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  • District Court Fines Mortgage Brokers More Than $298 Million for Alleged FCA/FIRREA Violations

    Courts

    On September 14, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled after a five-week jury trial that defendants, who allegedly submitted fraudulent insurance claims after acquiring risky loans, were liable for treble damages and the maximum civil penalties allowed under the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). According to the court, the evidence presented at trial demonstrated that the damages suffered by the U.S. were a “foreseeable consequence” of the defendants’ misconduct and that such misconduct was part of an “prolonged, consistent enterprise of defrauding the [U.S.],” warranting a higher level of penalties. The jury found that one of the defendants along with its CEO “submitted or caused to be submitted 103 insurance claims” while misrepresenting that its branches were registered by HUD, causing the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to sustain damages in excess of $7 million. A separate mortgage broker defendant was found to have submitted or caused to be submitted 1,192 insurance claims causing over $256 million in damages to the FHA due to the “reckless” underwriting of loan applications, in violation of FCA. The court rejected the defendants’ request for lenient civil penalties, finding the defendants’ behavior to be “custom-designed to flout the very program that relied upon [defendants’] diligence and compliance” and demonstrating “a patent unwillingness to accept responsibility for their actions.” The FIRREA penalties resulted from defendants submitting false annual certifications to HUD that were intended “to serve as a separate and independent quality check on the [defendant’s] branches,” but instead led to injury in the form of borrowers entering into default or foreclosures, as well as elevated mortgage insurance premiums.

    The judge imposed over $291 million in FCA treble damages and penalties against the three defendants. Additionally, each defendant was fined $2.2 million in FIRREA penalties for actions that “were neither isolated or relatively benign . . . [but] were reckless, egregious, and widely injurious.”

    Courts Lending Mortgages False Claims Act / FIRREA Litigation Insurance FHA HUD

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  • CFPB Files Complaint Against Company that Allegedly Made False Loan Offers

    Consumer Finance

    On September 19, the CFPB announced it had filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against a New Jersey-based company and two associated individuals (defendants) that allegedly offered loans to consumers who were awaiting payouts from legal settlements or statutory- or victim-compensation funds. According to the complaint, the company engaged in deceptive acts and practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act by purportedly representing itself as a direct lender, when in actuality it did not provide loans to consumers, but instead brokered transactions while charging a commission for the service. Among other things, the defendants allegedly (i) misrepresented the annual percentage rates (APR) on the advances given to consumers, often representing that interest rates were as small as one to two percent when the actual APR was much higher; (ii) falsely claimed that it had offices in all 50 states and employed a staff of accounting, financial, and legal professionals; and (iii) misled consumers by stating in their marketing materials that consumers could receive loan proceeds within one hour, when the process took longer.

    According to the proposed final judgment and order, which must be approved by the district court, the defendants shall be banned from offering these types of loans or advances to consumers in the future. In addition, the company and the owner—who was responsible for decision-making and operations—are jointly liable for a $60,000 civil money penalty to the CFPB. The second individual—who was responsible for recruiting consumers through marketing materials and websites—must pay a $10,000 civil money penalty to the CFPB. The Bureau noted in the announcement that the low penalties take into account the defendants’ inability to pay greater amounts.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Enforcement Lending UDAAP CFPA

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  • FHFA Releases July 2017 Refinance Report

    Lending

    On September 14, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) published its Refinance Report for July 2017. As previously reported by the FHFA and other sources, interest rates continued to increase for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages in July (from 3.9 percent in June to 3.97 percent), while overall refinance volume decreased. Specific to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), the report found, among other things, that borrowers completed 2,305 HARP refinances in July, bringing the total HARP refinances to 3,473,109. Consistent with recent Refinance Reports, the report also notes that borrowers who refinanced through HARP had a lower delinquency rate compared to borrowers eligible for HARP who did not refinance through the program. Last month, the FHFA extended HARP until December 31, 2018.

    Lending FHFA Mortgages Refinance Home Affordable Refinance Program

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  • Agencies Issue Proposed Rulemaking to Amend CRA Regulations to Conform With HMDA Regulation Changes

    Lending

    On September 13, the Federal Reserve Board, the FDIC, and the OCC (Agencies) issued a joint notice of proposed rulemaking to amend Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations to conform to the CFPB’s changes to Regulation C, which implements the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA). The proposed amendments revise the definition of “home mortgage loan” and “consumer loan,” update the public file content requirements to comply with recent Regulation C changes, and make various technical corrections. In addition, the proposal will eliminate obsolete references to the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), an initiative created by HUD to help stabilize communities contending with foreclosures and abandonment. In 2016, under CRA regulations, NSP-eligible activities were no longer considered “community development.” The Agencies anticipate that the proposed rule will become effective on January 1, 2018, when most of the changes to the HMDA rules go into effect.

    Home Mortgage Loan. Under the 2015 HMDA Rule changes, “most consumer-purpose transactions, including closed-end mortgage loans, closed-end home equity loans, home-equity lines of credit, and reverse mortgages will be reported under HMDA if they are secured by a dwelling.” To conform to the Regulation C amendments, effective January 1, 2018, for purposes of CRA regulations, a “home mortgage loan” will now mean a “closed-end mortgage loan” or an “open-end line of credit,” both of which will now apply only to loans that are secured by a dwelling. Financial institutions will now have the option to decide whether they want home improvement loans that are not secured by a dwelling, which will no longer be HMDA, considered for CRA purposes, although the Agencies note that they may choose to still evaluate some of these loans in certain circumstances “where the consumer lending is so significant a portion of an institution’s lending by activity and dollar volume of loans that the lending test evaluation would not meaningfully reflect lending performance if consumer loans were excluded.”

    Consumer Loan. The proposed rulemaking would no longer include “home equity loans” in the list of “consumer loan” categories for CRA purposes, as it will now be included within the proposed revised definition of a “home mortgage loan.”  

    Comments on the proposal will be accepted for 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Lending Agency Rule-Making & Guidance OCC Federal Reserve FDIC CFPB CRA HMDA Mortgages

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  • CFPB, Federal and State Banking Agencies Issue Guidance for Financial Institutions on Providing Disaster Relief to Consumers

    Consumer Finance

    As previously reported in InfoBytes, several federal banking agencies have already issued guidance and resources for national banks and federal savings associations aiding consumers affected by recent disasters. On September 1, the CFPB issued a statement for CFPB-supervised entities on ways to provide assistance to consumers who may be at financial risk. The list includes:

    • offering penalty-free forbearance or repayment periods with disclosed terms;
    • limiting or waiving fees and charges, including overdraft fees, ATM fees, or late fees;
    • restructuring or refinancing existing debt, including extending repayment terms;
    • easing documentation or credit-extension requirements;
    • increasing capacity for customer service hotlines, particularly those that serve consumers in languages other than English; and
    • increasing ATM daily cash withdrawal limits.

    The statement further suggests that supervised entities should utilize existing regulatory flexibility if doing so would benefit affected consumers. Included are examples from Regulations B, X, and Z. Additionally, the Bureau stated it will “consider the circumstances that supervised entities may face following a major disaster and will be sensitive to good faith efforts to assist consumers.”

    The CFPB separately published a blog post for consumers containing a financial toolkit that includes links to disaster relief organizations, ways to secure financial needs, and information on forbearance options, insurance settlements, and contractor evaluations. The CFPB also issued a warning to consumers of the increased risk of scams and fraud.

    In related news, on September 6, the Federal Reserve Board, Conference of State Bank Supervisors, FDIC, and OCC issued a joint press release for financial institutions that may be impacted by Hurricane Irma. The agencies encouraged constructive cooperation with borrowers, noting that “prudent efforts to adjust or alter terms on existing loans in affected areas should not be subject to examiner criticism.” Guidance was also issued on matters concerning Community Reinvestment Act considerations, investments, regulatory reporting requirements, publishing requirements, and temporary banking facilities.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Federal Reserve CSBS FDIC OCC CRA Lending Mortgages

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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 Publishes Final Rule Amending Annual Dollar Threshold in TILA Regulations

    Lending

    On August 30, the CFPB issued a final rule amending Regulation Z, which implements the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), under the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act), the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act of 1994 (HOEPA), and the Dodd-Frank ability-to-repay and qualified mortgage provisions (ATR/QM). The CFPB is required to make adjustments to dollar amounts in the Regulation Z provisions implementing these laws based on the annual percentage change reflected in the Consumer Price Index effective June 1, 2017. For open-end consumer credit plans under TILA, the minimum interest charge disclosure threshold will remain unchanged at $1.00 in 2018. For open-end consumer credit plans under the CARD Act amendments, the adjusted dollar amount for the safe harbor for a first violation penalty fee will remain unchanged at $27 in 2018, and the adjusted dollar amount for the safe harbor for a subsequent violation penalty fee will remain unchanged at $38 in 2018. For HOEPA loans, the adjusted total loan amount threshold for high-cost mortgages in 2018 will increase to $21,032, and the adjusted points and fees dollar trigger for high-cost mortgages in 2018 will be $1,052. To satisfy the underwriting requirements under the ATR/QM rule, the maximum thresholds for total points and fees for qualified mortgages in 2018 will be: (i) 3 percent of the total loan amount for loans greater than or equal to $105,158; (ii) $3,155 for loan amounts greater than or equal to $63,095 but less than $105,158; (iii) 5 percent of the total loan amount for loans greater than or equal to $21,032 but less than $63,095; (iv) $1,052 for loan amounts greater than or equal to $13,145 but less than $21,032; and (v) 8 percent of the total loan amount for loan amounts less than $13,145. The final rule is effective January 1, 2018.

    Lending Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB TILA Credit Cards HOEPA Ability To Repay Qualified Mortgage Federal Register Regulation Z Mortgages

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  • OCC Issues Guidance for Banks Originating Mortgages with LTV Ratios Greater than 100 Percent as Part of Community Revitalization Efforts

    Lending

    On August 21, in an effort to assist in revitalizing distressed communities, the OCC released guidance for national banks and federal savings associations considering owner-occupied residential mortgage originations with loan-to-value (LTV) ratios greater than 100 percent. Bulletin 2017-28 includes, among other thing, the program criteria, which includes (i) permanent first-lien mortgages with LTV ratios exceeding 100 percent at time of origination, without mortgage insurance or other acceptable collateral, and with an original loan balance of $200,000 or less, (ii) communities that are “officially targeted for revitalization by a federal, state, or municipal government entity or agency,” (iii) a set of program policies and procedures, and (iv) providing notice to the OCC thirty days prior to starting or modifying a program.

    Established programs will be actively monitored and evaluated to examine the performance of the LTV loans, and the programs as a whole will be evaluated at least annually to determine the extent to which they are aiding in revitalization efforts. Depending on its findings, the OCC reserves the right to amend or rescind Bulletin 2017-28, but maintains that any loans originated in agreement with the required provisions will not be affected “solely because of any measurable amendment or rescission of this [B]ulletin.”“Bank lending under such a program may serve the credit needs of individual borrowers and the community, and the bank may receive Community Reinvestment Act consideration depending on the specifics of the program,” the OCC noted.

    Lending Agency Rule-Making & Guidance OCC CRA Mortgage Origination LTV Ratio

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  • Freddie Mac to Begin Accepting Automated Appraisals for Eligible Home Buyers

    Lending

    On August 18, Freddie Mac issued a press release announcing an automated appraisal alternative for eligible consumers purchasing homes or refinancing existing mortgages. The program, known as an “automated collateral evaluation,” will permit lenders to utilize Freddie Mac’s proprietary platforms to see if an estimate of home value can be used in lieu of obtaining a traditional appraisal. Freddie predicts the program could save home buyers several hundred dollars and reduce closing times by as many as 10 days if it determines a traditional appraisal is unnecessary. Automated appraisals will become available for qualified transactions starting September 1, 2017. The program has been available for qualified home refinances since June 19, 2017.

    Lending Appraisal Mortgages Freddie Mac Refinance

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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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