CFPB submits request to conduct online debt collection survey to OMB

by Ballard Spahr LLP
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The CFPB has published a notice in the Federal Register that it has submitted to OMB its request to conduct an online survey of 8,000 individuals as part of its research on debt collection disclosures.  Comments must be received on or before December 14, 2017.  In June 2017, the CFPB had published a notice in the Federal Register announcing its plans to seek OMB approval for the survey and soliciting comments.

In July 2016, in anticipation of convening a SBREFA panel for the CFPB’s debt collection rulemaking, the CFPB issued an outline of the proposals it is considering.  The proposals included revisions to the form and content of the validation notice, new disclosures for time-barred debts, and a new “obsolescence disclosure” informing the consumer whether a time-barred debt can appear on a credit report.

In support of its request to OMB, the CFPB has filed Supporting Statements Parts A and B.  As described in Supporting Statement Part A, the survey would test a number of questions related to the disclosures the CFPB is developing in conjunction with its rulemaking, especially with regard to time-barred and “obsolete” debts.  The research will be conducted by a contractor retained by the CFPB that will subcontract with a survey research firm to assist with the administration of the survey.  The CFPB states in the supporting statements that it plans to share aggregated findings from the survey with the public “as appropriate, for example, in a future study on debt collection or in connection with any potential rulemakings related to debt collection.”

The CFPB had included the sample survey questions in the supporting materials filed in connection with its June 2017 notice but did not include the disclosures.  At that time, the CFPB stated that the disclosures were still under development.  In its new Supporting Statement Part A, the CFPB states that the disclosures “continue to be under consideration and development.”  It also reports that several commenters had expressed concern about the absence of the disclosures from its earlier submission materials.

In response, the CFPB states that it “has concluded that the information contained in the Bureau’s proposed Information Collection is sufficient to allow meaningful comment on the disclosure testing research project, including the research methodology and survey instrument.”  It further states that “[t]he information collection for which the Bureau is seeking OMB approval at this time is for the testing project itself, not the specific content of the draft disclosure forms.  The Bureau believes that the specifics of particular test forms are not needed to comment on the general research methodology and survey instrument.”

The coverage of the CFPB’s SBREFA proposals was limited to “debt collectors” that are subject to the FDCPA.  When it issued the proposals, the CFPB indicated that it expected to convene a second SBREFA panel in the “next several months” to address a separate rulemaking for creditors and others engaged in debt collection not covered by the proposals.  However, in June 2017, Director Cordray announced that the CFPB has decided to proceed first with a proposed rule on disclosures and treatment of consumers by debt collectors and thereafter write a market-wide rule in which it will consolidate the issues of “right consumer, right amount” into a separate rule that will cover first- and third-party collections.

When Director Cordray announced the CFPB’s change in rulemaking plans, some observers had theorized as a possible rationale that CFPB leadership believed a rule dealing only with third party debt collectors might face less Republican opposition.  Since the decision whether to move forward with debt collection rulemaking will be made by a CFPB Director appointed by President Trump, that theory will be put to the test.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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