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  • CFPB Takes Action Against Delaware Trusts, Debt Collector for Allegedly Filing Illegal Student Loan Debt Collection Lawsuits

    Consumer Finance

    On September 18, the CFPB announced it had filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware against a collection of 15 Delaware statutory trusts and their debt collector for, among other things, allegedly filing lawsuits against consumers for private student loan debt that they could not prove was owed or that was outside the applicable statute of limitations. According to the CFPB, between 2001 and 2007, the trusts bought and securitized more than 800,000 private student loans, while the trusts contracted with the debt collector to collect on delinquent and defaulted loans. The complaint alleges that the trusts and debt collector engaged in deceptive and unfair practices between November 2012 and the end of April 2016 by: (i) filing false and misleading affidavits, including more than 25,000 affidavits that were notarized by notaries who had not witnessed the documents being signed; (ii) filing at least 2,000 suits to collect loans without the necessary documentation to show that the trusts owned the loans or to prove that a debt was owed; (iii) filing at least 486 collection suits after the statute of limitations had expired; and (iv) in some instances, providing court testimony consistent with the false affidavit statements. As a result, the trusts and the debt collector allegedly obtained over $21.7 million in judgments against consumers and collected an estimated $3.5 million in payments in cases where they lacked the intent or ability to prove the claims, if contested.

    According to the proposed consent judgment, which must be approved by a judge in the district court, the trusts are required to pay at least $3.5 million in restitution to more than 2,000 consumers who made payments resulting from the improper collection suits, to pay $7.8 million in disgorgement to the Treasury Department, and to pay an additional $7.8 million civil money penalty to the CFPB. In addition, the trusts must: (i) hire an independent auditor, subject to the Bureau’s approval, to audit all 800,000 student loans in the portfolio to determine if collection efforts must be stopped on additional accounts; (ii) cease collection attempts on loans that lack proper documentation or that are time-barred; and (iii) ensure false or misleading documents are not filed and that documents requiring notarization are handled properly.

    A separate consent order issued against the debt collector orders the company to pay a $2.5 million civil money penalty to the CFPB.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Student Lending Debt Collection Enforcement

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  • CFPB’s Summer Edition of Supervisory Highlights Discloses Findings Across Many Financial Services Areas

    Consumer Finance

    On September 12, the CFPB released its summer 2017 Supervisory Highlights, which outlines its supervisory and oversight actions in areas such as auto loan servicing, credit card account management, debt collection, deposit account supervision, mortgage origination and servicing, remittances, service provider programs, short-term small-dollar lending, and fair lending. According to the Supervisory Highlights, recent supervisory resolutions have “resulted in total restitution payments of approximately $14 million to more than 104,000 consumers during the review period” between January 2017 and June 2017.

    As examples, in the area of auto loan servicing, examiners discovered vehicles were being repossessed even though the repossession should have been cancelled. Coding errors, document mishandling, and failure to timely cancel the repossession order were cited causes. Regarding fair lending examination findings, the CFPB discovered, in general, “deficiencies in oversight by board and senior management, monitoring and corrective action processes, compliance audits, and oversight of third-party service providers.” Examiners also conducted ECOA Baseline Reviews on mortgage servicers and discovered weaknesses in servicers’ fair lending compliance management systems. Findings in other areas include the following:

    • consumers were provided inaccurate information about when bank checking account service fees would be waived, and banks misrepresented overdraft protection;
    • debt collectors engaged in improper debt collection practices related to short-term, small-dollar loans, including attempts to collect debts owed by a different person or contacting third parties about consumers’ debts;
    • companies overcharged mortgage closing fees or wrongly charged application fees that are prohibited by the Bureau’s Know Before You Owe mortgage disclosure rules; and
    • borrowers were denied the opportunity to take full advantage of the mortgage loss mitigation options, and mortgage servicers failed to “exercise reasonable diligence in collecting information needed to complete the borrower’s application.”

    The Bureau also set forth new examination procedures for HMDA data collection and reporting requirements as well as student loan servicers, in addition to providing guidance for covered persons and service providers regarding pay-by-phone fee assessments.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Enforcement Auto Finance Credit Cards Debt Collection Fair Lending ECOA Compliance Mortgage Origination Mortgage Servicing HMDA Student Lending

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  • Department of Education Terminates Student Loan Sharing Agreements with CFPB, Announces Expanded Focus on Enforcement and Consumer Protection

    Lending

    On August 31, the US Department of Education submitted a letter notifying the CFPB that it intends to terminate two Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) between the agencies regarding the sharing of information in connection with the oversight of federal student loans. The MOUs that will terminate on September 30, 2017, are the “Memorandum of Understanding Between the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection and the U.S. Department of Education Concerning the Sharing of Information” (Sharing MOU), dated October 19, 2011, and the “Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Supervisory and Oversight Cooperation and Related Information Sharing Between the U.S. Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” dated January 9, 2014.

    The letter rebukes the CFPB for overreaching and undermining the Education Department’s mission to serve students and borrowers, and states that it “takes exception to the CFPB unilaterally expanding its oversight role to include the Department's contracted federal student loan servicers.” The letter also accuses the CFPB of failing to share all complaints related to Title IV federal student loans within 10 days of receipt as required by the MOUs, and that the Bureau’s intervention in these cases “adds confusion to borrowers and servicers who now hear conflicting guidance related to Title IV student loan services for which the Department is responsible.”

    In a press release issued by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on September 1, Representative Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) praised the Department’s decision stating, “[t]he Department of Education has made it clear that its partnership with the CFPB is doing more harm than good when it comes to how it can best serve students and borrowers.” However, advocacy groups such as Americans for Financial Reform and the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) criticized the Department’s decision, with the NCLC calling it “outrageous and deeply troubling” and refuting the Department’s claims that the CFPB “’unilaterally’ expanded its oversight role over servicers and collectors of federal student loans.” Instead it argued that the Department’s “failures are what led Congress to give the CFPB authority to help students.”

    On the same day, the Education Department issued a press release announcing “a stronger approach to how Federal Student Aid (FSA) enforces compliance by institutions participating in the Federal student aid programs by creating stronger consumer protections for students, parents and borrowers against ‘bad actors.’” The strategy will focus on illegitimate debt relief organizations and schools that defraud students, and FSA will engage in “comprehensive communications and executive outreach to ensure parties and their leadership understand their responsibilities, the consequences of non-compliance and appropriate remedies.” The CFPB was notably absent, however, from the release’s reference to FSA’s continued stakeholder coordination, which listed the FTC and the DOJ.

    On September 7, the CFPB responded to the CFPB’s letter to request time to “engage in a constructive conversation” with the Department to determine a path for continued collaboration to best serve the needs of student loan borrowers. Director Richard Cordray noted that because the Department has access to the CFPB’s Government Portal as part of the agencies’ arrangement, the Department is able to view borrower complaints in “near real-time.” According to Director Cordray, the Department has accessed the portal 80 times over the past three months. Several examples of the Bureau’s supervisory examinations are also provided to highlight the CFPB’s position that its actions have not been “inconsistent with the Department’s directives or [in conflict with the] shared goal of protecting student loan borrowers.”

    Lending Student Lending Federal Issues Department of Education CFPB House Committee on Education MOUs NCLC FSA

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  • CFPB Files Amicus Brief Supporting Reversal of Preliminary Injunction Freezing Department of Education’s Student Debt Collection

    Courts

    On August 21, the CFPB filed an amicus brief in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, urging the court to reverse a trial court’s order and arguing that precluding the Department of Education (Department) from sending billions of dollars in defaulted student loans to debt collection companies is contrary to public interest. The Bureau, siding with the Department, claims the trial court’s preliminary injunction deprives “borrowers in default of access to basic information about key consumer protections and the opportunity to arrange repayment—functions performed by debt collection contractors under [the Department’s] current collections regime—[and] does not facilitate, but impedes, borrowers’ ability to enter into income-driven repayment plans, whether through rehabilitation or consolidation.” As previously reported in InfoBytes, on May 31, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Chief Judge Susan G. Braden ordered a continuation of her preliminary injunction, which prevents the Department from collecting on defaulted student loans—a process that was halted on March 29 when Judge Braden issued a temporary restraining order in this matter. The May order, Judge Braden stated, would stay in place “until the viability of the debt collection contracts at issue is resolved.”

    In its amicus brief, the Bureau contended that data presented in its 2016 Ombudsman Report (Report) providing recommendations for reforms to the current process for collection and restructuring federal student loan debt does not support the trial court’s position, a claim the court made when issuing its order. Rather, the Bureau’s position is that the Report provides several recommendations for improvements to the current system, which focus on which companies will be granted debt collection contracts and, additionally, suggests solutions such as moving rehabilitated borrowers into income-driven repayment plans. The Bureau also proposes ways policymakers can simplify and streamline the rehabilitation process. Thus, the Bureau countered, the preliminary injunction is “wholly divorced from these concerns and recommendations and is, in fact, inconsistent with them.”

    Two of the defendant-appellants also filed separate briefs August 14 and 15. The Department claimed in its August 15 brief that, as of May 31, the injunction has “deprived approximately 234,000 defaulted borrowers, holding accounts valued at $4.6 billion, of loans servicing services” and, furthermore, has resulted in approximately $2.4 million in uncollected funds.

    Notably, the appeals court issued an order on July 18 holding the defendant-appellants motions to stay in abeyance pending the trial court’s decision and denying the plaintiff-appellee’s motion to dismiss.

    Courts U.S. Court of Federal Claims Appellate Student Lending CFPB

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  • Massachusetts AG Takes Action Against Federal Loan Servicer for Unfair and Deceptive Practices

    State Issues

    On August 23, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a complaint in the Suffolk County Superior Court against the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (d/b/a FedLoan Servicing) for allegedly overcharging borrowers and improperly processing claims for public service loan forgiveness. According to the Commonwealth’s lawsuit, the loan servicer purportedly engaged in unfair and deceptive acts and practices by, among other things, (i) failing to timely and properly process applications for Income Driven Repayment plans and thereby denying borrowers the opportunity to make qualifying payments under forgiveness programs; (ii) failing to properly count qualifying payments under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program; (iii) failing to properly process certification forms in connection with the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant program, thereby causing grants to be converted into loans; and (iv) collecting amounts not legitimately due and owing and failing to refund them. The complaint seeks restitution, civil penalties, reimbursement of the Commonwealth’s costs and expenses, and injunctive relief.

    State Issues State AG Student Lending UDAAP

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  • FTC Announces Agenda for Joint Conference on Protecting Military Consumers

    Consumer Finance

    On August 22, the FTC released the agenda for the Protecting Military Consumers: A Common Ground Conference to be held on September 7 in Los Angeles. As previously discussed in InfoBytes, the conference is geared towards military attorneys, law enforcement personnel, and consumer protection officials to provide training on consumer fraud and other issues affecting servicemembers and their families, and will be held in partnership with state and local authorities. Topics for discussion on the agenda include, among things:

    • higher education;
    • identity theft and imposter scams;
    • real estate fraud;
    • auto financing;
    • debt collection;
    • lending; and
    • privacy issues such as data collection, storage, and sharing.

    Consumer Finance Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FTC Servicemembers Student Lending Mortgages Debt Collection Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Auto Finance

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  • CFPB, 13 State Attorneys General Take Action Against Private Equity Firm for Allegedly Aiding For-Profit College Company’s Predatory Lending Scheme

    Lending

    On August 17, the CFPB announced a proposed settlement against a private equity firm and its related entities for allegedly aiding a now bankrupt for-profit college company in an illegal predatory lending scheme. In 2015, the CFPB obtained a $531 million default judgment against the company based on allegations that it made false and misleading representations to students to encourage them to take out private student loans. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.) However, the company was unable to pay the judgment because it had dissolved and its assets were distributed in its bankruptcy case that year. Because of the company’s inability to pay, the CFPB indicated that it would continue to seek additional relief for students affected by the company’s practices.  In a complaint filed by the CFPB on August 17 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, the Bureau relied on its UDAAP authority to allege that the private equity firm engaged in abusive acts and practices when it funded the college company’s private student loans and supported the college company’s alleged predatory lending program.  Specifically, the CFPB alleged that the private equity firm enabled the company to “present a façade of compliance” with federal laws requiring that at least 10 percent of the for-profit school’s revenue come from sources other than federal student aid in order to receive Title IV funds.  The Bureau further alleged that both the company and the private equity firm knew that the high-priced loans made under the alleged predatory lending scheme had a “high likelihood of default.” According to the complaint, the private equity firm continues to collect on the loans made under the alleged predatory lending program. In regard to these loans, the proposed order requires the private equity firm to, among other things: (i) forgive all outstanding loan balances in connection with certain borrowers who attended one of the company’s colleges that subsequently closed; (ii) forgive all outstanding balances for defaulted loans; and (iii) with respect to all other outstanding loans, reduce the principal amount owed by 55 percent, and forgive accrued and unpaid interest and fees more than 30 days past due.

    Relatedly, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman,  announced on August 17 that his office, in partnership with the CFPB and 12 other state attorneys general, had reached a $183.3 million nationwide settlement with the private equity firm in partnership with the CFPB. According to a press release issued by AG Schneiderman’s office, under the terms of the settlement, an estimated 41,000 borrowers nationwide who either defaulted on their loans or attended the company’s colleges when it closed in 2014 are entitled to full loan discharges—an amount estimated to be between “$6,000 and $7,000.”

    Lending State AG CFPB Student Lending UDAAP

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  • CFPB Issues New Student Loan Repayment Study

    Consumer Finance

    On August 16, the CFPB published a study of student loan repayment patterns over a 14-year period. The report, entitled “Data Point: Student Loan Repayment,” analyzed borrower balance and payment status data from the Bureau’s Consumer Credit Panel (CCP). By tracking overall repayment history for borrowers who entered repayment at different points in time, the CFPB observed borrower behavior, including delinquency patterns for those who have not paid down their loan balances. Key findings in the report include:

    • Borrowers with recent repayment periods have repaid their loans fully at rates similar to those with repayment periods starting 15 years ago when the loan amount is held constant. “However, 25 to 30 percent of the borrowers in the older cohorts do not pay off their loans within the standard 10-year repayment period, and the more recent cohorts appear to be following the same trend.”
    • An apparent relationship exists between the loan amount and repayment speed. Borrowers with loan amounts less than $5,000 are two and a half to four times more likely to fully repay their loans within eight years of entering repayment than borrowers with loans of $50,000 or more. Additionally, more than 40 percent of all borrowers entering repayment today have loan amounts exceeding $20,000—a 20 percent increase from 15 years ago.
    • The proportion of student loan borrowers aged 35 or older doubled between 2002 to 2014, whereas the proportion of borrowers younger than 25 declined from 30 to 15 percent between 2002 to 2014. Notably, the CFPB found “remarkably little variation in repayment speed by consumer age despite potential differences in income or resources.”
    • Of the student loan borrowers making loan payments large enough to reduce loan balances, recent cohorts are reducing their loan balances faster than earlier cohorts.
    • There is an increase in the proportion of borrowers—particularly those with loans less than $20,000—not making large enough payments to lower their loan balances. Specifically, the Bureau claims this trend is in part due to the prevalence of income-driven repayment plans as well as borrowers who are either delinquent or in default on their loans.

    The Bureau’s study further recognizes the need to understand how large loan balances could affect consumers’ access to and use of other credit products, such as mortgages. While most borrowers have continued to repay their student loans over the 14-year observation period, the CFPB has suggested that (i) delinquent borrowers may not be taking advantage of alternative repayment options such as income-driven repayment plans, or (ii) servicing delivery platforms may be inadequate for student loan borrowers.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Student Lending

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  • District Judge Denies Student Loan Servicer’s Motion to Dismiss, Rules CFPB is Constitutional

    Courts

    On August 4, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania denied a motion to dismiss brought by a student loan servicer, ruling that the CFPB is constitutional, and that it has the authority to act against companies without first adopting the rules used to define a specific practice as unfair, deceptive, or abusive. Further, the court found that the Bureau’s complaint is “adequately pleaded.” As previously reported in InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in January of this year, contending that the student loan servicer systematically created obstacles to repayment and cheated many borrowers out of their rights to lower repayments, causing them to pay much more than they had to for their loans.

    Citing numerous precedents, including several which have already examined the issue of the CFPB’s constitutionality, the court disposed of several arguments raised by the student loan servicer, finding that:

    • There is no merit in the argument that the “CFPB lack[ed] statutory authority to bring an enforcement action without first engaging in rulemaking to declare a specific act or practice unfair, deceptive, or abusive,” because under the provisions of Title X of Dodd-Frank, the CFPB has the authority to declare something as “unlawful” both through rulemaking and litigation.
    • The CFPB isn’t outside the bounds of the Constitution, in part because its provision making it difficult for the President to remove the CFPB’s director isn’t any more burdensome than those of other agencies, such as the FTC. By recognizing this, and that the CFPB director “is not insulated by a second layer of tenure and is removable directly by the President,” the court ruled that the “Bureau’s structure is not constitutionally deficient.”
    • The funding method utilized by the Bureau has parallels in other federal agencies and does not affect presidential authority, stating that “although the CFPB is funded outside of the appropriations process, Congress has not relinquished all control over the agency’s funding because it remains free to change how the Bureau is funded at any time.” The court therefore found that the President’s constitutional powers have not been curtailed.

    The court dismissed the student loan servicer’s assertion that it is unable to “reasonably prepare a response” due to the vague and ambiguous nature of the complaint. Rather, the court argues that the Bureau’s complaint provides enough “multiple specific examples” to warrant a response by way of an answer.

    Courts Student Lending CFPB Dodd-Frank Litigation UDAAP

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  • FTC to Host Joint Conference on Protecting Military Consumers

    Consumer Finance

    On July 27, the FTC announced it is partnering with state and local authorities to host the Protecting Military Consumers: A Common Ground Conference on September 7 in Los Angeles to provide training on consumer fraud and other issues affecting servicemembers and their families. The conference is geared towards military attorneys, law enforcement personnel, and consumer protection officials, and will include the following topics:

    • student loans and for-profit colleges;
    • identity theft and imposter scams;
    • debt collections;
    • mortgage disputes; and
    • real estate fraud.

    Additionally, the conference will discuss several federal, state, and local consumer protection laws, including the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, the Military Lending Act, and FTC and CFPB rules and regulations.

    Earlier in July, the FTC held a Military Consumer Financial Workshop to educate consumers on financial issues and scams they may face. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)

    Consumer Finance Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FTC Servicemembers SCRA Military Lending Act CFPB Student Lending Mortgages Debt Collection Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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