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  • DOJ Announces $5.4 Million in Additional Relief for Servicemembers Impacted by Bank’s Alleged SCRA Violations

    Lending

    On November 14, the DOJ announced it had secured an additional $5.4 million from a major U.S. bank related to a September 2016 settlement (previously covered by InfoBytes) resolving allegations that between January 2008 and July 2015 the bank repossessed vehicles owned by active duty servicemembers without required court orders in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The original consent order with the DOJ required the bank to pay $10,000, plus lost equity, to each of the 413 affected servicemembers whose cars were found to be unlawfully seized and further stipulated the bank could be required to compensate additional servicemembers. Since entering into the 2016 settlement with the DOJ, the bank announced it had uncovered another 450 qualifying servicemembers, bringing the combined affected total to 863, with compensatory payouts of more than $10 million

    Lending Fair Lending DOJ SCRA Servicemembers Settlement Enforcement

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  • DOJ Sues Washington State Company for Alleged SCRA Violations

    Consumer Finance

    On November 9, the DOJ filed a complaint in the Western District of Washington against a Washington company for allegedly foreclosing on servicemembers’ homes in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). According to DOJ’s complaint, its investigation uncovered at least 28 unlawful non-judicial foreclosures. In addition to a declaration that the company violated the SCRA, the DOJ is seeking monetary damages, a civil penalty, and injunctive relief.

    The allegations stem from an investigation the DOJ initiated into the company’s foreclosure practices following the same court’s dismissal of a private SCRA action brought by a veteran on the ground that it was time-barred. Prior to the DOJ initiating the investigation, the veteran appealed the dismissal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The DOJ filed an amicus brief in that appeal, arguing that private SCRA suits are governed by the four-year federal catch-all statute of limitations

    Consumer Finance DOJ SCRA Foreclosure Mortgages

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  • Servicemember Files Writ of Certiorari, Petitions Supreme Court to Review SCRA Protections for Non-Judicial Foreclosures

    Courts

    On October 11, a servicemember filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, requesting that the U.S. Supreme Court review an opinion issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concerning whether the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) can be applied to a mortgage loan obligation incurred during a borrower’s earlier, distinct period of military service. (See previous InfoBytes summary on Fourth Circuit opinion.) 

    Under the SCRA, servicemembers are afforded certain protections against non-judicial foreclosures of their home while in active military service. Section 3953 provides that a home mortgage “originated before the period of the servicemember’s military service and for which the servicemember is still obligated” cannot be foreclosed upon unless allowed by a court order. However, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision in favor of the bank, concluding that because the servicemember “incurred his mortgage obligation during his service in the Navy, the obligation was not subject to SCRA protection” even through the servicemember, after a discharge period, later re-enlisted with the Army.

    The petition argues that the appellate court “misconstrued” and narrowly interpreted the SCRA’s definition of the term “period of military service” under section 3911 by treating the servicemember’s “separate and distinct periods of military service as a single period of service.”

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court SCRA Foreclosure

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  • CFPB Issues Report: Student Loan Complaints Initiated Actions Bringing Relief to Borrowers

    Lending

    On October 16, the CFPB published its annual report analyzing consumer complaints submitted between September 1, 2016 and August 31, 2017. The report, titled “Annual Report of the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman,” is based on more than 22,000 complaints, which related to federal student loan servicing, debt collection, private student loans servicing, and debt relief services. The press release announcing the report noted that this represented a 120 percent increase in student loan complaints compared to last year, but also that this can partly be attributed to the fact that the Bureau updated its student loan complaint form in late February 2016 to accept complaints about federal student loan servicing issues. The report also noted that student loan complaints from July 2011 through August 2017 have led to actions resulting in more than $750 million in relief to student loan borrowers and improved the loan repayment process for millions of additional borrowers.

    The CFPB estimates that federal and private student loan debt combined has reached $1.4 trillion, mostly from federal loans, with more than 8 million student loan borrowers in default due to not making a required monthly payment for at least nine months. The report makes additional observations, including the following:

    • Military student loan borrowers continue to complain about difficulties in accessing protections guaranteed under federal law, such as interest rate caps under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, automatic recertification of income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, zero percent interest rate reductions while serving in areas of hostility, and discharging loans for veterans due to Total and Permanently Disability (TPD).
    • Consumers continue to report challenges concerning repayment roadblocks, such as difficulty in applying for or recertifying IDR plans, obtaining TPD discharge, and accessing advertised loan benefits for private loans.
    • Harassing and aggressive debt collection tactics, including the possibility for suspension or revocation of professional licenses in some states following a default, reportedly are creating additional challenges for consumers.

    Lending Student Lending CFPB Servicemembers SCRA Debt Collection

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  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Update Servicing Guides

    Lending

    On October 11, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced updates to their respective Servicing Guides.

    Fannie Mae. Servicing Guide Announcement SVC-2017-09 highlights recent updates to the Servicing Guide, including topics related to the management of electronic transactions such as: (i) confirmation that sellers and servicers may originate, service, and modify loans using electronic records (electronic promissory notes require special approval); (ii) streamlined language clarifying requirements for the accuracy of information in electronic records; (iii) specification that paper records are not required for recorded mortgages and deeds of trust; (iv) clarification that all electronic signatures must comply with ESIGN, UETA, and other applicable laws; and (v) the removal of requirements for document custodians from the Servicing Guide that were duplicative of requirements set forth in Fannie Mae’s Requirements for Document Custodians. Additional updates address changes made to the reimbursement of foreclosure sale publication costs for costs incurred on or after January 1, 2018, and specific guidance for servicers pertaining to mortgage liens (to be implemented by December 1, 2017).

    Freddie Mac. Freddie Mac issued Bulletin 2017-22 announcing servicing updates concerning (i) modifications to imminent default evaluation and process requirements (jointly developed with Fannie Mae) that will take effect July 1, 2018; and (ii) provisions under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) related to compliance time frames for servicers when responding to, or submitting requests for, interest rate reductions, along with updates that take effect February 1, 2018, concerning Guide Exhibit 71 used by servicers to report eligible SCRA interest rate subsidized loans. The updates also eliminate the manual property condition certificate process and modify time frame requirements for cancelling property insurance policies on real estate owned properties.

    Lending Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Mortgage Servicing Electronic Signatures ESIGN UETA SCRA

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  • DOJ Civil Rights Division Issues Annual Report to Congress

    Federal Issues

    In September, the DOJ Civil Rights Division issued its Annual Report to Congress regarding its 2016 activities related to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Highlights include:

    • Fair lending: The DOJ opened 18 fair lending investigations; filed seven lawsuits and settled six of them; and obtained almost $37 million in relief. At the end of 2016, the DOJ had 33 open fair lending investigations.
    • Servicemembers Civil Relief Act: In November 2016, the DOJ announced a new pilot program funding additional attorneys and resources to support enforcement efforts related to the SCRA. In addition, the DOJ entered into two SCRA settlements, initiated a new lawsuit (subsequently settled in 2017), and continued to support distribution of compensation under the National Mortgage Settlement.
    • ECOA/FHA Referrals: The DOJ received 22 ECOA and FHA referrals in 2016; opened eight investigations from these referrals; and noted that all but one of the lawsuits filed by the Civil Rights Division in 2016 were based in part on referrals.

    Federal Issues DOJ Congress Enforcement ECOA FHA SCRA Fair Lending

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  • DOJ Obtains Auto Repossession Settlement for Servicemembers

    Consumer Finance

    On September 27, the DOJ announced a settlement with a California-based indirect auto financing company and its subsidiary responsible for extending auto title loans (defendants) resolving allegations that the defendants violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by illegally repossessing at least 70 SCRA-protected servicemembers’ vehicles. The DOJ filed its complaint against the defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California the same day the settlement agreement was reached. This is the second DOJ settlement reached this month over alleged SCRA violations concerning auto repossessions. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.) According to the complaint, the CFPB’s Office of Servicemember Affairs alerted the DOJ in 2016 to the alleged unlawful vehicle repossessions. The DOJ’s investigation concluded that the defendants repossessed the vehicles between 2011 and 2016, without confirming whether the servicemembers were SCRA-protected or obtaining court orders. The defendants’ practice of violating the SCRA, the DOJ contends, was “intentional, willful, and taken in disregard for the rights of servicemembers.”

    Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the defendants must comply with the following: (i) obtain a court order or “valid SCRA waiver” in compliance with the outlined terms of the agreement before repossessing servicemember vehicles; (ii) develop a set of SCRA policies and procedures that outline repossession compliance measures and another set of policies and procedures to provide SCRA relief; (iii) appoint SCRA-specialized employees; and (iv) provide SCRA compliance training. The defendants must also compensate affected servicemembers $700,000, in addition to “lost equity,” accrued interest, credit repair relief, and an auto loan interest rate cap for eligible servicemembers. Further, the defendants must pay a civil penalty of $60,788 to the Treasury, and provide a list of repossessions between October 2016 and the effective date of the settlement to be reviewed by the DOJ for additional SCRA-violations.

    Consumer Finance DOJ Enforcement Settlement SCRA CFPB Servicemembers Compliance

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  • DOJ Announces Settlement With Financial Institution Over Alleged SCRA Violations Concerning Auto Repossessions

    Consumer Finance

    On September 18, the DOJ announced a settlement with a large financial institution resolving allegations that the financial institution had illegally repossessed 164 active-duty servicemembers’ vehicles without first obtaining necessary court orders in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The DOJ filed its complaint against the financial institution in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas the same day the settlement agreement was reached. According to the complaint, the financial institution repossessed the vehicles between 2007 and 2010, when it completed the sale of its automobile lending and servicing arm to a different company. As part of a separate enforcement action against the company that acquired the accounts, the DOJ discovered that the financial institution allegedly violated the SCRA by arranging “for the physical repossession of the automobile and later [selling] the account to [the new company], which attempted to collect fees relating to the unlawful repossession.” Further, the complaint alleges that the financial institution conducted repossessions without SCRA-required court orders, even though the company possessed information “in its own records suggesting that a borrower could be a SCRA-protected servicemember,” or knew that “the borrower was in military service or had received orders to report for military service” and “nevertheless continued repossession efforts and eventually succeeded in repossessing the [servicemembers’] vehicles.”

    While the financial institution has denied the allegations, it agreed to compensate affected servicemembers $907,000, 163 of whom are to receive $5,000 each, in addition to the $5,000 previously received as partial compensation from a separate settlement the DOJ reached with the company that acquired the accounts. The remaining impacted servicemember, who did not receive partial compensation, will receive $10,000 from the escrow account. All 164 servicemembers will also receive $500 for “lost equity” and accrued interest. In addition, the financial institution must provide credit repair relief to each affected servicemember and any co-borrowers, and are required to cooperate with an “Independent Settlement Administrator” who will monitor compliance. Further, should the financial institution resume originating or servicing automobile loans, it is required to provide notice to the DOJ every six months of any SCRA or military-related complaint.

    Consumer Finance DOJ Enforcement Settlement SCRA Auto Finance

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  • District Court Grants Preliminary Settlement Approval in SCRA Class Action Suit

    Courts

    On September 13, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina granted preliminary approval to settle a class-action suit resolving allegations that a national bank overcharged military families on interest and fees related primarily to mortgage and credit card accounts in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The order also, in the context of the proposed settlement only, preliminarily certifies the class, which is comprised of members who—after September 11, 2001—were entitled to “additional compensation related to military reduced interest rate benefits from [the bank].” The plaintiffs filed the complaint against the bank in 2015 claiming alleged violations of the SCRA, TILA, and the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. In May 2016, the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the first amended complaint, and at the end of 2016, the parties agreed to mediation. A second amended complaint—now the operative complaint—was filed just prior to the motion for preliminary approval. While the bank has not admitted any wrongdoing, it has agreed to refrain from using an “interest subsidy method for interest benefits calculations for a five-year period,” which, plaintiffs pleaded, can lead to higher costs.

    According to the terms of the memorandum in support of the motion for preliminary approval, class members will receive payments based on the strength of their individual claims, considering such factors as: (i) loan type; (ii) whether they previously received remediation from the bank, and how much; and (iii) the eligible period for interest rate refunds. The memorandum further stipulates that approximately $15.4 million of the nearly $42 million overall settlement will be provide to class members who have not received or deposited any payments from the bank. Unclaimed amounts from the first round will be pooled with the remainder of the settlement to be allocated as outlined in the distribution plan. A final approval hearing is scheduled for February of next year.

    Courts SCRA TILA Servicemembers Mortgages Credit Cards Class Action Litigation Settlement

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  • Fourth Circuit Affirms SCRA Does Not Apply to Mortgage Loan Incurred During Service

    Courts

    In an opinion handed down on July 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) does not apply to a mortgage loan obligation incurred during a borrower’s military service, even if the obligation was incurred during an earlier, distinct period of military service. At issue was the SCRA’s requirement that lenders obtain a court order before foreclosing on or selling property owned by a current or recent servicemember if the mortgage obligation “originated before the period of the servicemember’s military service.”

    The case concerned a borrower who had financed the purchase of a house while serving in the Navy. After his discharge from the Navy, he defaulted on his mortgage loan. The borrower then enlisted in the Army, and shortly thereafter, the bank sold the borrower’s house—without prior court approval—at a foreclosure sale. The borrower signed a move-out agreement and addendum that affirmatively waived “any rights and protections provided by [SCRA] with respect to” the deed and foreclosure sale.

    More than five years after the foreclosure sale, the borrower filed a lawsuit against the bank, alleging that the foreclosure sale was invalid under SCRA. The district court granted summary judgment for the bank, ruling that “[b]ecause it is undisputed that [the borrower’s] mortgage originated while he was in the military, that obligation does not qualify under [SCRA].” Specifically, the district court reasoned that the SCRA is “designed to ensure that servicemembers do not suffer financial or other disadvantages as a result of entering the service . . . by shielding servicemembers whose income changes as a result of their being called to active duty, and who therefore can no longer keep up with obligations negotiated on the basis of prior levels of income.” “Such a change in income and lifestyle,” the district court explained, “was not a factor in [the borrower’s] case, as the mortgage at issue here originated while he was already in the service.”

    The Fourth Circuit adopted the district court’s reasoning in a 2-1 decision. In dissent, Judge King contended that the majority’s ruling was contrary to the SCRA’s plain, unambiguous language. Judge King further reasoned that, even if the SCRA’s language was ambiguous, the borrower would still prevail because the SCRA must be liberally construed to protect servicemembers.

    Of note, because of its ruling, the district court did not address the bank’s alternative argument that the borrower had waived his rights under the SCRA by executing the addendum to his move-out agreement.

    Courts SCRA Appellate Fourth Circuit Litigation Mortgages

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