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Recently, the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas granted a plaintiff’s motion for final approval of a class action settlement resolving allegations that a national bank violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by incorrectly repossessing vehicles owned by certain servicemembers. The bank, which denied all claims and allegations of wrongdoing, entered into the settlement agreement to avoid further uncertainties and expenses. The approximately $5.1 million settlement fund will go to affected servicemembers who have not, as of the effective date, already accepted payments in accordance with settlement agreements reached between the bank and the DOJ and OCC in 2016. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
On April 26, the South Carolina governor signed HB 3180 to enact the South Carolina Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which will “expand and supplement the rights, benefits, and protections of the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)” and provide that a violation of the SCRA is a violation of the state’s act. In particular, the Act expands federal SCRA’s definition of “military service” to include South Carolina guardsman who are on state active duty, subject to certain requirements. It also provides that a “dependent of a servicemember engaged in military service has the same rights and protections provided to a servicemember” under both the Act and the SCRA and expands contract termination rights for servicemembers receiving “military orders to relocate for a period of service of at least ninety days to a location that does not support the contract,” encompassing phone, internet, TV, and gym subscriptions. The Act took effect upon signature and is applicable to contracts executed on or after April 26.
Department of Defense updating data-sharing agreement with Department of Education to preserve servicemember benefit
On April 16, the Department of Defense (DoD) published a proposal in the Federal Register to amend its routine use policy to accommodate a new data-sharing agreement between DoD and the Department of Education (ED). The new agreement ensures that servicemembers with student loans under Part D, Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 receive the “no interest accrual benefit” on eligible loans during the period in which they received imminent danger or hostile fire pay. Through the proposal and the new agreement, ED will be able to access information in the Defense Manpower Data Center Data Base to identify servicemembers eligible for “no interest accrual benefit.” The proposal will take effect after the comment period ends on May 16 “unless comments are received which result in a contrary determination.”
On March 19, the CFPB released the “Complaint Snapshot: Servicemembers, Veterans, and Military Families 50 State Report,” which provides state-specific data on the nearly 34,000 complaints received from servicemembers, veterans, and their families in 2018 (which the CFPB collectively defines as, “servicemember”). Specifically, for each state, the snapshot provides (i) the total number of servicemember complaints handled in 2018 and the percentage change since 2017; (ii) distribution of complaints by product for both servicemembers and non-servicemembers; (iii) distribution of complaints by branch of service; and (iv) a visual representation of complaints by zip code. Notably, servicemember complaints increased by 12 percent from 2017 to 2018. The states with the highest number of servicemember complaints include Texas, California, Florida, and Georgia. The Bureau has received over 133,000 complaints from servicemembers since 2011.
See recent article by Buckley attorneys, "Takeaways from military complaints at the CFPB."
DOJ announces $1.59 million settlement with real estate management company for alleged SCRA violations
On March 15, the DOJ announced a $1.59 million settlement with a real estate management company resolving allegations that the company and its entities violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by obtaining unlawful court judgments and charging unlawful lease termination fees. According to the complaint, from 2006 to 2017, the company obtained at least 152 default judgments against 127 “SCRA-protected servicemembers” by failing to accurately disclose their military status in affidavits filed with the court. Additionally, the DOJ alleged that the company wrongfully withheld security deposits and imposed early lease termination fees on servicemembers who sought termination due to qualifying military orders under the SCRA. Under the terms of the settlement, the company will pay (i) nearly $1.5 million to compensate 127 servicemembers who had allegedly unlawful default judgments entered against them; (ii) nearly $35,000 to compensate 10 servicemembers who were charged early lease termination fees; and (iii) a civil money penalty of $62,000. The settlement also requires the company to develop policies and procedures related to SCRA lease terminations and default judgments, conduct SCRA compliance training for employees involved with lease issues, and request that major credit reporting agencies delete trade lines and negative credit information for the affected servicemembers.
On March 6, the DOJ announced it reached a proposed $80,000 settlement with a California-based indirect auto lending company for allegedly repossessing servicemembers’ vehicles in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the DOJ filed a lawsuit against the company in March 2018, alleging that an investigation revealed the company failed to have policies or practices in place to verify borrowers’ military status before repossessing vehicles. As such, the DOJ argued that the defendant may have repossessed vehicles of other servicemembers without obtaining the necessary court orders or verifying military status. The investigation was triggered after an Army Private submitted a complaint about the company to the DOJ in 2016. The proposed consent order would require the company to pay a $50,000 civil penalty and issue $30,000 in compensation to a different Army Specialist, whose credit, according to the DOJ, was severely damaged as a result of a repossession by the company. In addition, the company would be required to develop policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the SCRA in the future. The consent order has not yet been approved by the court.
On March 1, the CFPB released its latest Quarterly Consumer Credit Trends report titled, “Mortgages to First-time Homebuying Servicemembers,” which analyzes mortgages made to first-time homebuying active duty servicemembers and veterans (collectively defined as “servicemembers”). The report, using data from the Bureau’s Consumer Credit Panel (CCP) supplemented with data on military service, offers information on the mortgage choices and mortgage performance outcomes of servicemembers who bought homes between 2006 and 2016. Key findings include:
- The share of first-time homebuying servicemembers using the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) guaranteed home loan program significantly increased, from 30 percent before 2007 to 63 percent in 2009. By 2016, 78 percent of servicemembers relied on a VA mortgage for their first home loan.
- Conventional mortgages, which accounted for approximately 60 percent of loans among first-time homebuying servicemembers in 2006 and 2007, declined to 13 percent by 2016. During this period, the use of conventional mortgages among non-servicemembers also decreased, as the use of FHA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) increased.
- In 2016, the median servicemember first-time homebuyer VA loan amount was $212,000, increasing from $156,000 in 2006.
- Early delinquency rates for nonprime servicemember first-time VA-loan borrowers decreased from an average of 5 percent to 7 percent in 2006 and 2007 to slightly above 3 percent in 2016. Notably, early delinquency rates were lower for active duty VA-loan borrowers than for veteran VA-loan borrowers.
On February 26, the FTC announced it had recently provided the CFPB with its annual summary of work on ECOA-related policy issues including the following FTC research and policy development initiatives:
- The FTC held a series of public hearings on competition and consumer protection in the 21st century. Session seven specifically addressed issues related to the use of algorithms, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics. Panelists addressed how fairness, bias, and discrimination may impact the use of such technologies and debated whether current legal protections such as ECOA sufficiently cover these issues.
- The FTC continued its qualitative study of consumer experiences when buying and selling automobiles at dealerships, which the agency believes will help focus initiatives, such as educating consumers about the purchase and financing process and providing business education to promote compliance with the FTC Act and ECOA.
- The FTC’s Military Task Force, which consists of a cross-section of agency representatives, continued to work on military consumer protection issues. Workshops were conducted to examine financial issues and scams targeting military consumers, including servicemembers and veterans. In addition, the FTC participated in a training program for servicemembers and their families to discuss ECOA and Regulation B protections.
- The FTC maintained its membership in the Interagency Task Force on Fair Lending, along with the CFPB, DOJ, HUD, and the federal banking regulatory agencies, and participated in the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.
Concerning fair lending, the FTC stated that it provided education on several topics, including those related to credit transactions that fall under Regulation B.
On February 7, the DOJ announced a $750,000 settlement with a New Jersey-based mortgage company resolving allegations that the company violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by foreclosing on homes owned by servicemembers without first obtaining the required court orders. The complaint, which was filed on the same day as the settlement, alleges that between 2010 and 2012 the company foreclosed on six homes of SCRA-protected servicemembers. Under the SCRA, lenders must obtain a court order before foreclosing on a servicemember’s home during, or within one year after, active military service, provided that the mortgage originated before the servicemember’s period of military service. The settlement requires the company to, among other things, (i) pay $125,000 to each affected servicemember; (ii) provide staff training to prevent unlawful foreclosures in the future; and (iii) notify the DOJ of future SCRA complaints.
On January 4, NYDFS and the New York Attorney General announced a joint $9 million settlement with a national student loan servicer to resolve allegations that the servicer, among other things, deceived student loan borrowers about their repayment options and steered them into higher-cost repayment plans. According to a press release issued by the Attorney General’s office, the servicer “steered distressed borrowers away from available income-based repayment plans towards other, more expensive options, thus costing them money and increasing their risk of default.” Additionally, the consent order alleges that the servicer misinformed borrowers—including servicemembers—about their repayment options, such as telling borrowers they were not eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness plans when they may have qualified after consolidating their loans. Furthermore, the servicer allegedly (i) improperly processed applications for income-based repayment; (ii) allocated underpayment for certain borrowers to maximize late fees; (iii) improperly processed payments; (iv) failed to accurately report information to credit reporting agencies; (v) failed to “properly recalculate monthly payments for servicemembers when adjusting their interest rates under the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act”; (vi) charged improper late fees; and (vii) did not provide borrowers notification of their eligibility for a co-signer release.
The servicer, while neither admitting nor denying the findings alleged by NYDFS and the Attorney General, has agreed to pay $8 million in restitution to New York borrowers and a $1 million fine. Moreover, the servicer has agreed to stop servicing private and federal loans—with the exception of Perkins Loans—over the next five years.
- APPROVED Webcast: Introducing Mogy — APPROVED’s licensing technology solution
- 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 "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
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- Christopher M. Witeck and Moorari K. Shah to discuss "The latest in vendor management regulations" at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Buckley Webcast: Hot topics in debt collection — An analysis of recent federal FDCPA litigation
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "How to succeed in law school" at the SEO Law DC Panel Discussions
- 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