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CFPB’s latest fair lending report focuses on promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit
On December 4, the CFPB issued its sixth fair lending report to Congress, which outlines the Bureau’s efforts in 2017. According to the report, in 2017, the Bureau continued to focus on promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit, highlighting several fair lending priorities such as redlining, mortgage and student loan servicing, and small business lending. The report also addresses the Bureau’s risk-based prioritization approach to supervisory examinations and enforcement activity relating to underwriting, pricing, steering, servicing, and HMDA data integrity. Specifically, the report covers fair lending supervision and enforcement activities, guidance and rulemaking, and interagency coordination efforts, including (i) taking enforcement actions against a bank for alleged credit card lending discrimination, and a mortgage lender that allegedly failed to accurately report consumer application and loan data; (ii) issuing its first no-action letter to a company that uses alternative, non-traditional data and modeling techniques “to make credit and pricing decisions to support innovation and enable people with limited credit history, among others, to obtain credit or obtain credit on better terms”; (iii) collaborating with other federal banking regulators to issue, among other things, the “HMDA Examiner Transaction Testing Guidelines,” which present uniform guidelines for examiners when evaluating whether covered mortgage lenders are reporting accurate data; and (iv) communicating fair lending information to the public through various platforms. Notably, the report is silent regarding plans for upcoming fair lending activities in 2019, unlike previous reports that included future actions. (See InfoBytes coverage on the 2016 report here.)
On October 18, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment for a mortgage servicer, holding that the plaintiff homeowners failed to show racial discrimination in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) when the servicer required the homeowners to bring the prior loan current before assuming it. According to the opinion, the homeowners purchased a home from the previous homeowner with an existing mortgage. Soon after the purchase, the homeowners learned that the previous owner had stopped making his mortgage payments and that the bank had begun to foreclose on the home. After receiving notice of foreclosure, the homeowners tried repeatedly to assume the previous owner’s mortgage which the mortgage servicer conditioned on the homeowners bringing the loan current. Unable to do so, the homeowners sued, bringing various state and federal law claims, including under ECOA, after an employee of the servicer allegedly made a remark that implied that the homeowners were not being allowed to assume the loan because of their race. The district court rejected the claims and entered summary judgment for the mortgage servicer.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit affirmed, concluding that the homeowners failed to counter the servicer’s representation that they never produced a complete application. Moreover, the court held that the alleged statement, which attributed the servicer’s decision to a race, was vague and “require[d] too much speculation to conclude that their race” was a determining factor in the requirement to satisfy the outstanding loan payments, a requirement that was otherwise consistent with the loan agreement.
On September 5, a coalition of 14 state Attorneys General sent a comment letter to the CFPB raising concerns about statements made by acting Director Mick Mulvaney in May suggesting that the Bureau may reexamine its requirements and enforcement of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). The letter notes that Mulvaney’s comments followed the Bureau’s repeal of the agency’s 2013 guidance on indirect auto lending and compliance with ECOA last May. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on resolution S.J. Res. 57 disapproving the guidance here.) The Attorneys General point out that the resolution did not eliminate regulations promulgated in 1977 and adopted by the Bureau in 2011 that interpret “ECOA to provide for disparate impact liability without limitation to the type of lending.” The Attorneys General express concern over the Bureau’s possible break with “the federal government’s longstanding interpretation that ECOA provides for disparate impact liability” both because states share ECOA enforcement authority with the Bureau and because many states model their antidiscrimination statutes on ECOA.
The comment letter asserts that dropping disparate impact from ECOA reviews would be inconsistent with the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (as covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). The Attorneys General cite to the Supreme Court’s holding that disparate impact liability was provided for under a provision of the Federal Housing Act, and assert that the holding “dictates that the text of ECOA unambiguously provides for disparate impact liability.” Because, they claim, the “CFPB has no authority to overrule the Supreme Court's interpretation of unambiguous text, any action to reinterpret ECOA not to provide for disparate impact liability could be set aside by a court as arbitrary, capricious, and otherwise not in accordance with law.”
As previously covered in InfoBytes, last month 17 state Attorneys General sent a comment letter to HUD urging the agency to not make any changes to its 2013 Disparate Impact Regulation, which implements the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard, as well as the 2016 Application of the Fair Housing Act’s Discriminatory Effects Standard to Insurance.
On August 28, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin dismissed an action against a credit union, holding that the credit union’s decision to consider only dispute-free credit reports of all applicants does not amount to a “prohibited basis” under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). According to the opinion, the credit union required the consumer to remove his disputed debts from his credit report in order for his application for a home equity loan to move forward. After the disputes were removed, the consumer’s credit score dropped below the minimum required by the credit union, and his application was denied. In December 2017, the consumer brought an action against the credit union, alleging that he was discriminated against in violation of ECOA for exercising his dispute rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The court rejected the consumer’s arguments, concluding that the FDCPA and the FCRA do not give a consumer a right to dispute debts, but rather a right to ensure that disputed debts are accurately reported as such. The court also rejected the consumer’s theory of recovery under ECOA, finding that his arguments were inconsistent with ECOA’s implementing regulation, Regulation B. The court determined that Regulation B allows a creditor to restrict the types of credit history that it will consider if the restrictions are applied to all applicants without regard to a prohibited basis. Because the dispute-free restriction was applied to all applicants of the credit union equally, the consumer’s claim failed.
On August 23, the New York Department of Finance Services (NYDFS) released updated guidance reminding institutions engaged in indirect auto lending through third parties that they must comply with the state’s Fair Lending Law, despite the May repeal of the CFPB’s Bulletin 2013-02 on indirect auto lending and compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). (The repeal was previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The updated guidance “consolidates, streamlines and reinforces previous guidance issued by [NYDFS]’s predecessor, the New York State Banking Department,” which applies to supervised financial institutions and their subsidiaries and affiliates (lenders). The guidance provides a list of actions lenders should take to develop a fair lending compliance program for indirect auto lending, including (i) submitting all applications for loans that are rejected or withdrawn to an automatic review by a higher-level supervisor; (ii) implementing a fair lending training program for both new hires and current employees; (iii) obtaining written agreements from all dealers that certify that the dealer acknowledges its responsibility to comply with fair lending laws and the policies and procedures contained in the fair lending plan; and (iv) extending fair lending plan principles to refinancing and collection practices.
Trump signs legislation repealing CFPB auto guidance, Mulvaney praises action; CFPB to reexamine ECOA requirements
On May 21, President Trump signed resolution S.J. Res. 57, which repeals CFPB Bulletin 2013-02 on indirect auto lending and compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). The president’s signature completes the disapproval process under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which began after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a letter in December 2017 to Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa) stating that “the Bulletin is a general statement of policy and a rule” that is subject to override under the CRA. The Senate passed the disapproval measure in April and the House approved it in the beginning of May. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)
The repeal responds to concerns that the bulletin improperly attempted to regulate auto dealers, which the Dodd-Frank Act excluded from the Bureau’s authority. In a statement after the president’s signing, CFPB acting Director Mick Mulvaney praised the action and thanked the president and Congress for “reaffirming that the Bureau lacks the power to act outside of federal statutes.” He also stated that the repeal “clarifies that a number of Bureau guidance documents may be considered rules for purposes of the CRA, and therefore the Bureau must submit them for review by Congress. The Bureau welcomes such review, and will confer with Congressional staff and federal agency partners to identify appropriate documents for submission.”
Additionally, acting Director Mulvaney announced plans to reexamine the requirements of ECOA, “[g]iven a recent Supreme Court decision distinguishing between antidiscrimination statutes that refer to the consequences of actions and those that refer only to the intent of the actor.” Although the decision is not identified, it is likely the June 2015 Supreme Court decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., which concluded that disparate impact claims are permitted under the Fair Housing Act but acknowledged some limitations on its application. (Covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert.)
On May 15, the auto lending branch of an international automobile company (indirect auto lender) reported in an 8-K filing that the DOJ and CFPB had reached an agreement that the indirect auto lender has met the requirements for early termination of a consent order entered into in 2016 over allegations of unfair lending practices. As previously covered in InfoBytes, a joint agency investigation under ECOA found that the indirect auto lender’s policies allowed for dealers to mark up a consumer’s interest rate on the retail installment contract above the established risk-based buy rate. The parties currently await final court approval of a joint stipulation and proposed order for early termination of the consent order from three years to two years in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
On May 8, the Department of Justice announced a settlement with a Minnesota community bank to resolve allegations that the lender excluded predominantly minority neighborhoods from its mortgage lending service in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). According to the complaint filed in 2017, between 2010 and 2015, the bank engaged in unlawful redlining in and around Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota by meeting the residential credit needs of individuals in majority-white census tracts, but avoided serving similar needs in majority-minority census tracts. The settlement requires the bank to expand its banking services in predominantly minority neighborhoods, including opening one full service branch within the specified census tract. In addition to compliance monitoring and reporting requirements, the bank is also required to (i) employ a Community Development Officer and an Executive leader; (ii) spend a minimum of $300,000 on advertising, outreach, and education and credit repair initiatives; (iii) invest a minimum of $300,000 in a program for special purpose loan subsidies; and (iv) continue to provide fair lending training to all employees.
OMB has released the CFPB’s Fall 2017 rulemaking agenda. Although this is the first update to the agenda since Richard Cordray left the agency in November 2017, delays in the publication of rulemaking agendas are common so the updated agenda may not reflect the views of new CFPB leadership. The updated agenda does not appear on the Bureau’s website. Further:
- HMDA & ECOA Amendments: The updated agenda states that the Bureau planned to determine by December 2018 whether to make permanent adjustments to the threshold for reporting open-end lines of credit. However, as discussed in greater detail here, the CFPB stated on December 21 that it intended to engage in a broader rulemaking to (i) re-examine the criteria determining whether institutions are required to report data; (ii) adjust the requirements related to reporting certain types of transactions; and (iii) re-evaluate the required reporting of additional information beyond the data points required by the Dodd-Frank Act.
- Prepaid Cards: The updated agenda states that the CFPB expected to finalize amendments to its rule on prepaid cards in November 2017, but no final amendments have been issued. Instead, on December 21, the CFPB announced its intent to adopt final amendments “soon after the new year” and stated that it expects to extend the April 1, 2018 effective date to allow more time for implementation.
- Debt Collection: The updated agenda states that the CFPB expects to issue a proposed rule in February 2018 “concerning FDCPA collectors’ communications practices and consumer disclosures.” However, on December 14, OMB announced that the CFPB had withdrawn its planned survey regarding debt collection disclosures because “Bureau leadership would like to reconsider the information collection in connection with its review of the ongoing related rulemaking.”
See previous InfoBytes coverage on the HMDA, Prepaid, and Debt Collection rulemaking updates.
Other noteworthy aspects of the updated agenda include:
- Regulation Reviews: The updated agenda reiterates the Bureau’s intent to review the regulations inherited from other agencies and “clarify ambiguities, address developments in the marketplace, and modernize or streamline regulatory provisions.” The updated agenda lists “pre-rule activities” as continuing through February 2018, rather than September 2017 under the prior agenda.
- “Larger Participants” in Installment Lending: Consistent with the prior agenda, the CFPB states that it is preparing a proposed rule to define the “larger participants” in the personal loan market (including consumer installment loans and vehicle title loans) that will be subject to Bureau examinations. The updated agenda also states that the Bureau is still considering “whether rules to require registration of these or other non-depository lenders would facilitate supervision, as has been suggested to the Bureau by both consumer advocates and industry groups.” However, while the prior agenda indicated that a proposal was expected in September 2017, the new agenda lists May 2018.
- Overdrafts: The updated agenda states only that the CFPB is “continuing to engage in additional research and consumer testing initiatives relating to the opt-in process” for overdraft protection and that “pre-rule activities” will continue through this month. Under the prior agenda, pre-rule activities were scheduled to continue through June 2017.
- Small Business Lending: The agenda indicates that the long-delayed implementation of the small business data reporting provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act will be delayed even longer. The last agenda listed “pre-rule activities” as continuing through June 2017, stating that the CFPB “is focusing on outreach and research to develop its understanding of the players, products, and practices in the small business lending market and of the potential ways to implement section 1071.” The new agenda states that these activities will continue until May 2018, after which the Bureau “expects to begin developing proposed regulations concerning the data to be collected, potential ways to minimize burdens on lenders, and appropriate procedures and privacy protections needed for information-gathering and public disclosure.”
- TRID/Know Before You Owe Amendments: The updated agenda lists April 2018 as the expected release date for finalization of the July 2017 proposed rule addressing the “black hole” issue, which is discussed in a Buckley Sandler Special Alert. The prior agenda listed March 2018.
- Mortgage Servicing Amendments: In October 2017, the CFPB issued proposed amendments to the mortgage periodic statement requirements to further address circumstances in which servicers transition between modified and unmodified statements in connection with a consumer’s bankruptcy case. The updated agenda does not provide an expected release date for final amendments.
- Credit Card Agreement Submission: The agenda continues to state that the Bureau is considering rules to modernize its database of credit card agreements to reduce the submission burden on issuers and to make the database more useful for consumers and the general public. The agenda lists “pre-rule activities” as continuing through February 2018. Under the prior agenda, pre-rule activities were scheduled to continue through October 2017.
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.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Trends in regulatory enforcement" at the American Bar Association Banking Law Committee Meeting
- Jessica L. Pollet to discuss "Your career is impacting your life..." at the Ark Group Women Legal Conference
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Successors in interest updates" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Keeping your head above water in flood insurance compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo