CFPB Issues Warning to Mortgage Servicing Industry

Alston & Bird
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A&B ABstract: On April 1, 2021, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”) issued a Compliance Bulletin and Policy Guidance (the “Bulletin”) on the Bureau’s supervision and enforcement priorities with regard to housing insecurity in light of heightened risks to consumers needing loss mitigation assistance once COVID-19 foreclosure moratoriums and forbearances end.  The Bulletin warns mortgage servicers to begin taking appropriate steps now to prevent “a wave of avoidable foreclosures” once borrowers begin exiting COVID-19 forbearance plans later this Fall, and also highlights the areas on which the CFPB will focus in assessing a mortgage servicer’s compliance with applicable consumer financial laws and regulations.

The Bulletin

The Bulletin warns mortgage servicers of the Bureau’s “commit[ment] to using its authorities, including its authority under Regulation X mortgage servicing requirements and under the Consumer Financial Protection Act” to ensure borrowers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic “receive the benefits of critical legal protections and that avoidable foreclosures are avoided.”

Specifically, the Bureau highlighted two populations of borrowers as being at heightened risk of referral to foreclosure following the expiration of the foreclosure moratoriums if they do not resolve their delinquency or enter into a loss mitigation option, namely, borrowers in a COVID-19-related forbearance and delinquent borrowers who are not in forbearance programs.

As consumers near the end of their forbearance plans, the CFPB expects “an extraordinarily high volume of loans needing loss mitigation assistance at relatively the same time.” The Bureau specifically expressed its concern that some borrowers may not receive effective communication from their servicers and that some borrowers may be at an increased risk of not having their loss mitigation applications adequately processed. To that end, the Bureau plans to monitor servicer engagement with borrowers “at all stages in the process” and prioritize its oversight of mortgage servicers in deploying its enforcement and supervision resources over the next year.

Servicers are expected to plan for the anticipated increase in loans exiting forbearance programs and related loss mitigation applications, as well as applications from borrowers who are delinquent but not in forbearance. Specifically, the Bureau expects servicers to devote sufficient resources and staff to ensure they are able to clearly communicate with affected borrowers and effectively manage borrower requests for assistance in order to reduce foreclosures. To that end, the Bureau intends to assess servicers’ overall effectiveness in assisting consumers to manage loss mitigation, and other relevant factors, in using its discretion to address potential violations of Federal consumer financial law.

In light of the foregoing, the Bureau plans to focus its attention on how well servicers are:

  • Being proactive. Servicers should contact borrowers in forbearance before the end of the forbearance period, so they have time to apply for help.
  • Working with borrowers. Servicers should work to ensure borrowers have all necessary information and should help borrowers in obtaining documents and other information needed to evaluate the borrowers for assistance.
  • Addressing language access. The CFPB will look carefully at how servicers manage communications with borrowers with limited English proficiency (LEP) and maintain compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and other laws. It is worth noting that the Bureau issued a notice in January 2021 encouraging financial institutions to better serve LEP borrowers in a language other than English and providing key considerations and guidelines.
  • Evaluating income fairly. Where servicers use income in determining eligibility for loss mitigation options, servicers should evaluate borrowers’ income from public assistance, child-support, alimony or other sources in accordance with the ECOA’s anti-discrimination protections.
  • Handling inquiries promptly. The CFPB will closely examine servicer conduct where hold times are longer than industry averages.
  • Preventing avoidable foreclosures. The CFPB will expect servicers to comply with foreclosure restrictions in Regulation X and other federal and state restrictions in order to ensure that all homeowners have an opportunity to save their homes before foreclosure is initiated.

Takeaway

As more and more borrowers begin to near the end of their COVID-19-related forbearance plans, and as applicable foreclosure moratoriums near their anticipated expiration dates, mortgage servicers should consider evaluating their mortgage servicing operations, including applicable policies, procedures, controls, staffing and other resources, to ensure impacted loans are handled in accordance with applicable Federal and state servicing laws and regulations.

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