFA re-proposed updated eligibility standards that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (collectively, GSEs) mortgage sellers and servicers would have to meet. The updated proposed requirements are designed to provide transparency and consistency of capital and liquidity requirements for sellers and servicers with different business models, and would differentiate between the servicing of Ginnie Mae mortgages and GSE mortgages. FHFA noted that the updated proposed requirements, which reflect coordination with other federal agencies, also incorporate feedback from a January 2020 proposal (covered by InfoBytes here), as well as lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Under the updated proposed requirements, all GSE sellers and servicers (both depositories and non-depositories) would be required to maintain a tangible net worth requirement of $2.5 million, plus 35 basis points of the unpaid principal balance for Ginnie Mae servicing and 25 basis points of the unpaid principal balance for all other 1-to-4 unit residential loans serviced, including GSE loans. Current GSE sellers and servicers, as well as new applicants, will be required to comply with the updated proposed requirements by December 31, 2022, minus the exception that Capital and Liquidity Plan requirements must be submitted to the GSEs by December 31, 2023, and are due annually by the end of each year thereafter. Comments on the proposed changes are due in 60 days. FHFA stated it anticipates finalizing the updated proposed requirements in the second quarter of 2022, with most requirements taking effect six months after finalization.

    Federal Issues FHFA Mortgages Fannie Mae Freddie Mac GSE Ginnie Mae Covid-19 Mortgage Servicing

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