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On January 11, Fannie Mae issued Lender Letter LL-2012-1, reminding servicers to continue to refer borrowers to the Homeowner’s HOPE Hotline, and noting that Fannie Mae now will pay counseling fees directly. For cases initiated prior to January 1, 2012, servicers must invoice counseling fees no later than March 31, 2012 and must submit requests for reimbursement of invoiced fees no later than April 30, 2012.
On January 13, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a proposed rule to eliminate the process by which interested parties may appeal the maximum allowable loan limit for a geographic area. Noting the modern availability of sales-transaction data at the county level, HUD states that there is no longer a need to allow requests for alternative limits. Further, the appeals disrupt HUD’s overall loan limit determination process, and, by eliminating appeals, HUD will be able to release annual loan limits earlier, thereby providing more certainty to the market. HUD also noted that, because of the availability of transaction data, it received zero requests for appeal of the 2011 loan limits.
On January 5, the FTC announced that Upromise had agreed to settle charges that its collection of consumers’ personal information was deceptive and an unfair practice, and that the collection violated federal law. Upromise’s website offered consumers a “TurboSaver Toolbar” download with a “Personalized Offers” feature to tailor savings opportunities to the consumer. The FTC alleged that the feature collected and transmitted, without encryption, the names of websites consumers visited, which links they clicked on, and information entered into webpages such as search terms, user names, and passwords. According to the FTC, the information collected also included credit card and financial account numbers, security codes and expiration dates, and Social Security numbers. Upromise’s privacy statement, however, stated that (i) the toolbar would only infrequently and inadvertently collect personal identifying information, (ii) personal information would be removed before the data was transmitted, and (iii) Upromise automatically encrypts users’ sensitive information. The proposed settlement requires in part that Upromise (i) destroy data collected, (ii) update its disclosures, (iii) notify consumers regarding the type of information collected and how to disable the toolbar, and (iv) obtain a biennial independent audit for the next twenty years. The proposed settlement is open for public comment through February 6.
On January 5, the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island judge responsible for handling “hundreds” of cases related to mortgage servicing and foreclosure practices appointed Merrill Sherman as special master to assist with resolution of the backlog of pending cases. In re Mortgage Foreclosure Cases, Misc. No. 11-mc-88-M-LDA (D.R.I. Jan. 5, 2012). Under the order, Ms. Sherman, formerly the President and CEO of Bancorp Rhode Island, Inc., has authority to, among other things, (i) order parties to meet and engage in settlement negotiations, (ii) order production of information to facilitate negotiations, and (iii) establish certain other procedural mechanisms to support discussions. The special master also may, among other things, make recommendations for court action to facilitate settlement or better manage the litigation.
On January 11, the CFPB took its first action to implement its nonbank supervision program by releasing the procedures it will use in examining all bank and nonbank mortgage originators. The Mortgage Origination Examination Procedures describe the types of information examiners will collect to (i) evaluate policies and procedures, (ii) assess compliance with applicable consumer financial services law, and (iii) identify risks to consumers throughout the mortgage origination process. CFPB mortgage origination exams will focus on specific products and will cover one or more of the following modules: (i) company business model; (ii) advertising and marketing; (iii) loan disclosures and terms; (iv) underwriting, appraisals, and originator compensation; (v) closing; (vi) fair lending; and (vii) privacy. These newly released procedures are an extension of the Supervision and Examination Manual the CFPB released in October 2011 (see BuckleySandler Special Alert, October 17, 2011).
On January 10, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (8-1) that the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA) does not override the Federal Arbitration Act’s (FAA) broad requirement that arbitration agreements be enforced according to their terms. CompuCredit Corp. v. Greenwood, No. 10-948, 2012 WL 43514 (Jan. 10, 2012). This case involves a proposed class of consumers alleging CompuCredit violated the CROA when it marketed and provided a no-deposit credit card to consumers with poor credit and then charged fees against the credit limit. CompuCredit sought to compel arbitration to enforce the terms of the card agreement, which mandated individual arbitration of disputes. The district court and Ninth Circuit both sided with the proposed class, finding the arbitration clause in conflict with the CROA’s “right to sue” provision and therefore void. On appeal, the consumer respondents urged the Supreme Court to follow the Ninth Circuit and hold that because the CROA requires a disclosure that a consumer has the right to sue a violating credit repair organization, and because the CROA prohibits waiver of any right given under the CROA, the right to file suit cannot be waived by an arbitration agreement. The Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s line of reasoning and reversed, holding instead that (i) the FAA establishes a liberal policy requiring enforcement of arbitration agreements according to their terms, (ii) the CROA is silent on arbitration and its disclosure provisions do not create a right to sue that overrides the broad FAA mandate, and (iii) Congress could have specifically prohibited arbitration provisions in the CROA.
On January 7, Federal Reserve Board (FRB) Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin, in a speech to the Association of American Law Schools, reviewed the status of federal banking regulators’ enforcement responses to what she characterized as the "foreclosure crisis". Governor Raskin described the enforcement actions brought last year by the FRB and other banking regulators against mortgage servicers as “only a start in a comprehensive enforcement response to the foreclosure crisis” and provided a reminder that anticipated monetary penalties for alleged deficient servicing and foreclosure practices are still to come. Further, Governor Raskin identified strong enforcement as a necessary incentive to developing an improved mortgage servicing model.
On January 6, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations published amendments to regulations governing mortgage originator licensing. The amendments, which are effective immediately, include an increase in certain fees paid by mortgage loan originators to cover costs incurred by the Department in providing current services. Other amendments include those to (i) reestablish and update license reporting provisions, including through the use of the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry, to implement state-law changes required by the federal SAFE Mortgage Licensing Act; (ii) require submission of a purchasing activity report; and (iii) establish a new standard for payment processing by servicers. The purchasing activity report requires annual reporting of (i) the names of originating entities, (ii) dollar amounts for each loan by property address, (iii) dollar amount of Illinois loans contained in a multi-state property portfolio, and (iv) total dollar amount for all Illinois loans purchased.
On January 6, Freddie Mac published Bulletin 2012-2, which allows servicers to offer eligible borrowers a short-term unemployment forbearance period, and the possibility of an extended unemployment forbearance period, if needed. On January 11, Fannie Mae followed with Servicer Guide Announcement SVC-2012-01, implementing a substantially similar program. Under the new programs, servicers may suspend or reduce an eligible borrower’s mortgage payments for a period of six months. With approval from Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, respectively, servicers also may extend the six-month forbearance period for up to an additional six months, provided that the period does not extend beyond a date that would cause the delinquency to exceed twelve months. Further, following an unemployment forbearance period, a borrower may be re-evaluated for a new Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) or non-HAMP trial-period plan if the borrower was complying with the terms of the existing trial plan before obtaining unemployment forbearance. Under the Freddie Mac program, servicers must incorporate unemployment forbearance into their operations by February 1, 2012, but servicers have until March 1, 2012 to comply under the Fannie Mae program.