Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On December 7, as part of Operation Game of Loans—a coordinated effort between the FTC and state law enforcement—the FTC announced settlements with operators of two student loan debt relief operations to resolve allegations that the defendants violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule by, among others (i) charging consumers who purchased the debt relief services illegal upfront fees; and (ii) falsely promising to assist consumers in enrolling in government programs that would reduce or forgive their student loan debt.
Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants are permanently banned from advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, or selling any type of debt relief product or service—or from assisting others in doing the same. Combined, the settlements total more than $36 million, though judgments have been partially suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay.
On October 30, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida filed a lawsuit against a Florida legal services provider and two of its officers (defendants) for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act by “intentionally discriminating against Hispanic homeowners by targeting them with a predatory mortgage loan modification and foreclosure rescue services scheme.” Specifically, the complaint alleges that the defendants, among other things, (i) targeted borrowers through the use of Spanish-language advertisements that allegedly promised to cut mortgage payments in half; (ii) promised payments would be lowered “in a specific timeframe in exchange for thousands of dollars of upfront fees and continuing monthly fees of as much as $550,” without delivering the promised loan modifications; (iii) instructed borrowers to stop making monthly mortgage payments and to stop communicating with their lenders; and (iv) had borrowers sign English-language contracts while only translating the provisions regarding payment. The complaint seeks to enjoin the defendants from participating in discriminatory activities on the basis of national origin, and requests monetary damages and civil penalties.
On October 29, the FTC announced a settlement with an online student loan refinance lender resolving allegations the lender violated the FTC Act by misrepresenting in television, print, and internet advertisements how much money student loan borrowers can save from refinancing their loans with the company. The complaint alleges that the lender inflated the average savings consumers have achieved refinancing through the lender, in some instances doubling the average savings by selectively excluding certain groups of consumers from the data. The complaint also alleges that in some instances, the lender’s webpage misrepresented instances where a loan option would result in the consumer paying more on a monthly basis or over the lifetime of the loan, simply stating the savings would be “0.00.” Although the lender did not admit or deny any of the allegations, it agreed to a consent order that requires it to cease the alleged misrepresentations and agree to certain compliance monitoring and recordkeeping requirements.
Notably, Commissioner Rohit Chopra issued a concurring statement in this matter suggesting that in instances where the FTC is unable to obtain monetary remedies, it should seek to partner with other enforcement agencies that have the additional legal authority to obtain monetary settlements from the targets of the FTC enforcement action.
New York City Department of Consumer Affairs sues for-profit college for deceptive and predatory lending practices
On October 19, New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) announced that it filed suit in New York County Supreme Court against a for-profit college alleging deceptive and predatory lending practices that violate NYC Consumer Protection Law and local debt collection rules. The DCA alleges that college recruiters engaged in deceptive practices such as (i) masquerading federal loan applications as scholarships; (ii) steering students towards college loans and referring to them as “payment plans”; and (iii) deceiving students about institutional grants by failing to disclose that they require students to obtain the maximum amount of federal loans available before a grant can be awarded. DCA also alleges that the for-profit college violated debt collection laws by concealing its identity on invoices when collecting debt, and seeking payments from graduates for debts not owed.
FHFA launches clearinghouse for mortgage industry to assist borrowers with limited English proficiency
On October 15, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae announced the joint launch of the Mortgage Translations clearinghouse, a collection of online resources designed to help lenders and servicers assist borrowers with limited English proficiency. The clearinghouse currently provides Spanish-language resources, and will add resources in Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Tagalog in the coming years. Mortgage Translations also includes a Spanish-English glossary developed in collaboration with the CFPB to help standardize translations across the mortgage industry.
NYDFS issues best practices guidance for state-chartered institutions issuing loans to multi-family residential owners and landlords
On September 25, NYDFS released new guidance to assist regulated, state-chartered institutions when engaging in permissible lending activities involving New York rent-stabilized or rent-regulated multifamily residential buildings. According to the press release, the department received complaints concerning certain owners/landlords of rent-stabilized multifamily residential buildings who allegedly engaged in “inappropriate practices including tenant harassment and unsafe living conditions” and may have obtained loans to purchase or renovate buildings directly or indirectly from regulated institutions. The guidance is intended to ensure that regulated institutions apply best practices, including pre-loan and post-loan due diligence, to prevent the possibility of knowingly or unknowingly facilitating these types of practices. Among other things, pre-loan due diligence best practices include (i) conducting due diligence on property owners, including when the bank’s role is to provide indirect financing to the property owner; (ii) conducting due diligence on properties and property owners, including enhanced diligence on properties with a high number of violations; (iii) ensuring “realistic and sound underwriting terms” for loans involving multifamily residential buildings; and (iv) establishing a debt service coverage ratio subject to documentation based on the specific facts of each loan as well as realistic assumptions, consistent with safe and sound underwriting standards and practices. The best practices for post-loan monitoring should include (i) establishing covenants or procedures to ensure emergency and hazard repairs are completed within six months of a loan’s closing; and (ii) considering the property owner’s level of responsiveness and willingness to address building code violation when factoring future loans to the property owner.
On October 1, the FDIC released a report, which covers the findings of its Small Business Lending Survey. The survey studied the responses of approximately 1,200 banks to analyze the small business lending practices of each institution. The survey included topics such as, overall small business lending volume, types of borrowers, market areas and competitive environments, competitive practices and advantages, and underwriting practices. Among other things, the report concludes that (i) banks lend more to small businesses than is currently measured as many banks lend over the $1 million commercial and industrial lending limit used; (ii) small and large banks cite to personal relationships as their top competitive advantage in the market and many are willing to grant exceptions to underwriting policies based on their relationships; and (iii) small business lending typically occurs locally as very few banks accept small business loan applications online.
Conference of State Bank Supervisors announces single, national exam for mortgage loan originator licensing
On August 8, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors announced that all states and U.S. territories now use a single, common exam to assess mortgage loan originators (MLOs) in order to simplify the licensing process and streamline the mortgage industry. MLSs who pass the National SAFE MLO Test with Uniform State Content (National Test) will no longer be required to take additional state-specific tests in order to be licensed within any state or U.S. territory. The National Test is part of CSBS’ Vision 2020, which is geared towards streamlining the state regulatory system to support business innovation and harmonize licensing and supervisory practices, while still protecting the rights of consumers.
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on CSBS’ Vision 2020 here.
FTC announces charges against auto dealerships for falsifying consumer information on auto financing documents
On August 1, the FTC announced charges against a group of four auto dealers (defendants) with locations in Arizona and New Mexico near the Navajo Nation’s border alleging, among other things, that the defendants advertised misleading discounts and incentives through their vehicle advertisements, and falsely inflated consumers’ income and down payment information on certain financing applications. The charges brought against the defendants allege violations of the FTC Act, the Truth in Lending Act, and the Consumer Leasing Act. According to the complaint, by allegedly falsifying the customers’ income and down payments, the defendants “inaccurately made consumers appear more creditworthy” on the false financing applications. Moreover, the FTC claims the defendants often prevented consumers from reviewing the falsified information provide in the financing applications prior to signing. As a result, credit was extended to consumers—many of whom are members of the Navajo Nation—who then subsequently “defaulted at a higher rate than properly qualified buyers.” Furthermore, the complaint asserts that the defendants’ deceptive advertising practices concealed the true nature and terms of the financing or leasing offers, and were in violation of federal law for failing to disclose the required terms. The complaint seeks, among other remedies, a permanent injunction to prevent future violations, restitution, and disgorgement.
On July 25, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) issued a press release announcing a notice of proposed rulemaking that would apply to students who qualify for loan discharges in circumstances where a borrower was significantly misled or defrauded by the higher education institution they attended. Provisions under the proposed Institutional Accountability regulations include:
- instituting a “borrower defense to repayment adjudication process that is clear, consistent and fair to borrowers who were harmed by institutional misconduct”;
- replacing the existing state standard for adjudicating claims with a federal standard to provide a more expeditious review of student claims;
- encouraging students to seek remedies directly from institutions when misrepresentation has occurred;
- expanding the “closed school loan discharge” eligibility time period to 180 days from 120 days for students who have left an institution prior to its closure;
- ensuring that any mandatory arbitration requirements or class action lawsuits restrictions are explained in plain language to enable students to make informed enrollment decisions; and
- preventing guaranty agencies from charging borrowers a fee on defaulted loans if the loan goes into repayment within 60 days.
The Department also seeks public comment on whether borrower defense to repayment claims should be limited only to students in default instead of also allowing students to apply for forgiveness who remain in good financial standing. Additionally, the Department seeks comments on whether students should be held to a higher standard through the showing of “clear and convincing” evidence, rather than the lower legal “preponderance of the evidence” standard. The new plan would affect students who take out loans beginning July 1, 2019. Comments on the proposal are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
- 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