Alston & Bird Consumer Finance Blog


The COVID-19 National Emergency is Ending: Are mortgage servicers ready?

A&B Abstract:

On January 30, 2023, President Biden informed Congress that the COVID-19 National Emergency (the “COVID Emergency”) will be extended beyond March 1, 2023, but that he anticipates terminating the national emergency on May 11, 2023. The White House Briefing Room reiterated the President’s position on February 10, 2023. Given the significant updates mortgage servicers made to their compliance management systems (“CMS”) to ensure compliance with the myriad of COVID-19-related laws, regulations and guidance issued in response to the pandemic, servicers should begin evaluating their CMS now to determine whether updates are necessary to minimize the risk of non-compliance and consumer harm as the COVID Emergency comes to an end. Set forth below, we discuss some of the key areas on which servicers should focus as they develop a plan for winding down COVID-19 protections.


The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented operational challenges for mortgage servicers – challenges servicers sought to overcome through significant actions that were taken at the outset of the pandemic and over the last three years to implement the myriad of federal and state laws, regulations, and guidance that were enacted or promulgated in response to the pandemic.

Indeed, in response to the pandemic, the US Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, Sections 4021 and 4022 of which provided certain borrowers impacted by the pandemic with certain credit reporting and mortgage-related protections.

Section 4021 of the CARES Act amended the Fair Credit Reporting Act by adding a new section providing special instructions for reporting consumer credit information to credit reporting agencies when a creditor or other furnisher offers an “accommodation” to a consumer affected by the pandemic during the “covered period,” which ends 120 days after the COVID Emergency terminates.

Section 4022 of the CARES Act granted forbearance rights and protection against foreclosure to certain borrowers with a “federally backed mortgage loan.” Specifically, during the “covered period,” a borrower with a federally backed mortgage loan who is experiencing a financial hardship that is due, directly or indirectly, to the COVID Emergency may request forbearance on their loan, regardless of delinquency status, by submitting a request to their servicer during and affirming that they are experiencing a financial hardship during the COVID Emergency. When the CARES Act was enacted, there was uncertainty in the industry as to how to define the “covered period” as the term was undefined. However, because the borrower must attest to a financial hardship during the COVID Emergency, the industry came to understand the “covered period” to be synonymous with the COVID Emergency, such that borrower requests received outside the COVID Emergency need not be granted.

Additionally, under Section 4022, a servicer of a federally backed mortgage loan were prohibited from initiating any judicial or nonjudicial foreclosure process, moving for a foreclosure judgment or order of sale, or executing a foreclosure-related eviction or foreclosure sale (except with respect to vacant and abandoned properties) through May 16, 2020.

In response to the CARES Act, mortgage servicers were inundated with directives issued by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), the US Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”), the US Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”), as well as the guidelines published by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (collectively, the “Agencies”), as the Agencies (other than the CFPB) were tasked with implementing the protections afforded by the CARES Act.  As result of these directives, servicers were required to quickly implement changes to their servicing operations, while ensuring accurate communication of such changes to its customers. For example, HUD alone issued over 20 mortgagee letters since the outset of the pandemic that were directly related to the operations of HUD-approved servicers.

In addition to the Agencies, several states either passed legislation, promulgated regulations or issued directives that mortgage servicers were required to implement. Servicers were also required to respond to the CFPB’s Prioritized Assessments, inquiries from Congress, and requests from the Agencies. Accordingly, servicers devoted substantial legal, compliance, and training resources to ensure compliance with applicable laws and requirements.

In implementing the foregoing laws and regulations, servicers made significant updates to their CMS and the various components that support an effective CMS, including, among others, policies, procedures, training, scripting, correspondence, system updates, and vendor management. Similarly, now that the COVID Emergency appears to be nearing an end, servicers should reevaluate what updates are necessary to effectively wind-down COVID-19 protections while minimizing regulatory risk and consumer harm.

Below we discuss several issues servicers should be particularly mindful of in developing a plan for winding down COVID-19 protections.

Key Areas of Focus for Servicers

Agency/GSE Guidelines: The myriad of Agency guidance issued in response to the pandemic included new and evolving requirements regarding the offering of COVID-19 Forbearance Plans, COVID-19-specific loss mitigation options, and other COVID-19-related borrower protections. For example, HUD, VA, and USDA have largely tied a borrower’s ability to request an initial COVID-19 Forbearance to the expiration of the COVID Emergency. HUD has indicated that a borrower may only request an additional forbearance extension of up to six months if the initial forbearance will be exhausted and expires during the COVID Emergency. On the other hand, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have previously informally indicated that servicers should continue to process borrower requests for COVID-19 Forbearances until the GSEs announce otherwise. Moreover, there is the possibility that all or some of the Agencies will expand post-forbearance COVID-19 protections to a broader class of borrowers given the apparent success of the streamlined options. On January 30, 2023, HUD issued a mortgagee letter (which was corrected and reissued on February 13th) extending its COVID-19 Recovery Loss Mitigation Options to include additional eligible borrowers, increase its COVID-19 Recovery Partial Claims, and add incentive payments to servicers. Notably, the mortgagee letter does not appear to update HUD’s existing guidance on the availability of COVID-19 Forbearance Plans, and it temporarily suspends several of HUD’s non-COVID-19 loss mitigation options, such as all FHA-HAMP options. In preparing for the end of the COVID Emergency, servicers should ensure that they identify and carefully review applicable Agency guidelines to determine what, if any, updates to existing processes are necessary.

Policies, Procedures, and Training: Whether a servicer created a specific COVID-19/CARES Act policy and/or updated its existing policies to reflect applicable COVID-19 protections, servicers must now review and update those policies to ensure they do not inaccurately reflect requirements no longer in effect as a result of the termination of the COVID Emergency. As a reminder, Regulation X requires servicers to maintain policies and procedures that are reasonably designed to achieve the objectives in 12 C.F.R. § 1024.38. Commentary to Regulation X clarifies that “procedures” refers to the actual practices followed by the servicer. Thus, servicers should ensure that its procedures reflect its policies. It is also important that updated and accurate training and job aids are provided to servicing employees, particularly to consumer service representatives, to ensure clear, accurate, and up to date information is communicated to consumers. It’s also a good time to ensure that policies, procedures, and training reflect the expiration of certain CFPB COVID-19-related measures. For example, the enhanced live contact requirements for borrowers experiencing COVID-19 related hardships were in effect from August 31, 2021 through October 1, 2022.

Scripts, Letters and Agreements: The CFPB called for mortgage servicers to take proactive steps to assist borrowers impacted by COVID-19 including prioritizing clear communications and proactive outreach to borrowers. In response, servicers updated communications through emails, texts, letters, loss mitigation agreements, buck slips, periodic statements, and other standard communications alerting borrowers of requirements for accepting and processing requests for forbearance, approving forbearance requests, providing credit reporting accommodations, and providing information on post-forbearance loss mitigation options and foreclosure. One of the standards the CFPB uses in assessing whether an unfair, deceptive, or abusive act or practice (“UDAAP”) occurred is whether a representation, omission, act or practice is deceptive, meaning that it misleads or is likely to mislead the consumer, the consumer’s interpretation of the representation is reasonable under the circumstances, and the misleading representation, omission, act or practice is material. Thus, it is important for servicers to review their communication library to make sure outdated CARES Act and other COVID-19-related information is not included in borrower communications.

System Updates: Throughout the last three years servicers were required to implement substantial system enhancements to ensure compliance with the myriad of requirements that arose in response to the pandemic. These enhancements included, among others, stop codes to ensure compliance with applicable foreclosure moratoria; changes to loss mitigation decisioning systems to reflect new and revised loss mitigation waterfalls; updates to borrower-facing websites and interactive voice response (“IVR”) systems to provide borrowers with information on available COVID-19 protections and to facilitate a borrower’s ability to self-serve when requesting a COVID-19 Forbearance; enhancing credit reporting systems to ensure accurate credit reporting for borrowers who are provided an accommodation under the CARES Act; and implementing system updates to ensure compliance with applicable fee restrictions. Given the significant time, effort, and resources required to implement the foregoing enhancements, servicers should begin evaluating their systems now to determine what changes are necessary to reflect that some or all of these protections will no longer be in effect.

State Law: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, several states (including but not limited to California, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon) enacted their own protections, most of which have since expired. Now is the time for servicers to ensure that their CMS is updated to reflect that these laws are no longer in effect.

Instructions to Service Providers: Many servicers rely on third-party service providers to provide certain support functions. During the pandemic, reliance on such service providers was even more critical as servicers worked to implement the above-referenced requirements. Such service providers include, among others, print/mail vendors, foreclosure counsel, and third-party customer support representatives. In preparing for the end of the COVID Emergency, servicers should ensure accurate and consistent instructions are provided to, and appropriate oversight is exercised over, service providers to ensure compliance with applicable law and to minimize UDAAP risk.


The implementation of federal and state COVID-19 protections required that servicers devote substantial time, effort, and resources to ensure consumers could avail themselves of available protections and to minimize the risk of harm. Unfortunately, when the pandemic first began, servicers did not have the luxury of time when implementing these measures. However, given that the end of the COVID Emergency is not until May 11th, servicers should utilize this time to think through what impact the termination of the emergency will have on their current processes and controls, and begin making necessary updates.

CFPB Publishes Fall 2022 Supervisory Highlights

A&B ABstract:

On November 16, 2022, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”) released its Fall 2022 Supervisory Highlights (Issue 28) (the “Supervisory Highlights”), which, among other things, announces the creation of a Repeat Offender Unit and highlights supervisory observations from examinations conducted by the Bureau in the first half of 2022.  Below we discuss some of the key takeaways from the Supervisory Highlights.

The Supervisory Highlights

CFPB’s New Repeat Offender Unit

The CFPB announced the creation a Repeat Offender Unit (“ROU”) to focus its supervision on repeat offenders with the intent to recommend specific corrective actions to stop recidivist behavior. The ROU intends to engage in closer scrutiny of repeat offenders’ compliance with certain orders, along with the following activities:

  • Reviewing and monitoring the activities of repeat offenders;
  • Identifying the root cause of recurring violations;
  • Pursuing and recommending solutions and remedies that hold entities accountable for failing to consistently comply with federal consumer financial law; and
  • Designing a model for review of orders and monitoring that reduces the occurrences of repeat offenders.

The creation of the ROU is not surprising given Director Chopra’s prior statements signaling that the Bureau would focus its efforts on reining in corporate recidivism in the financial services industry. For example, in March 2022, Director Chopra delivered a speech to the University of Pennsylvania Law School, entitled Reining in Repeat Offenders, in which the Director noted that “[a]t the CFPB, we have plans to establish dedicated units in our supervision and enforcement divisions to enhance the detection of repeat offenses and corporate recidivists and to better hold them accountable…[and that] for serial offenders of federal law, the CFPB will be looking at remedies that are more structural in nature, with lower enforcement and monitoring costs…[including] seek[ing] ‘limits on the activities or functions’ of a firm for violations of laws, regulations, and orders.”

Supervisory Observations

The Supervisory Highlights identifies numerous supervisory observations pertaining to consumer reporting, debt collection, mortgage origination, mortgage servicing, and payday lending, among other topics. We discuss several of the Bureau’s notable observations below.

Consumer Reporting

With respect to credit reporting, the CFPB found violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and/or Regulation V involving the following issues:

  • Certain nationwide consumer reporting agencies failed to provide reports to the CFPB regarding consumer complaints received from consumers that the Bureau transmits to the credit reporting agency if those complaints are about “incomplete or inaccurate information” that a consumer “appears to have disputed” with the agency;
  • Some furnishers, including third-party debt collection furnishers, continue to: (1) inaccurately report information despite actual knowledge of errors; (2) fail to correct and update furnished information after determining such information is not complete or accurate; and (3) fail to establish and follow reasonable procedures to report the appropriate date of first delinquency on applicable accounts; and
  • Some furnishers also continue to fail to establish and implement reasonable written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of furnished information, such as by verifying random samples of furnished information, and fail to conduct reasonable investigations of direct disputes by neglecting to review relevant information and documentation.

Debt Collection

In recent examination activity, the CFPB has identified certain violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, such as:

  • Examiners found that certain larger participant debt collectors engaged in conduct intended to harass, oppress, or abuse consumers during telephone calls by continuing to engage in conversation even after consumers stated that the communication was causing them to feel annoyed, harassed, or abused.
  • Examiners found that debt collectors engaged in improper communication with third parties about a consumer’s debt when communicating with a person who had a similar or identical name to the consumer.

Mortgage Origination

Regarding mortgage origination, the CFPB found violations of Regulation Z and deceptive acts or practices prohibited by the Consumer Financial Protection Act (“CFPA”), such as:

  • Examiners found that certain entities improperly reduced loan origination compensation based on a term of a transaction by failing to use actual costs and fee amounts that were accurate and known to loan originators at the time initial disclosures were provided to consumers. Subsequently at closing, consumers were provided a lender credit when the actual costs of certain fees exceeded the applicable tolerance thresholds, which led entities to reduce loan originator compensation after loan consummation by the amount provided in order to cure the tolerance violation. Notably, the Bureau found that in each instance, the settlement service had been performed and the loan originator knew the actual costs of those services. The loan originators, however, entered a cost that was completely unrelated to the actual charges that the loan originator knew had been incurred, resulting in information being entered that was not consistent with the best information reasonably available. Thus, examiners found that the unforeseen increase exception permitted by Regulation Z did not apply to these situations.
  • Examiners also identified a waiver provision in a loan security agreement, which was used by certain entities in one state, that was determined to be deceptive in violation of the CFPA. The waiver provided that borrowers who signed the agreement waived their right to initiate or participate in a class action. The language was found to be misleading because a reasonable consumer could understand the provision to waive their right to bring a class action on any claim, including federal claims, in federal court, which is expressly prohibited by Regulation Z.

Mortgage Servicing

The Bureau indicated that its mortgage servicing examinations focused on servicers’ actions as consumers experienced financial distress related to COVID-19. Mortgage servicing findings by the CFPB included the following:

  • Servicers engaged in abusive acts or practices by charging sizable phone payments fees when consumers were unaware of the fees’ existence and, if disclosures were provided, providing general disclosures indicating that consumers “may” incur a fee did not sufficiently inform consumers of the material costs;
  • Servicers engaged in unfair acts or practices by:
    • charging consumers fees during a CARES Act forbearance plan, in violation of the CARES Act’s prohibition on the imposition of “fees, penalties, or interest beyond the amounts scheduled or calculated as if the borrower made all contractual payments on time and in full under the terms of the mortgage contract”; and
    • failing to timely honor requests for forbearance from consumers;
  • Servicers engaged in deceptive acts or practices by misrepresenting that certain payment amounts were sufficient for consumers to accept a deferral offer at the end of their forbearance period, when in fact, they were not due to updated escrow payments; and
  • Servicers violated Regulation X by failing to maintain policies and procedures reasonably designed to:
    • inform consumers of all available loss mitigation options, which resulted in some consumers not receiving information about options, such as deferral, when exiting forbearances; and
    • properly evaluate consumers for all available loss mitigation options, resulting in improper denial of deferral options.

Payday Lending

Regarding payday lending, examiners found that some lenders failed to maintain records of call recordings that were necessary to demonstrate compliance with certain conduct provisions in consent orders, e.g., prohibiting certain misrepresentations. The consent order provisions required creation and retention of all documents and records necessary to demonstrate full compliance with all provisions of the consent orders. The Bureau determined that the failure to maintain the call recordings violated the consent orders and federal consumer financial law.

Although this finding was specific to payday lenders, it may have broader implications for entities subject to an active CFPB consent order, as the provision relied upon by the Bureau in making its finding is routinely found in CFPB orders.


The compliance issues noted in the Supervisory Highlights emphasize the importance of maintaining a strong and continually updated compliance management system. Entities should review the Bureau’s supervisory observations against their current policies, procedures, and processes to ensure consistency with the Bureau’s compliance expectations, and to determine whether enhancements and/or proactive consumer remediation may be appropriate. Finally, entities subject to active CFPB consent orders should pay particular attention to whether their current policies, procedures, and processes are sufficient to ensure compliance with applicable law and the terms of the consent order, in order to mitigate against the risk of being deemed a repeat offender and potentially subject to increased penalties or broader structural remedies such as “seek[ing] ‘limits on the activities or functions’ of a firm for violations of laws, regulations, and orders.”

Biden-Harris Administration Announces Extension of COVID-19 Foreclosure Moratorium

A&B Abstract:

Today, the Biden Administration announced an extension of the foreclosure moratorium for federally-backed mortgage loans (the “Presidential Announcement”). To implement the Presidential Announcement, the federal agencies (i.e., HUD/FHA, USDA, and VA) and GSEs (i.e., Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) have announced (or are anticipated to announce) extensions of the foreclosure moratorium until July 31, 2021.

Presidential Announcement

According to the Presidential Announcement, the three federal agencies that back mortgages – the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and Department of Agriculture (USDA) – will extend their respective foreclosure moratorium for one, final month, until July 31, 2021. Similarly, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) will announce that it has extended the foreclosure moratorium for mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac until July 31, 2021.

The Presidential Announcement goes on to provide that once the moratoria end, HUD, VA, and USDA will take additional steps to prevent foreclosures on mortgages backed by those agencies until borrowers are reviewed for COVID-19 streamlined loss mitigation options that are affordable, while FHFA will continue to work with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to ensure that borrowers are evaluated for home retention solutions prior to any referral to foreclosure.

In addition, the Presidential Announcement notes that HUD, VA, and USDA will also continue to allow homeowners who have not taken advantage of forbearance to date to enter into COVID-related forbearance through September 30, 2021, while homeowners with Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac-backed mortgages who have COVID-related hardships will also continue to be eligible for COVID-related forbearance.

Finally, the Presidential Announcement indicates that HUD, VA, and USDA will be announcing additional steps in July to offer borrowers payment reduction options that will enable more homeowners to stay in their homes.

Federal Agency and GSE Announcements

In addition to the foregoing, the USDA and the GSEs issued the following guidance today implementing the Presidential Announcement:

  • USDA:  Today, the USDA issued a brief press release announcing a one-month extension, through July 31, 2021, of the moratorium on foreclosure from properties financed by USDA Single-Family Housing Direct and Guaranteed loans. Beyond July 31, 2021, the USDA indicated that it would continue to support homeowners experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic by making loss mitigation options available to help keep them in their homes.
  • Fannie Mae LL-2021-02:  Today, Fannie Mae updated LL-2021-02 to extend the moratorium on foreclosures with respect to Fannie Mae loans through July 31, 2021.  Specifically, servicers must continue the suspension of the following foreclosure-related activities through July 31, 2021. Servicers may not, except with respect to a vacant or abandoned property: (1) initiate any judicial or non-judicial foreclosure process, (2) move for a foreclosure judgment or order of sale, or (3) execute a foreclosure sale.  All other guidance set forth in LL-2021-02 remains the same.
  • Freddie Mac Guide Bulletin 2021-23:  Similarly, today Freddie Mac issued Guide Bulletin 2021-23, which announces an extended effective date for the COVID-19 foreclosure moratorium.  Specifically, Freddie Mac is extending the foreclosure moratorium last announced in Guide Bulletin 2021-8. Servicers must suspend all foreclosure actions, including foreclosure sales, through July 31, 2021. This includes initiation of any judicial or non-judicial foreclosure process, motion for foreclosure judgment or order of sale. This foreclosure suspension does not apply to mortgages on properties that have been determined to be vacant or abandoned.

As of today, we are not aware of any formal announcement by HUD or VA regarding the implementation of the Presidential Announcement. However, we anticipate that both HUD and VA will issue guidance consistent with the above announcement in short order.


The takeaway from today’s announcements is that, except with respect to vacant and abandoned properties, all foreclosure-related activities that could constitute the initiation of any judicial or non-judicial foreclosure process, movement for a foreclosure judgement or order of sale, or execution of a foreclosure sale should continue to be paused until the expiration of the extended foreclosure moratorium.  Moreover, the Presidential Announcement suggests that additional guidance will be issued by the federal agencies permitting borrowers who have not yet taken advantage of a COVID-19 forbearance to do so through September 30, 2021 and announcing additional steps in July to offer borrowers additional payment reduction options to enable more homeowners to stay in their homes. Accordingly, servicers should continue to monitor for any additional guidance from the federal agencies and GSEs regarding the foreclosure moratorium or other COVID-19-related borrower relief.

CFPB Issues Warning to Mortgage Servicing Industry

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.


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.

House Financial Services Committee Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Holds Hearing on Mortgage Servicers and CARES Act Implementation

A&B Abstract:

 On July 16, 2020, the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services’ (the “Committee”) Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (the “Subcommittee”) held a hearing to discuss mortgage servicers and their implementation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stability Act (“CARES Act”). On May 4, 2020, Chairwoman of the Committee, Maxine Waters, sent a request for information (“RFI”) to eleven servicers, requesting information on their forbearance procedures and overall compliance with the CARES Act. The hearing focused on the data received through the RFI, as well as questions directed to witnesses regarding how COVID-19 has affected vulnerable communities and what additional steps Congress should take to provide borrowers with further relief.

Implementation of the CARES Act

 Subcommittee Chairman, Al Green, opened the hearing by noting that the information received from the eleven servicers in response to the Committee’s RFI indicated that over two million forbearance requests had been received since March 27, 2020.  However, Subcommittee Chairman Green raised concerns that some borrowers may not have been made aware of their right to the full 180 days (plus an additional 180 days) of forbearance provided under the CARES Act. Ranking Member Andy Barr acknowledged that mortgage servicers experienced “hiccups” in implementing the CARES Act’s forbearance and foreclosure provisions, but noted that the data received from the eleven servicers suggested that servicers were generally doing a “good job” in implementing and complying with the CARES Act.

Committee Chairwoman Waters and Subcommittee Chairman Al Green identified areas where servicers struggled to effectively implement the CARES Act’s protections. Specifically, both the Committee’s majority staff memorandum and Subcommittee Chairman Green noted that, in some cases, servicers failed to properly offer or inform borrowers about the full 180-day initial forbearance period available to borrowers under the CARES Act and only offered initial forbearance of 90-days.

Subcommittee Chairman Green noted that he believed the intent of the CARES Act was to ensure borrowers receive the full 180-day initial forbearance period, with the right to shorten forbearance upon request. Additionally, Chairman Green noted that in certain cases servicers advised borrowers that a lump sum repayment would be required at the end of the forbearance period, which could discourage borrowers from taking advantage of the CARES Act’s forbearance protections, and is inconsistent with federal agency guidance prohibiting servicers from requiring a lump sum repayment. That said, Representative Nydia Velazquez acknowledged that a HUD Office of Inspector General report found that the FHA may have provided incomplete, inconsistent data and suggested that additional guidance from the FHA is needed.  A similar sentiment was echoed in the Committee’s majority staff memorandum, wherein the majority staff noted that “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have at times provided inconsistent and potentially confusing guidance regarding the CARES Act forbearance protections.”

Witnesses Marcia Griffin, founder and president of Homefree USA, and Donnell Williams, President of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, acknowledged that servicers’ implementation of the CARES Act has improved since the start of the pandemic, but also noted certain areas for improvement.  For example,  Ms. Griffin and Mr. Williams both noted that servicers experienced a delay in implementing the CARES Act and in providing appropriate training to employees regarding the CARES Act’s protections as well as the post-forbearance loss mitigation options that would be available to impacted borrowers exiting forbearance. Furthermore, Ms. Griffin and Mr. Williams advocated for better training for customer service employees, more support for housing counselors, and more extensive borrower outreach.

Post Forbearance Measures and the Health Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (“HEROES”) Act

Members of the Subcommittee also questioned witnesses regarding what further measures should be taken by Congress to provide additional relief to impacted borrowers to ensure they can remain in their homes after their forbearance ends. Ranking Member Andy Barr noted that the HEROES Act, recently passed by the House, would require automatic forbearance and mandate certain post-forbearance loss mitigation options.  However, both he and Representative Lee Zeldin cautioned that mandating certain loss mitigation options may impact servicers’ ability to work effectively with impacted borrowers, and that it is best for servicers to speak with borrowers to determine the best option available for each borrower. Representative Rashida Tlaib and Subcommittee Chairman Green also indicated that Congress is considering whether to provide additional direct payments to borrowers.  Representative Zeldin noted that while mortgage servicers have a vital role to play in helping impacted borrowers, they cannot shoulder all of the associated financial burden without increased liquidity.

Alys Cohen, Staff Attorney for the National Consumer Law Center, supported providing protections similar to the CARES Act for borrowers with non-federally backed mortgages, including a requirement to provide automatic forbearance.  However, Dr. DeMarco cautioned that automatic forbearance may not be an appropriate tool. Dr. DeMarco indicated that rather than automatic forbearance, borrowers should communicate with their servicers before being put into forbearance so that the servicer and borrower can work together to determine the best path forward. While Ms. Cohen agreed that borrowers should try to speak with their servicers, she noted that more borrowers are missing payments than requesting forbearance.

Representative William Timmons asked witnesses to comment on whether certain temporary policies adopted in response to COVID-19, such as remote online notarization and additional flexibility regarding appraisals, should be made permanent.  Mr. Williams indicated, without specificity, that some of these temporary policies should be made permanent. Dr. Demarco supported extending the temporary flexibility around remote online notarization. Finally, Ms. Cohen noted that there was room for these temporary polices to be made permanent, but that appraisals should remain accurate.

Addressing Racial Disparities

Certain members of the Subcommittee’s majority caucus, including Subcommittee Chairman Green, Committee Chairwoman Waters, and Representative Velazquez highlighted the fact that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx communities. Of the witnesses, Ms. Cohen and Mr. Williams, in particular, suggested that people of color were less likely to receive a forbearance than their white counterparts. For example, Mr. Williams noted that there is currently a 13% gap between Black and White homeowners who receive forbearance. Ms. Cohen, Ms. Griffin, and Mr. Williams all noted that more communication from the federal government regarding forbearance protections, and additional funding to support Black and Latinx communities, such as funding for legal aid and housing counseling services, would help mitigate some of this apparent disparity.


The Subcommittee hearing suggested that servicers have been largely effective in implementing the CARES Act and communicating with borrowers, but that additional work is still needed.  Subcommittee Chairman Green, in particular, noted that additional legislation as well as further communication by servicers is needed to ensure all borrowers receive clear and consistent guidance regarding available relief options. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it will be interesting to see what further legislation is promulgated to provide additional relief to borrowers facing financial hardship due to COVID-19.