The CFPB recently issued revised versions of the small entity compliance guides for the Loan Originator Rule and the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (HOEPA) Rule.

While some of the most well-known provisions of the Loan Originator Rule are the provisions addressing loan originator compensation, the rule also defines the concept of a loan originator and addresses qualification and other requirements related to loan originators. Among various changes, the guide for the Loan Originator Rule is revised to reflect (1) the broadening of an exemption from the concept of a loan originator with regard to retailers of manufactured and modular homes and their employees made by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (Act), which was adopted earlier this year (2) the process for contacting the CFPB with informal inquiries about the rule, and (3) that the TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rule is now in effect (the prior version of the guide was issued in March 2015 and the TRID rule became effective in October 2015).

Among various changes, the guide for the HOEPA Rule is revised to reflect (1) the broadening of the exemption from the concept of a loan originator made by the Act (which is noted above), as this can affect the requirement to include loan originator compensation in points and fees for purposes of the points and fees threshold under the HOEPA rule, and (2) the process for contacting the CFPB with informal inquiries about the rule.

Note that for purposes of the points and fees cap to determine qualified mortgage loan status under the ability to repay rule, the definition of “points and fees” set forth in the HOEPA rule is used. As a result, corresponding changes likely will be made to the provisions of the small entity compliance guide for the ability to repay rule to reflect that the Act’s broadening of the exemption from the concept of a loan originator with regard to retailers of manufactured and modular homes and their employees may affect the calculation of points and fees for qualified mortgage purposes. The current version of such guide was issued in March 2016, and the version of the guide on the CFPB’s website includes a notice that the guide has not been updated to reflect the Act.

 

A number of housing and financial industry trade groups, including the Mortgage Bankers Association and Real Estate Services Providers Council, Inc. (RESPRO®), recently sent a letter to Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) supporting the confirmation of Kathleen Kraninger as CFPB Director.

The trade groups state that Ms. Kraninger “has the ability to lead and manage a large government agency, like the Bureau, which is tasked to ensure consumers’ financial interests are protected,” and “also fulfill the equally important role of ensuring businesses have the necessary compliance support to further those interests.”

Addressing concerns regarding the CFPB, the trade groups state “Our members believe the Bureau must improve its examination, enforcement, rulemaking and guidance processes to assist with regulatory compliance and bring certainty in the marketplace. As evidenced during the Senate Banking Committee confirmation hearing, Ms. Kraninger’s testimony conveyed a commitment to such actions along with a thoughtful review of the law for corresponding administrative actions.”

As we reported previously, the Senate Banking Committee voted to approve Ms. Kraninger’s nomination as CFPB Director, but the full Senate has not acted on the nomination. If the Senate does not act on Ms. Kraninger’s nomination during the lame-duck session, the nomination will be returned to President Trump. Once the new Congress convenes next year, the President could re-nominate Ms. Kraninger or nominate another individual for CFPB Director. As we reported previously, under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act Mick Mulvaney can continue to serve as Acting CFPB Director for a 210-day period if Ms. Kraninger’s nomination is returned or rejected, and once another nomination is made he could serve as Acting Director during the Senate’s consideration of the second nomination.

The CFPB and Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) have released the first public use file containing data from the National Survey of Mortgage Originations. The NSMO is a component of the National Mortgage Database (NMDB®) program, which we reported on previously.

Since 2014, the CFPB and FHFA have sent approximately 6,000 surveys each quarter to consumers who recently obtained mortgage loans to obtain feedback on their experiences during the origination process, their perception of the mortgage market and their future expectations. The recently issued public use file reflects data from the first 15 quarterly waves of surveys, and covers nearly 25,000 loans originated from 2013 to 2016.

Letters are sent to consumers randomly selected for the survey in both English and Spanish, and consumers who elect to complete a survey may do so in English or Spanish. The current version of the survey contains 94 questions. Topics addressed by the questions include the shopping process, factors regarding the consumer’s selection of the mortgage lender and mortgage loan, the application process, satisfaction with the lender and origination process, whether the consumer experienced certain issues at the loan closing (such as whether the loan documents were not ready or whether the consumer felt rushed or was not given time to read documents), information regarding the consumer (including demographic and income data), whether the consumer expects changes in household income or expenses, whether the consumer expects any changes in employment status, and transaction details (such as purpose for the loan, down payment amount, sources of funds for down payment, factors influencing decision to refinance, interest rate and whether rate is fixed or adjustable, parties who contributed to the payment of closing costs, the type of property and other property details).

FHFA Deputy Director Sandra Thompson stated that “The goal of the survey is to obtain information to help improve lending practices and the mortgage process for future borrowers.” CFPB Acting Director Mick Mulvaney stated that “These data will allow greater transparency, accountability, and effectiveness around borrowers’ mortgage experiences.” The surveys are intended to address the FHFA obligation under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act to conduct monthly mortgage surveys of all residential mortgages, and the CFPB obligation under Dodd-Frank to monitor the primary mortgage market, including through the use of survey data.

The CFPB recently issued a revised version of the Home Mortgage Disclosure (Regulation C) Small Entity Compliance Guide to reflect a partial exemption to Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) requirements made by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act and a related interpretive procedural rule issued by the CFPB. Pursuant to the partial exemption, depository institutions and credit unions are exempted from the new HMDA reporting categories added by Dodd-Frank and the HMDA rule adopted by the CFPB with regard to (1) closed-end loans, if the institution or credit union originated fewer than 500 such loans in each of the preceding two calendar years, and (2) home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), if the institution or credit union originated fewer than 500 HELOCs in each of the preceding two calendar years.

There also are revisions that are not related to the partial exemption. Section 4.1.2 is revised to clarify loans that are not counted when determining if an institution’s lending volume triggers HMDA reporting. The table in Section 5.8 of the Guide regarding the loan amount reported is revised for (1) counteroffer situations when the applicant did not accept or failed to respond to the counteroffer and (2) situations in which an application is denied, closed for incompleteness or withdrawn.

As we reported previously, in June 2018 Zillow Group (Zillow) announced that it is no longer under investigation by the CFPB for Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) and UDAAP compliance with regard to its co-marketing program. The CFPB investigation triggered a securities lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington (C17-1387-JCC). The plaintiffs alleged in a putative class action that they purchased Zillow shares at an inflated price and were damaged by alleged material misrepresentations by the defendants regarding the Zillow co-marketing program and CFPB investigation of the program. The court noted that there was a decline in the price of Zillow stock in the two days after Zillow provided an update in August 2017 regarding the status of the CFPB investigation. Underlying the plaintiffs’ claims were alleged violations of RESPA with regard to the co-marketing program, which are the focus of this blog post.

The court noted that because the plaintiffs alleged securities fraud under section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and section 10b-5 of Securities and Exchange Commission rules, in order to survive a motion to dismiss the complaint must satisfy the general standard of setting forth sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face, and meet additional standards. One additional standard is that that the complaint must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake.

With regard to RESPA, the plaintiffs asserted that the co-marketing program (1) acted as a vehicle to allow real estate agents to make illegal referrals to lenders in exchange for the lenders paying to Zillow a portion of the agents’ advertising costs, and (2) facilitated RESPA violations by allowing lenders to pay to Zillow a portion of their agents’ advertising costs that was in excess of the fair market value of the advertising services that the lenders received from Zillow. The court found that the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently plead either theory of RESPA liability.

In support of the theory that when lenders pay a portion of the real estate agent’s advertising costs to Zillow they are effectively paying to receive unlawful mortgage referrals from the agent, the plaintiffs cited the CFPB enforcement action against PHH Mortgage Corporation regarding mortgage reinsurance arrangements. We have extensively reported on the matter, in which the CFPB deviated from prior government interpretations of RESPA by effectively reading out of RESPA the section 8(c)(2) safe harbor that permits payments for goods and services between parties even when there are referrals of settlement services business between the parties. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected the CFPB’s interpretation of RESPA. Summarizing the holding of the D.C. Circuit, the court in the Zillow case stated the “D.C. Circuit held that RESPA’s safe harbor allows mortgage lenders to make referrals to third parties on the condition that they purchase services from the lender’s affiliate, so long as the third party receives the services at a “reasonable market value.””

The court in the Zillow case determined the plaintiffs’ assertion that the co-marketing program violates RESPA because it allowed agents to make referrals in exchange for lenders paying a portion of their advertising costs “is neither factually nor legally viable.” The court first noted that the complaint does not contain particularized facts demonstrating that real estate agents participating in the co-marketing were actually providing unlawful referrals to lenders. The court then stated that, even if it “draws an inference that co-marketing agents were making mortgage referrals, such referrals would fall under the Section 8(c) safe harbor because lenders received advertising services in exchange for paying a portion of their agent’s advertising costs.”

Addressing the plaintiffs’ second theory of liability—that the co-marketing program facilitated RESPA violations by allowing lenders to pay more the than fair market value for advertising services they received from Zillow—the court states that the plaintiffs failed to provide particularized facts that demonstrate that the lenders actually paid more than the fair market value of the advertising services they received from Zillow.

While the mortgage industry will welcome the favorable decisions on the RESPA issues, industry members should be mindful that the context is a securities fraud case with specific pleading standards.

 

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed H.R. 6737 to amend the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (the Act) to address a technical issue that prevented mortgage lenders from including certain VA refinance loans in Ginnie Mae securitizations.

As we previously reported, the Act includes provisions designed to protect veterans when refinancing a VA loan. Specifically, the Act prohibits the VA from guaranteeing or insuring a loan unless:

  • The veteran will recoup the fees to refinance within 36 months of the date of the loan.
  • There is a net tangible benefit to the veteran in the form of an interest rate reduction. If a fixed rate loan is being refinanced with another fixed rate loan, the rate reduction must be at least 50 basis points. If a fixed rate loan is being refinanced with an adjustable rate loan, the rate reduction must be at least 200 basis points. The rate reduction may be achieved through the payment of discount points, subject to limitations.
  • The refinance loan is made the later of (1) the date that is 210 days after the date on which the first monthly payment is made on the existing loan, and (2) the date on which the sixth monthly payment is made on the existing loan. The seasoning requirement does not apply to a cash-out refinance loan when the principal amount of the new loan exceeds the amount of the loan being refinanced.

The Act includes a corresponding provision under which a VA refinance loan may not be included in a Ginnie Mae securitization unless the loan seasoning requirement in the third bullet point is satisfied. The Act did not provide for a specific effective date for the Ginnie Mae provision and as a result the requirement became effective upon the Act being signed into law on May 24, 2018, and applied to existing refinance loans that were not already included in a Ginnie Mae securitization. This meant that lenders were unable to include in a Ginnie Mae securitization any of such existing loans if the loans did not satisfy the seasoning requirement.

H.R. 6737, entitled the Protect Affordable Mortgages for Veterans Act of 2018, would amend the Act to replace the sentence that added the seasoning requirement for Ginnie Mae securitizations with the following sentence: “The Association is authorized to take actions to protect the integrity of its securities from practices that it deems in good faith to represent abusive refinancing activities and nothing in the Protect Affordable Mortgages for Veterans Act of 2018, the amendment made by such Act, or this title may be construed to limit such authority.”

The Mortgage Bankers Association applauded the action by the House and urged the Senate to swiftly pass the legislation.

The CFPB’s newly-released Summer 2018 edition of Supervisory Highlights represents the CFPB’s first Supervisory Highlights report covering supervisory activities conducted under Acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s leadership.  The Bureau’s most recent prior Supervisory Highlights report was its Summer 2017 edition, which was issued in September 2017.

On October 10, 2018, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. ET, Ballard Spahr attorneys will hold a webinar, “Key Takeaways from the CFPB’s Summer 2018 Supervisory Highlights.”  The webinar registration form is available here.

Noticeably absent from the new report’s introduction and the Bureau’s press release about the report are statements touting the amount of restitution payments that resulted from supervisory resolutions or the amounts of consumer remediation or civil money penalties resulting from public enforcement actions connected to recent supervisory activities.  (The report does, however, include summaries of the terms of two consent orders entered into by the Bureau, including its settlement with Triton Management Group, Inc., a small-dollar lender, regarding the Bureau’s allegations that Triton had violated the Truth in Lending Act and the CFPA’s UDAAP prohibition by underdisclosing the finance charge on auto title pledges entered into with consumers.)

The report confirms that the Bureau’s supervisory activities have continued without significant change under its new leadership.  It includes the following information:

Automobile loan servicing.  The report indicates that in examinations of auto loan servicing activities, Bureau examiners focus primarily on whether servicers have engaged in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices prohibited by the CFPA.  It discusses instances observed by examiners in which servicers had sent billing statements to consumers who had experienced a total vehicle loss showing that the insurance proceeds had been applied to the loan so that the loan was paid ahead and the next payment was due months or years in the future.  The CFPB found the due dates in these statements to be inconsistent with the terms of the consumers’ notes which required the insurance proceeds to be applied to the loans as a one-time payment and any remaining balance to be collected according to the consumers’ regular payment schedules.  According to the CFPB, sending such statements was a deceptive practice.  The CFPB indicates that in response to the examination findings, servicers are sending billing statements that accurately reflect the account status after applying insurance proceeds.

The Bureau also found instances where servicers, due to incorrect account coding or the failure of their representatives to timely cancel the repossession, had repossessed vehicles after the repossession should have been cancelled because the consumer had entered into an extension agreement or made a payment.  This was found to be an unfair practice.  The CFPB indicates that in response to the examination findings, servicers are stopping the practice, reviewing the accounts of affected consumers, and removing or remediating all repossession-related fees.

Credit cards.  The report indicates that in examinations of the credit card account management operations of supervised entities, Bureau examiners typically assess advertising and marketing, account origination, account servicing, payments and periodic statements, dispute resolution, and the marketing, sale and servicing of add-on products.  The Bureau found instances where entities failed to properly re-evaluate credit card accounts for APR reductions in accordance with Regulation Z requirements where the APRs on the accounts had previously been increased. The report indicates that the issuers have undertaken, or developed plans to undertake, remedial and corrective actions in response to the examination findings.

Debt collection.  In examinations of larger participants, Bureau examiners found instances where debt collectors, before engaging in further collection activities as to consumers from whom they had received written debt validation disputes, had routinely failed to mail debt verifications to such consumers. The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, the collectors are revising their debt validation procedures and practices to ensure that they obtain appropriate verifications when requested and mail them to consumers before engaging in further collection activities.

Mortgage servicing.  The report indicates that in examinations of servicers, Bureau examiners focus on the loss mitigation process and, in particular, on how servicers handle trial modifications where consumers are paying as agreed. In such examinations, the Bureau found unfair acts or practices relating to the conversion of trial modifications to permanent status and the initiation of foreclosures after consumers accepted loss mitigation offers.  In reviewing the practices of servicers with policies providing for permanent modifications of loans if consumers made four timely trial modification payments, the Bureau found that for nearly 300 consumers who successfully completed the trial modification, the servicers delayed processing the permanent modification for more than 30 days.  During these delays, consumers accrued interest and fees that would not have been accrued if the permanent modification had been processed.  The servicers did not remediate all of the affected consumers ,did not have policies or procedures for remediating consumers in such circumstances, and attributed the modification delays to insufficient staffing.  The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, the servicers are fully remediating affected consumers and developing and implementing policies and procedures to timely convert trial modifications to permanent modifications where the consumers have met the trial modification conditions.

The Bureau also identified instances in which servicers, due to errors in their systems, had engaged in unfair acts or practices by charging consumers amounts not authorized by modification agreements or mortgage notes.  The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, the servicers are remediating affected consumers (presumably by refunding or credit the unauthorized amounts) and correcting loan modification terms in their systems.

With regard to foreclosure practices, Bureau examiners found instances where mortgage servicers had approved borrowers for a loss mitigation option on a non-primary residence and, despite representing to borrowers that they would not initiate foreclosure if the borrower accepted loss mitigation offers in writing or by phone by a specified date, initiated foreclosures even if the borrowers had called or written to accept the loss mitigation offers by that date.  The Bureau identified this as a deceptive act or practice. The Bureau also found instances where borrowers who had submitted complete loss mitigation applications less than 37 days from a scheduled foreclosure sale date were sent a notice by their servicer indicating that their application was complete and stating that the servicer would notify the borrowers of their decision on the applications in writing within 30 days.  However, after sending these notices, the servicers conducted the scheduled foreclosure sales without making a decision on the borrowers’ loss mitigation application.  Interestingly, while the Bureau did not find that this conduct amounted to a “legal violation,” it did find that it could pose a risk of a deceptive practice.

Payday/title lending.  Bureau examiners identified instances of payday lenders engaging in deceptive acts or practices by representing in collection letters that “they will, or may have no choice but to, repossess consumers’ vehicles if the consumers fail to make payments or contact the entities.”  The CFPB observed that such representations were made “despite the fact that these entities did not have business relationships with any party to repossess vehicles and, as a general matter, did not repossess vehicles.”  The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, these entities are ensuring that their collection letters do not contain deceptive content.  Bureau examiners also observed instances where lenders had used debit card numbers or Automated Clearing House (ACH) credentials that consumers had not validly authorized them to use to debit funds in connection with a defaulted single-payment or installment loan.  According to the Bureau, when lenders’ attempts to initiate electronic fund transfers (EFTs) using debit card numbers or ACH credentials that a borrower had identified on authorization forms executed in connection with the defaulted loan were unsuccessful, the lenders would then seek to collect the entire loan balance via EFTs using debit card numbers or ACH credentials that the borrower had supplied to the lenders for other purposes, such as when obtaining other loans or making one-time payments on other loans or the loan at issue.  The Bureau found this to be an unfair act or practice.  With regard to loans for which the consumer had entered into preauthorized EFTs to recur at substantially regular intervals, the Bureau found this conduct to also violate the Regulation E requirement that preauthorized EFTs from a consumer’s account be authorized by a writing signed or similarly authenticated by the consumer.  The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, the lenders are ceasing the violations, remediating borrowers impacted by the invalid EFTs, and revising loan agreement templates and ACH authorization forms.

Small business lending. The Bureau states that in 2016 and 2017, it “began conducting supervision work to assess ECOA compliance in institutions’ small business lending product lines, focusing in particular on the risks of an ECOA violation in underwriting, pricing, and redlining.”  It also states that it “anticipates an ongoing dialogue with supervised institutions and other stakeholders as the Bureau moves forward with supervision work in small business lending.”  In the course of conducting ECOA small business lending reviews, Bureau examiners found instances where financial institutions had “effectively managed the risks of an ECOA violation in their small business lending programs,” with the examiners observing that “the board of directors and management maintained active oversight over the institutions’ compliance management system (CMS) framework.  Institutions developed and implemented comprehensive risk-focused policies and procedures for small business lending originations and actively addressed the risks of an ECOA violation by conducting periodic reviews of small business lending policies and procedures and by revising those policies and procedures as necessary.”  The Bureau adds that “[e]xaminations also observed that one or more institutions maintained a record of policy and procedure updates to ensure that they were kept current.”  With regard to self-monitoring, Bureau examiners found that institutions had “implemented small business lending monitoring programs and conducted semi-annual ECOA risk assessments that include assessments of small business lending.  In addition, one or more institutions actively monitored pricing-exception practices and volume through a committee.”  When the examinations included file reviews of manual underwriting overrides at one or more institutions, Bureau examiners “found that credit decisions made by the institutions were consistent with the requirements of ECOA, and thus the examinations did not find any violations of ECOA.”  The only negative findings made by Bureau examiners involved instances where institutions had collected and maintained (in useable form) only limited data on small business lending decisions.  The Bureau states that “[l]imited availability of data could impede an institution’s ability to monitor and test for the risks of ECOA violations through statistical analyses.”

Supervision program developments.  The report discusses the March 2018 mortgage servicing final rule and the May 2018 amendments to the TILA-RESPA integrated disclosure rule.  With regard to fair lending developments, it discusses recent HMDA-related developments and small business lending review procedures.  With regard to small business lending, the Bureau highlights that its reviews include a fair lending assessment of an institution’s compliance management system (CMS) related to small business lending and that CMS reviews include assessments of the institution’s board and management oversight, compliance program (policies and procedures, training, monitoring and/or audit, and complaint response), and service provider oversight.  The CFPB indicates that in some ECOA small business lending reviews, examiners may look at an institution’s fair lending risks and controls related to origination or pricing of small business lending products, including a geographic distribution analysis of small business loan applications, originations, loan officers, or marketing and outreach, in order to assess potential redlining risk.  It further indicates that such reviews may include statistical analysis of lending data in order to identify fair lending risks and appropriate areas of focus during the examination.  The Bureau states that “[n]otably, statistical analysis is only one factor taken into account by examination teams that review small business lending for ECOA compliance. Reviews typically include other methodologies to assess compliance, including policy and procedure reviews, interviews with management and staff, and reviews of individual loan files.”

In the CFPB’s RFI on its supervision program, one of the topics on which the CFPB sought comment is the usefulness of Supervisory Highlights to share findings and promote transparency.  The new report indicates that the Bureau “expects the publication of Supervisory Highlights will continue to aid Bureau-supervised entities in their efforts to comply with Federal consumer financial law.”  Presumably, this means that we will now again be seeing new editions of Supervisory Highlights on a regular basis.

 

A portion of the Treasury’s report entitled “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities, Nonbank Financials, Fintech, and Innovation” focuses on the mortgage industry.  A detailed discussion of the Treasury’s mortgage-related findings and recommendations is available here.

We have previously blogged about the portion of the Treasury report that focuses on payments and have published a legal alert that discusses other portions of the report.

On September 20, 2018, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. ET, Ballard Spahr will conduct a webinar, “More Than Just Fintech: What Are the Important Takeaways for All Consumer Financial Services Providers from Treasury’s Sweeping Report?”  A link to register is available here.

 

 

The CFPB recently released a File Format Verification Tool for 2018 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data. As we reported, in October 2015, the CFPB adopted significant changes to the HMDA rules that significantly expanded the amount of information that must be collected and reported. Calendar year 2018 is the first year in which the expanded data must be collected.

The Tool can be used by HMDA filers to test whether their HMDA data file meets the following formatting requirements: (1) whether the file is in the pipe-delimited format, (2) whether the file has the proper number of data fields, and (3) whether the file has data fields that are formatted as integers, when applicable. The Tool cannot be used to file HMDA data. The CFPB advises that there are no login requirements to use the Tool, the Tool will not log identifying information about users or the files that they test using the Tool, and no federal agency will receive or be able to view the files that users test using the Tool.