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On January 10, the CFPB issued its second no-action letter (NAL) under the agency’s revised NAL Policy that was issued last September. The new NAL Policy’s goal is to streamline the review process to “focus[ ] on the consumer benefits and risks of the product or service in question.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau issued its first NAL under the revised policy in response to a request by HUD on behalf of more than 1,600 housing counseling agencies (HCAs) that participate in HUD’s housing counseling program.
A national bank is the recipient of the most recent NAL regarding the bank’s funding arrangements with HCAs certified by HUD. The NAL states that the Bureau will not take supervisory or enforcement actions against the bank under RESPA or UDAAP for entering into certain arrangements with HCAs for pre-purchase housing counseling services conditioned on the consumer applying for a loan from the bank, even if that activity could be construed as a referral, as long as the level of payment for the services is no more than a level that is commensurate with the services provided and is reasonable and customary for the area. The Bureau noted that the bank submitted its application to facilitate funding arrangements with HCAs through the HUD NAL application, which was made public last year.
On December 18, the CFPB published two guides to assist with TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure Rule (TRID) compliance for construction-only and construction-permanent loans. The Bureau notes that under Regulation Z, “a creditor may treat a construction-permanent loan as either one, combined transaction or as two or more separate transactions.” Disclosure options are (i) one, combined loan estimate along with one, combined closing disclosure; or (ii) two or more loan estimates and two or more closing disclosures for each phase of the construction-permanent loan. Appendix D in both the Combined Guide and the Separate Guide provides methods that may be used for estimating construction phase financing disclosures. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau previously released FAQs in May concerning the application of TRID to construction loans.
On November 20, the CFPB issued a request for information (RFI) regarding the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosures Rule (TRID Rule) assessment, which is required by Section 1022(d) of the Dodd-Frank Act. Section 1022(d) requires the Bureau to conduct an assessment of each “significant rule or order” no later than five years after its effective date. The Bureau issued the TRID Rule in November 2013, and the rule took effect on October 3, 2015. In addition to comments received on this RFI, the Bureau notes that it is also considering the approximately 63 comments already received regarding the TRID Rule from the 2018 series of RFIs issued on the adopted regulations and new rulemakings, as well as the inherited regulations (covered by InfoBytes here and here).
The RFI seeks public feedback on any information relevant to assessing the effectiveness of the TRID Rule, including (i) comments on the feasibility and effectiveness of the assessment plan; (ii) recommendations to improve the assessment plan; (iii) data and information about the benefits, costs, and effectiveness of the TRID Rule; and (iv) recommendations for modifying, expanding, or eliminating the TRID Rule.
Comments must be received within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register.
On November 6, the FDIC announced that a Washington-based bank agreed to settle allegations that it violated RESPA by paying fees to real estate brokers and homebuilders in exchange for mortgage business referrals. Section 8(a) of RESPA “prohibits giving or accepting a thing of value for the referral of settlement service involving a federally related mortgage loan.” According to the FDIC, the bank’s discontinued mortgage banking line allegedly entered into arrangements with real estate brokers and homebuilders to co-market services through online platforms. The FDIC also alleged that the bank’s mortgage banking business rented desk space in brokers’ and homebuilders’ offices, which resulted in the payment of fees by the bank for referrals of mortgage loan business. The FDIC further stated, “While co-marketing arrangements and desk rental agreements are permissible where the fees paid bear a reasonable relationship to the fair market value of marketing or rental costs, such arrangements and agreements violate RESPA when the amounts paid exceed fair market value and the excess is for referrals of mortgage business.” The bank, which has neither admitted nor denied the charges, has agreed to pay a $1.35 million civil money penalty under the terms of the settlement order, and has terminated all of its co-marketing and desk rental agreements.
On October 25, the FDIC announced its release of a list of administrative enforcement actions taken against banks and individuals in September. According to the press release, the FDIC issued 24 orders, which include “one consent order; five removal and prohibition orders; six assessments of civil money penalty; three voluntary terminations of deposit insurance; six section 19 orders; and three terminations of orders of restitution.”
Among other actions, the FDIC assessed separate civil money penalties (CMPs) against four banks for alleged violations of the Flood Disaster Protection Act:
- New Jersey-based bank CMP: Failure to (i) notify borrowers that they should obtain flood insurance; and (ii) follow force-placement flood insurance procedures;
- Wisconsin-based bank CMP: Failure to (i) maintain flood insurance coverage for the term of a loan; (ii) follow force-placement flood insurance procedures; and (iii) provide written notice to borrowers concerning flood insurance coverage prior to extending, increasing, or renewing a loan;
- Wisconsin-based bank CMP: Failure to (i) follow escrow requirements for flood insurance; and (ii) provide borrowers with notice of the availability of federal disaster relief assistance;
- Wisconsin-based bank CMP: Failure to (i) obtain flood insurance coverage on loans at the time of origination; (ii) obtain adequate flood insurance; (iii) follow escrow requirements for flood insurance; (iv) follow force-placement flood insurance procedures; and (v) provide borrowers with notice of the availability of federal disaster relief assistance.
The FDIC also assessed a CMP against an Oregon-based bank for allegedly violating RESPA and the TCPA by (i) placing telemarketing calls to consumers listed on the Do-Not-Call registry; and (ii) using an automated dialing system to send pre-recorded calls or text messages to consumers’ cell phones.
Additionally, the FDIC entered a notice of charges and hearing against a Georgia-based bank relating to alleged weaknesses in its Bank Secrecy Act compliance program.
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 July 18, the OCC released a list of recent enforcement actions taken against national banks, federal savings associations, and individuals currently and formerly affiliated with such entities. The new enforcement actions include personal cease-and-desist orders, civil money penalties, formal agreements, prompt corrective action directives, removal and prohibition orders, and terminations of existing enforcement actions. Included in the list is a formal agreement issued against a Texas-based bank on June 20 for alleged unsafe or unsound practices related to, among other things, compliance risk management and violations of laws and regulations concerning the Flood Disaster Protection Act (FDPA), Bank Secrecy Act, TILA, RESPA, and the Expedited Funds Availability Act. Among other things, the agreement requires the bank to (i) appoint a compliance committee responsible for submitting a written progress report detailing specific corrective actions; (ii) ensure that it has “sufficient and competent management”; (iii) prepare a risk-based consumer compliance program, which must include revised policies and procedures related to the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act, TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure rule, and the FDPA; and (iv) take measures to “ensure that current and satisfactory credit and proper collateral information is maintained on all loans.”
On June 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a RESPA class action against a national bank, concluding the suit was not timely filed. According to the opinion, two consumers took out mortgages with the bank in 2005 and 2006. In 2011, the consumers were part of the putative class in a separate class action, alleging the bank violated RESPA by referring homeowners to mortgage insurers that then obtained reinsurance from a subsidiary of the bank, which the consumers claimed amounted to a kickback. After the class action was dismissed as untimely in 2013 and while it was pending appeal, the consumers filed a new class action as the named plaintiffs, which alleged the same violation of RESPA. The consumers argued that, while RESPA has a one-year statute of limitations, (i) RESPA makes each kickback a separately accruing wrong and that the insurers paid a kickback for each insurance premium payment, therefore, the suit is timely up to one year after the last premium payment and kickback; and (ii) the filing of the first class action tolled the limitation period for their claims and because the class action continued until November 2013, tolling extended their limitations period until then.
The appeals court upheld the district court’s dismissal of the action, agreeing with the consumers’ separate-accrual theory, but noting that the consumers paid no premiums in the year before they filed their complaint, so the limitations period had expired before the consumers filed the new action. Specifically, the appellate court rejected the bank’s argument that RESPA’s statute of limitations runs only from the mortgage closing, not from each later premium payment, holding that under RESPA the limitations period accrues separately for each kickback, stating “[s]o a party violates the Act anew each time it takes the discrete act of giving or receiving a kickback under an agreement to make referrals.”
As for whether the 2011 class action tolled the consumers’ claims, the appellate court cited the Supreme Court’s 2018 opinion in China Agritech, Inc. v. Resh, noting that the Court in that case held that such tolling is only available for individual claims, not class claims. The appellate court rejected the consumers’ arguments that China Agritech does not apply to new class claims filed before the first action has officially ended, stating, “[t]olling new class actions filed while the first one was pending would encourage more plaintiffs to seek second bites at the apple.” Because the consumers’ action was not timely filed, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s dismissal.
On June 13, the FDIC released a new publication, Consumer Compliance Supervisory Highlights, intended to provide information and observations related to the FDIC’s consumer compliance supervision activities in 2018. Specifically, the report covers approximately 1,200 consumer compliance examinations conducted by the FDIC in 2018. Overall, the FDIC noted that, “supervised institutions demonstrated strong and effective management of consumer compliance responsibilities.” The report identifies some of the most salient compliance issues identified by the FDIC during 2018, including (i) overdraft programs, which were found to be potentially unfair or deceptive when an institution used an “available balance method,” sometimes resulting in more overdraft fees than were appropriate because the institution assessed a fee when the transaction did not overdraw the account; (ii) RESPA anti-kickback violations, which concerned payments “disguised as above-market payments for lead generation, marketing services, and office space or desk rentals” or as marketing and advertising agreements; and (iii) Regulation E, where certain institutions were found to have incorrectly calculated consumer liability for unauthorized transfers, failed to resolve errors properly, or discouraged consumers from filing error resolution requests. The report also covers issues with skip-a-payment loan programs and the calculation of finance charges and disclosures related to lines of credit.
On June 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a RESPA action against a mortgage servicer, concluding that rescheduling a foreclosure sale is not a violation of Regulation X’s prohibition on moving for an order of foreclosure sale after a borrower has submitted a complete loss-mitigation application. According to the opinion, a consumer’s home was the subject of an order of foreclosure, and the mortgage servicer subsequently approved a trial loan-modification plan for a six-month period. The servicer filed a motion to reschedule the foreclosure sale so that the sale would not occur unless the consumer failed to comply with the modification plan during the trial period. The consumer filed suit, alleging that the servicer violated Regulation X––which prohibits loan servicers from moving for an order of foreclosure sale after a borrower has submitted a complete loss-mitigation application––because the servicer rescheduled the foreclosure sale instead of cancelling it. The district court dismissed the action.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit agreed with the district court, concluding that the consumer failed to state a claim for a violation of Regulation X. The appellate court reasoned that Regulation X does not prohibit a servicer from moving to reschedule a foreclosure sale as that motion is not the same as the “order of sale,” a substantive and dispositive motion seeking authorization to conduct a sale at all, as referenced in Regulation X. Moreover, the appellate court argued that the consumer’s interpretation of the prohibition is inconsistent with the consumer protection goals of RESPA because it would disincent loan servicers from offering loss-mitigation options and helping borrowers complete loss-mitigation applications, if a foreclosure sale has already been scheduled. Lastly, the appellate court noted that the motion to reschedule is consistent with the CFPB’s commentary that, “[i]t is already standard industry practice for a servicer to suspend a foreclosure sale during any period where a borrower is making payments pursuant to the terms of a trial loan modification,” rejecting the consumer’s argument that the servicer should have cancelled the sale altogether.
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