Alston & Bird Consumer Finance Blog

Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA)

CFPB Releases Long-Awaited Proposal to Amend Regulation X Loss Mitigation Rules

What Happened?

On July 10, 2024, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB or Bureau) proposed a rule to amend provisions of its Mortgage Servicing Rules to significantly revamp requirements relating to borrowers experiencing payment difficulties (the Proposed Rule).  The Proposed Rule includes a number of key changes to the servicing requirements in Regulation X (12 C.F.R. Part 1024), including limited English Proficiency requirements. While many of the key concepts were anticipated by the industry, the proposed provisions go much further than expected.

The Bureau is accepting comments on the Proposed Rule through September 9, 2024.

Why Does it Matter?

In June 2023, the Bureau signaled its intent to engage in rulemaking to streamline certain requirements and processes in the Mortgage Servicing Rules to significantly revamp requirements relating to borrowers experiencing payment difficulties (the Proposed Rule). The Proposed Rule would represent the first major changes to the Mortgage Servicing Rules since 2016 (although the Bureau has made targeted updates in the interim – such as the 2018 changes relating to periodic statements). We describe the key provisions below.

Loss Mitigation Procedures

Under the Proposed Rule, the CFPB would remove most of the existing application-based loss mitigation framework from § 1024.41, including the existing provisions regarding loss mitigation application reviews and notices; complete application evaluations and notices); “anti-evasion” facially-complete applications, and exceptions for short-term loss mitigation options and COVID-19-related options; notices of complete application; and the associated commentary.

The CFPB proposes to replace the existing loss mitigation framework with a new hand raise framework based on foreclosure procedural safeguards, as follows:

  • Loss Mitigation Review Cycle: Under the Proposed Rule, the foreclosure procedure safeguards begin once a “loss mitigation review cycle begins.”
    • A Loss Mitigation Review Cycle would be defined as a continuous period of time beginning when the borrower makes a request for loss mitigation assistance, provided the request is made more than 37 days before a foreclosure sale and ending when the loan is brought current or when the foreclosure process procedural safeguards (as discussed in Loss Mitigation Procedures) are met. A loss mitigation review cycle continues while a borrower is in a temporary or trial modification and the loan has not yet been brought current.
    • A Request for Loss Mitigation Assistance would include any oral or written communication occurring through any usual and customary channel for mortgage servicing communications whereby a borrower asked a service for mortgage review, including a borrower expresses an interest in pursuing a loss mitigation option. There are a few things to note in this definition. The definition is to be interpreted broadly to include (i) a borrower who expresses an interest in pursuing a loss mitigation option, (ii) a borrower who indicates that they have experienced a hardship and asks the servicer for assistance with making payments, retaining their home, or avoiding foreclosure, or (iii) in response to a servicer’s unsolicited offer of a “loss mitigation option” (as that term is currently defined in Regulation X), a borrower expresses an interest in pursuing either the loss mitigation option offered or any other loss mitigation option. According to the Proposed Rule’s preamble, “a servicer should presume that a borrower who experiences a delinquency has made a request for loss mitigation assistance when they contact the servicer unless they clearly express some other intention.” The proposal clarifies that certain informal types of communications (such as social media messaging or handwritten notes on payment coupons) would not constitute a request for loss mitigation assistance but fails to provide servicers flexibility to designate where borrowers can make such requests.
  • Foreclosure Procedural Safeguards: Under the Proposed Rule, once a “loss mitigation review cycle” begins, a servicer would be prohibited from beginning or advancing the foreclosure process until one of the following procedural safeguards is met:
    • The servicer has reviewed the borrower for all available “loss mitigation options,” a defined term under existing Regulation X, and no available loss mitigation options remain, the servicer has sent the borrower all required notices required, and the borrower has not requested any appeal within the applicable time period or, if applicable, all of the borrower’s appeals have been denied; or
    • The borrower has not communicated with the servicer for at least 90 days despite the servicer having regularly taken steps to communicate with the borrower regarding their loss mitigation review and, if applicable, the servicer’s loss mitigation determination.

Importantly, the Proposed Rule would no longer require a borrower to submit a complete loss mitigation application in order to enjoy foreclosure protections. Rather, borrowers would receive the proposed foreclosure protections as soon as they request loss mitigation assistance.

  • Prohibition on Advancing Foreclosure: Currently, servicers are prohibited from making the first notice or filing required by applicable law for any judicial or non-judicial foreclosure process under certain circumstances, as well as from moving for foreclosure judgment or order of sale or conducting a foreclosure sale under other circumstances. However, currently, servicers may still proceed with other interim foreclosure actions, such as mediation or arbitration.

Under the Proposed Rule, if a borrower requests loss mitigation assistance more than 37 days before a foreclosure sale, a servicer would be prohibited from initiating or advancing foreclosure (which would also include sale scheduling or completion) unless one of the above foreclosure procedural safeguards are met. The CFPB notes that, under the proposed rule, advancing the foreclosure process would include any judicial or non-judicial actions that advance the foreclosure process and were not yet completed prior to the borrower’s request for a loss mitigation option. Such actions might include, for example, certain filings, such as those related to mediation, arbitration, or reinstatement that take place prior to final order or sale; certain affidavits, motions, and responses that advance the foreclosure process; or recordings or public notices that occur before a final foreclosure judgment or sale. Notably, the CFPB is not proposing to require servicers to dismiss pending foreclosures; however, a servicer may be required to make necessary filings to pause the foreclosure proceedings until the safeguards are met.

  • Sequential Loss Mitigation Review: Under the Proposed Rule’s loss mitigation framework, a servicer would no longer be required to collect a complete loss mitigation application for all available options prior to making a determination about whether to deny or to offer a loss mitigation option to a borrower. Accordingly, a servicer would be permitted, but not required to, review a borrower for loss mitigation options sequentially rather than simultaneously. Notably, the CFPB clarifies in the preamble to the Proposed Rule, that “[i]nvestor guidelines, including what are commonly referred to as waterfalls, will continue to determine whether any loss mitigation option is available and whether the borrower qualifies for a given option.”
  • Fee Prohibition: The CFPB is proposing to replace the temporary COVID-19 procedural safeguards in § 1024.41 with a proposed requirement that during a loss mitigation review cycle, no fees 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 shall accrue on the borrower’s account.

The CFPB states that the proposed fee protection “would be broad, and would restrict the accrual of interest, penalties, and fees during the loss mitigation review cycle.” The Bureau also acknowledges that “this broad prohibition may result in servicers making payments to third party companies for delinquency-related services that servicers may not be able to recoup[.]” However, the CFPB states that it has preliminarily “determine[d] that borrowers who have made a request for loss mitigation assistance should not continue accruing fees that make it harder for them to resolve the delinquency and avoid foreclosure” and “that fee protections may create incentives for servicers under the proposed new framework to efficiently process a borrower’s request for loss mitigation assistance and evaluate them for loss mitigation solutions quickly and accurately.” That said, given that the loss mitigation review framework could go on almost indefinitely, as noted below, it is hard to see how such efficiencies or incentives would be realized.

  • Duplicative Requests: Currently, a servicer is required to comply with the requirements of Regulation X for a borrower’s loss mitigation application, unless the servicer has previously complied with the requirements of that section for a complete loss mitigation application submitted by the borrower and the borrower has been delinquent at all times since submitting the prior complete application.

Significantly, the Proposed Rule would require that servicers comply with the requirements of proposed § 1024.41 for a borrower’s request for loss mitigation assistance during the same loss mitigation review cycle unless one of the procedural safeguards is met. Notably, the Proposed Rule would not appear to prohibit a borrower from re-requesting loss mitigation assistance indefinitely (and, thus, beginning a new loss mitigation review cycle with new foreclosure procedural safeguards), unless otherwise provided by investor guidelines.

Loss Mitigation Determination Notices

  • Coverage of Determination Notices Expanded: Currently, Regulation X requires that loss mitigation determination notices state, in relevant part, which loss mitigation options, if any, the servicer will offer to the borrower on behalf of the owner or assignee of the mortgage, the specific reason or reasons a borrower’s complete loss mitigation application is denied for any trial or permanent loan modification option available to the borrower and, if applicable, that the borrower has the right to appeal the denial of any loan modification option as well as the amount of time the borrower has to file such an appeal and any requirements for making an appeal.

The Proposed Rule would expand § 1024.41’s loss mitigation determination notice provisions to require that servicers provide determination notices for all types of loss mitigation offers and denials, including forbearances, deferrals, and partial claims.  In other words, servicers would be required to include in determination notices the specific reason or reasons a borrower’s loss mitigation request is denied for any loss mitigation option (not just loan modification options) available to the borrower as well as information regarding the borrower’s appeal rights (which would extend to all loss mitigation denials).

  • Expanded Information on Determination Notices: Under the Proposed Rule, in addition to disclosing the amount of time the borrower has to accept or reject an offer, the borrower’s right to appeal the loss mitigation determination, and the specific reason or reasons for that loss mitigation determination, a servicer’s determination notice would be required to include the following additional information:
    • Information about key borrower-provided inputs that served as the basis for the loss mitigation determination;
    • A telephone number, mailing address, and website address, where the borrower can access a list of non-borrower provided inputs used by the servicer in making the loss mitigation determination;
    • Information that would enable a borrower to access a list of all loss mitigation options that may be available from the investor; and
    • Information about all other loss mitigation options that may remain available, previously offered options that the borrower did not accept, and whether any offered option will remain available if the borrower requests review for additional options prior to accepting or rejecting the offer.

The expanded information requirements, as proposed, raise a number of unanswered questions.

For example, it is unclear what would constitute a “key” borrower-provided input. The preamble to the Proposed Rule suggests that any borrower-provided input that served as the basis for the servicer’s determination would arguably be covered. Similarly, it is unclear what is the scope of non-borrower provided inputs servicers must permit borrowers to access. For example, it is unclear whether servicers would be required to list that, among other things, the property is secured by a first-lien mortgage loan, the property is owner-occupied, and/or the borrower’s loan meets specified delinquency requirements (if applicable).

Further, the expanded notice requirements are likely to create significant operational challenges for servicers. For example, servicers will likely need to track not only the loss mitigation options generally made available by the owner or assignee of each loan they service, but also the loss mitigation options previously offered to each borrower, the options each borrower did not accept, and whether any previously offered option will remain available if a borrower requests review for additional options prior to accepting or rejecting the offer. These operational complexities are compounded by the fact that investors and agencies routinely update their loss mitigation guidelines.

  • Denial Due to Missing Documents or Information Not in Borrower’s Control: In addition to relocating the current requirements relating to when a servicer may deny a loss mitigation application due solely to missing information not in the borrower’s or servicer’s control, the Proposed Rule would also amend the requirements to align with other proposed changes.

First, the Proposed Rule would prohibit servicers from denying a request for loss mitigation assistance due solely to missing information not in the borrower’s or servicer’s control unless the servicer has “regularly taken steps” to obtain the missing information and has been unable to obtain the information for at least 90 days. The CFPB indicated that it “expects that regularly taking steps would minimally include repeated attempted contact through the 90-day period with the relevant third party from whom the servicer needs to obtain the information.” The intent is to “ensure that servicers are making efforts to obtain needed information before denying a loss mitigation application due to missing information.”  While the Bureau proposes to replace the term “reasonable diligence” with “regularly taking steps,” the CFPB “does not intend to reduce or to lessen a servicer’s current obligation to obtain missing documents or information not in the borrower’s control.”

Second, the Proposed Rule would require servicers to provide a notice to borrowers if they deny such a request for loss mitigation assistance. The notice would retain certain information currently required, including requiring a statement that the servicer will complete its evaluation of the borrower for all available loss mitigation options promptly upon receiving the missing third-party information, but also would provide borrowers with additional information, including informing the borrower that the servicer will complete its evaluation of the request for loss mitigation assistance if the servicer receives the referenced missing documents or information within 14 days of providing the missing information determination notice to the borrower.

Third, the Proposed Rule would require servicers to provide borrowers with detailed information, which includes, among other things, a list of all other loss mitigation options that are still available to the borrower and a statement describing the next steps the borrower must take to be reviewed for those loss mitigation options, or a statement that the servicer has reviewed the borrower for all available loss mitigation options and none remain.

  • Unsolicited Loss Mitigation Offers: The Proposed Rule would require that a servicer provide the borrower with a notice when it offers a loss mitigation option based solely on information that the servicer already has instead of new borrower-provided information. The notice would be required to include the amount of time the borrower has to accept or reject the offer of loss mitigation and information notifying the borrower, among other things, of all other loss mitigation options that may remain available to the borrower and investor information.

Notably, the Proposed Rule would not revise the definition of “loss mitigation option,” which includes, among other things, refinancings. Moreover, the requirement to provide notice for unsolicited loss mitigation offers would not be limited to delinquent borrowers. As a result, it is unclear whether a lender/servicer that makes an unsolicited refinancing offer based solely on information that the lender/servicer already has (such as for a streamline refinancing) would be subject to the proposed notice requirement.

Loss Mitigation Error Resolution and Appeals

The CFPB proposes two significant changes to the notice of error provisions:

  • Covered Errors Expanded: The CFPB proposes to clarify that a failure to make an accurate loss mitigation determination on a borrower’s mortgage loan is a covered error, subject to the procedural requirements of § 1024.35.  According to the Bureau, this is merely clarifying its longstanding position, although courts have thought differently.
  • Notice of Appeal Also Covered Error: The Bureau is proposing that a notice of appeal could also be subject to the error resolution procedural requirements and vice versa.  More specifically, when an appeal meets the error resolution procedural requirements of § 1024.35, the proposed rule would require servicers to treat it as a notice of error and comply with the procedural requirements.  Similarly, if a borrower submits a notice of error under § 1024.35 relating to a loss mitigation determination, the notice of error would also constitute an appeal under Regulation X if the borrower submits the notice of error within 14 days after the servicer provides its loss mitigation determination.  When a notice of error is also an appeal, the Proposed Rule would require a servicer to complete the notice of error response requirements in § 1024.35 prior to making a determination about the borrower’s appeal.  So, a servicer would need to comply with the 30-day time period for a notice of appeal even in those instances where the notice of error provisions provides a longer response time.

Early Intervention

In addition to removing language relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Proposed Rule would make the following changes to the early intervention requirements in existing § 1024.39:

  • Written Early Intervention Notice Requirements: Under the Proposed Rule, servicers would be required to include the following additional information in the written early intervention notice:
    • The name of the owner or assignee of the borrower’s loan along with a statement providing a brief description of each type of loss mitigation option that is generally available from the investor of the borrower’s loan;
    • A website address and telephone number where the borrower can access a list of all loss mitigation options that may be available from the owner or assignee of the borrower’s loan; and
    • If applicable, a statement informing the borrower how to make a request for loss mitigation assistance.
  • Alternative Early Intervention Requirements for Performing Borrowers in Forbearance: The Proposed Rule would partially exempt servicers from the live contact and written early intervention notice requirements while a borrower is performing pursuant to the terms of a forbearance.
  • Terms of a Forbearance: The Proposed Rule would require that, at least 30 days, but no more than 45 days, before the scheduled end of the forbearance, the servicer establish, or make good faith efforts to establish, live contact with the borrower. During this contact, the servicer would be required to inform the borrower of the date the borrower’s current forbearance is scheduled to end and of the availability of loss mitigation options, if appropriate. In addition, the Proposed Rule would require that the servicer to provide a written notice, that discloses the date the borrower’s current forbearance is scheduled to end as well as the information required by the proposed written early intervention notice, at least 30 days, but no more than 45 days, before the scheduled end of the forbearance. The Proposed Rule also would require that, when a forbearance ends for any reason, a servicer must resume compliance with the early intervention and live contact requirements on the next payment due date following the forbearance end date.

Given the narrow time frame (15 days) within which servicers must establish, or make good faith efforts to establish, live contact with a borrower before the scheduled end of the borrower’s forbearance, this proposed requirement may create operational challenges for servicers.

Language Access

Currently, Regulation X does not contain requirements concerning serving limited English proficient borrowers. In its proposal, the Bureau strongly states that it “expects mortgage servicers to assist borrowers with limited English proficiency.”  To that end, and without clear statutory authority and without providing proposed regulation text, the CFPB proposes the following:

  • Specified Written Communications Required in Spanish: Servicers would be required to accurately (which term is not defined) translate into Spanish the specified written communications, meaning the early intervention notices (but not the website listing loss mitigation options that the CFPB is proposing) and notices whose forbearances will soon end, as well as written notices concerning loss mitigation. A servicer would be required to provide the Spanish and English versions to all borrowers.
  • Translations of Certain Written and Oral Communications in Five Additional Languages: Upon borrower request, servicers would be required to provide accurate translations of the specified written communication in one of the servicer-selected languages. Additionally, upon borrower request, the servicer would be required to make available and establish a connection with interpretative services before or within a reasonable time of establishing connection with the borrower during the specified oral communications to the extent that the borrower’s requested language is one selected by the servicer under the Proposed Rule. The specified oral communications would be the live contact and continuity of contact requirements. The servicer would be required to select five of the most frequently used languages from languages spoken by a significant majority of their non-Spanish speaking borrowers with limited English proficiency.
  • In-language Statements: Servicers would also be required to provide five brief statements accurately translated into the five languages selected by the servicer in the English version of the specified written communications. These statements would identify the availability of translation and interpretative services for the specified written and oral communications in the five languages and how borrowers can request such services.
  • Solicitation through Servicing: Under the Proposed Rule, if a borrower received marketing for their mortgage loan before origination in a language other than English, and the servicer knows or should have known of that marketing, the servicer would be required to make available translations or interpretations for that language even if it is not one of the servicer-selected languages.
  • Accurate translations: Failure to provide accurate translations or interpretations would result in a violation of the proposed requirement and the underling requirement.

Other Servicing Issues

In addition to the principal changes outlined above, the CFPB is seeking comments on a number of other topics that impact borrowers and servicers’ practices, to include credit reporting, zombie mortgages, and successors in interest.

  • Credit Reporting: The CFPB notes in its proposal that credit reporting issues arise with borrowers undergoing loss mitigation, specifically with respect to the accuracy and consistency of the information that servicers furnish. Specifically, the CFPB calls out the examples of:
    • after a borrower and servicer have agreed to a loss mitigation option, and the borrower is performing under the terms of that option, the servicer furnishing information to a credit reporting agency indicating that the borrower is delinquent based on the loan terms in place prior to the loss mitigation option; and
    • a servicer inconsistently using, or failing to use, appropriate industry guidance when reporting tradeline data for borrowers affected by a natural disaster, especially with respect to reporting optional data or reporting data without appropriate context.

In light of these issues, the Bureau is requesting public comment about how it could ensure that servicers furnish accurate and consistent credit reporting information for borrowers in connection.  Specifically, the CFPB is soliciting comment on:

    • What servicer practices may result in the furnishing of inaccurate or inconsistent information about mortgages undergoing loss mitigation review?
    • What protocols or practices do servicers currently use to ensure that mortgages are reported accurately and consistently? Are there specific protocols or practices for ensuring that loans in forbearance, or affected by natural disasters, are reported accurately and consistently?
    • Would it be helpful to have a special code to flag all mortgages undergoing loss mitigation review in tradeline data?
    • What steps should the CFPB take to ensure that servicers furnish accurate and consistent tradeline data?
  • Zombie Mortgages: Over the past year, the CFPB has become increasingly vocal about the issues that “zombie” (i.e., dormant, subordinate-lien) mortgage debt may pose to consumers, opining that certain protections under TILA, RESPA, and the Mortgage Servicing Rules apply to the collection of such debt. To guide further action, the Bureau is requesting public comment on the prevalence of zombie mortgages, whether such mortgages are likely to cause consumer harm in the future, and what action the CFPB could take to protect borrowers.
  • Successors in Interest: The Bureau’s major amendments to the Mortgage Servicing Rules in 2016 included the addition of provisions relating to successors in interest (using the framework established by the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982). The CFPB notes in the introduction to the Proposed Rule that it continues to receive feedback on challenges these provisions pose – whether by restricting the ability of successors in interest to take advantage of the protections, or by unintentionally excluding certain categories of consumers from the definition of a successor in interest.  Accordingly, the Bureau is requesting comment, data, and information on the prevalence of issues relating to successors in interest, as well as comment on what additional actions it could take to better protect potential, confirmed, and prospective successors in interest.

Similarly, as part of the Proposed Rule the CFPB is considering updates to its commentary to Regulation X, particularly as it relates to a request for loss mitigation assistance received from a potential successor in interest prior to confirming that individual’s identity and ownership interest in the property, and to the application of the Proposed Rule’s foreclosure procedural safeguards.

Impact on “Small Servicers”

Important to note is that the requirements of the Proposed Rule would not apply to a “small servicer,” meaning an entity that:

  • Services (together with any affiliates) 5,000 or fewer mortgage loans, for all of which the servicer (or an affiliate) is the creditor or assignee;
  • Is a Housing Finance Agency (as defined in 24 C.F.F. § 266.5); or
  • Is a non-profit entity (i.e., a 501(c)(3)) that services 5,000 or fewer mortgage loans on behalf of associated non-profit entities, for all of which the servicer or associated entity is the creditor.

What Do I Need to Do?

Given that this represents the first widespread changes to the Mortgage Servicing Rules in eight years, the Proposed Rule could result in significant changes to industry practices – requiring investment of time and other resources as servicers consider the move toward implementing new requirements.  At the Proposed Rule stage – when the opportunity for public comment remains open – servicers should carefully review the Bureau’s proposal to consider how it would impact servicing practices, and whether they can offer public comment or data that would be beneficial to guiding the CFPB as it moves forward in implementing amendments to Regulation X.  Servicers should consider submitting a comment letter to ensure that the Bureau receives any necessary feedback on the Proposed Rule and its invitations for data and other information.


CFPB’s Message to Mortgage Servicers: Make Sure You Comply with RESPA’s Force-Placed Insurance Requirements

A&B Abstract:

In Case You Missed It:  At the recent Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Symposium on Property Insurance, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra spoke about force-placed insurance and conveyed the following message: “The CFPB will be carefully monitoring mortgage market participants, especially mortgage servicers to ensure they are meeting all of their obligations to consumers under the law.”

The CFPB’s servicing rules set forth in RESPA’s Regulation X specifically regulate force-placed insurance. For purposes of those requirements, the term “force-placed insurance” means hazard insurance obtained by a servicer on behalf of the owner or assignee of a mortgage loan that insures the property securing such loan. In turn, “hazard insurance” means insurance on the property securing a residential mortgage loan that protects the property against loss caused by fire, wind, flood, earthquake, falling objects, freezing, and other similar hazards for which the owner or assignee of such loan requires assistance. However, force-placed insurance excludes, for example, hazard insurance required by the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973, or hazard insurance obtained by a borrower but renewed by a company in accordance with normal escrow procedures.

Given the Bureau’s announcement, now is a good time to confirm that your company has adequate controls in place to ensure compliance with all of the technical requirements of RESPA’s force-placed insurance provisions.  Set forth below are some of the many questions to consider:

Escrowed Borrowers:

  • When a borrower maintains an escrow account and is more than 30 days past due, does the company ensure that force-placed insurance is only purchased if the company is unable to disburse funds from the borrower’s escrow account?
    • A company will be considered “unable to disburse funds” when the company has a reasonable basis to believe that (i) the borrower’s hazard insurance has been canceled (or was not renewed) for reasons other than nonpayment of premium charges; or (ii) the borrower’s property is vacant.
    • However, a company will not be “unable to disburse funds” only because the escrow account does not contain sufficient funds to pay the hazards insurance charges.

Required Notices:

  • Does the company ensure that the initial, reminder, and renewal notices required for force-placed insurance strictly conform to the timing, content, format, and delivery requirements of Regulation X?

Charges and Fees:

  • Does the company ensure that no premium charge or fee related to force-placed insurance will be assessed to the borrower unless the company has met the waiting periods following the initial and reminder notices to the borrower that the borrower has failed to comply with the mortgage loan contract’s requirements to maintain hazard insurance, and sufficient time has elapsed?
  • Are the company’s fees and charges bona fide and reasonable? Fees and charges should:
    • Be for services actually performed;
    • Bear a reasonable relationship to the cost of providing the service(s); and
    • Not be prohibited by applicable law.
  • Does the company have an adequate basis to assess any premium charge or fee related to force-placed insurance, meaning that the company has a reasonable basis to believe that the borrower has failed to comply with the mortgage loan contract’s requirement to maintain hazard insurance because the borrower’s coverage is expiring, has expired or is insufficient?
  • Does the company have appropriate controls in place to ensure that the company will not assess any premium charge or fee related to force-place insurance to the borrower if the company receives evidence that the borrower has maintained continuous hazard insurance coverage that complies with the fee requirements of the loan contract prior to the expiration of the waiting periods (at least 45 days have elapsed since the company delivered the initial notice and at least 15 days have elapsed since the company delivered the reminder notice)?
  • Will the company accept any of the following as evidence of continuous hazard insurance coverage:
    • A copy of the borrower’s hazard insurance policy declarations page;
    • The borrower’s insurance certificate;
    • The borrower’s insurance policy; or
    • Another similar form of written confirmation?
  • Does the company recognize that the borrower will be considered to have maintained continuous coverage despite a late payment when applicable law or the borrower’s policy contemplates a grace period for the payment of the hazard insurance premium and a premium payment is made within that period and accepted by the insurance company with no lapse in coverage?
  • Within 15 days of receiving evidence (from any source) demonstrating that the borrower has maintained hazard insurance coverage that complies with the hazard insurance requirements in the loan contract, does the company:
    • Cancel any force-placed insurance that the company has purchased to insure the borrower’s property; and
    • Refund to the borrower all force-placed insurance premium charges and related fees paid by such borrower for any period of overlapping insurance coverage and remove from the borrower’s account all force-placed insurance charges and related fees that the company assessed to the borrower for such period?

And let’s not forget that companies must continue to comply with the above requirements if the company is a debt collector under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) with respect to a borrower and that borrower has exercised a “cease communication” right under the FDCPA.  Of course, failure to comply with the Regulation X requirements could also result in violations of UDAAP and FDCPA provisions.


Given that the CFPB is telegraphing its upcoming review of servicers’ force-placed insurance practices, now is a good time for companies to ensure that their compliance management programs are robust enough to ensure compliance with all the technical requirements of RESPA’s force-placed insurance requirements. Alston & Bird’s Consumer Financial Services team is happy to assist with such a review.

Correspondent Lending on the Rise: Increasing Gains Point to Increasing Risk

A&B Abstract:

According to a recent edition of Inside Mortgage Finance, correspondent lending is the only lending channel that posted gains in Q3 2023. While it is always nice to see gains, it should also serve as a reminder to take a fresh look at your risk management program to ensure it is calibrated to address the unique risks of correspondent lending.

To level set, we define a correspondent lender as one who performs the activities necessary to originate a mortgage loan, i.e., takes and processes applications, provides required disclosures, and often, but not always, underwrites loans and makes the final credit decision. The correspondent lender closes loans in its name, funds the loans (often through a warehouse line of credit), and sells them to an investor by prior agreement.

The risk that correspondent misconduct poses to an investor falls broadly into three categories:  legal risk, reputational risk, and credit risk. Legal risk refers to the risk that the investor will be subject to legal claims based on the misconduct of the correspondent, or that the correspondent misconduct somehow will impair the investor’s rights under the loan agreements. Reputational risk refers to the risk of damage to the company’s reputation among investors, regulators, the public at large, counterparties, etc. Credit risk refers to the risk that correspondents will fail to conform to the investor’s underwriting guidelines or credit standards. We include fraud within this category.

In this post, we provide, in our assessment, an overview of the types of claims that pose the greatest legal risks, as well as best practices to mitigate such risks.

Theories of Liability on Assignees

The following laws and/or legal theories, in our assessment, pose the greatest risk of either vicarious liability or economic risk to assignees for the misconduct of correspondents:

  • Holder in Due Course:  Under the Uniform Commercial Code, if an assignee or “holder” of a mortgage loan rises to the level of a Holder in Due Course, it can enforce the borrower’s obligations notwithstanding certain defenses to repayment or claims in recoupment that the borrower may have against the original payee. If Holder in Due Course status is never attained or is lost, the purchaser of a mortgage loan will be subject to certain defenses to payment and claims in recoupment that the mortgagor may have against the original payee.
  • Truth-in-Lending Act (TILA): An assignee may be exposed to civil liability for a TILA violation that is apparent on the face of the disclosure statement.  In addition, for certain violations of TILA, a consumer may have an extended right to rescind a loan for up to three years from consummation. The consumer may exercise this right against an assignee. Moreover, amendments to TILA pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”) expand the liability of assignees in connection with certain TILA violations, including violations relating to the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure or TILA’s ability to repay, loan originator compensation, and anti-steering provisions.
  • Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (“HOEPA”) / Section 32 “High Cost” Loans: Subject to certain exceptions, an assignee of a HOEPA loan is subject to all claims and defenses with respect to the mortgage that the consumer could assert against the original creditor.
  • Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”): ECOA’s broad definition of “creditor” may place liability on assignees for the statute’s anti-discrimination and disclosure requirements where the assignee “regularly participates” in the credit decision.
  • State and Local Anti-Predatory Lending Laws: A number of states have passed anti-predatory lending laws that contain assignee liability provisions similar to those found in HOEPA with triggers that may differ from HOEPA. An assignee of a loan covered by such a state law will be subject to certain claims and defenses with respect to the mortgage that the consumer could assert against the original creditor.
  • Aiding and Abetting: Under the common law theory of aiding and abetting, loan purchasers and other parties can be held responsible for the acts of the lender that originated the loan, particularly if they (i) knew that the originating lender was engaged in “predatory” practices, and (ii) gave substantial assistance or encouragement to the originating lender. The Dodd-Frank Act also imposes aiding and abetting liability.
  • State and Federal Defenses to Foreclosure: Certain state laws expressly provide that a violation of the law may be asserted by a borrower as a defense against foreclosure, either as a bar to foreclosure or as a claim for recoupment or setoff. In addition, courts may invoke UDAP or UDAAP statutes or equitable remedies to prevent an originator or assignee from foreclosing on a loan that the court views as abusive or unfair.  Finally, as noted above, violations of TILA’s ability to repay, loan originator compensation, and anti-steering provisions may also be raised defensively to delay or prevent foreclosure.
  • State Licensing and Usury Laws: Certain state laws provide for the impairment of the mortgage loan if the originating lender was not properly licensed or the loan exceeded state usury limits.
  • Challenges to Ownership: Plaintiffs are increasingly raising concerns about investors’ or servicers’ authority to foreclose when the investor cannot produce original loan documents or otherwise verify ownership of the loan, although this risk is lessened when an investor acquires the loan directly from the original creditor.

The list above reflects the laws and legal theories that are most commonly used to impose liability on assignees and/or that we believe will be of increasing prominence going forward. There are other federal and state laws that might also expose assignees to liability, either expressly or by implication. There are also claims against an assignee based on the assignee’s own misconduct in connection with the origination of the loan. An example of a direct claim against an assignee related to loan origination would be a claim under fair lending laws that the underwriting criteria that the assignee established and provided to its correspondents violated fair lending laws. Of course, there are plenty of other risks that the assignee may need to manage, such as the risk of loss from fraud perpetrated against the assignee by borrowers or correspondents; the risk of correspondents’ non-compliance with the investor’s underwriting criteria; or the risk of liability from servicing violations.

Best Practices to Mitigate Correspondent Lending Risk

A financial institution should consider adopting the following best practices to mitigate against the legal, reputational, and credit risks presented by correspondent lending relationships, to the extent the institution has not done so already:

  • Ensure that its compliance management system reflects the legal and regulatory requirements relevant to correspondent lending activity and the risks presented by correspondent lending relationships, that the company has in place monitoring, testing, and audit processes commensurate with such risks, and that the company’s compliance training includes material relevant to the management of correspondent lending relationships and their associated risks.
  • Prepare written policies and procedures that explain comprehensively the steps the company takes to minimize the risk that it will be subjected to liability for violations by correspondents.
  • Conduct due diligence reviews to ensure that correspondents are properly licensed, particularly in those states in which the failure to be licensed could impair the enforceability of the loan.
  • Conduct company-level due diligence reviews of correspondents to assess whether the correspondent is willing and able to comply with applicable laws and avoid engaging in practices that might be considered predatory. This might involve reviewing the company’s policies and procedures, examination reports prepared by regulators (to the extent that such reports are not confidential), repurchase demands made against the correspondent, internal quality control reports, complaints received from consumers and regulators, and information about litigation in which the company is involved.
  • Interview correspondents regarding their policies and procedures designed to prevent predatory sales tactics and other predatory lending practices.
  • Question correspondents regarding the measures they use to oversee and monitor the brokers with whom they do business.
  • Perform loan-level reviews to ensure that loans (1) do not exceed HOEPA and state/local high cost loan law thresholds, (2) exceed state usury limits (particularly in states in which the failure to comply can impair the enforceability of the loan), (3) either are not covered by state or local anti-predatory lending laws or comply with the applicable restrictions under those laws, (4) comply with state usury restrictions, and (5) do not contain other illegal terms or predatory features.


With correspondent lending volume on the rise, now is a good time to review and possibly refresh your risk management approach to ensure it is commensurate with the risks presented by correspondent lending relationships.

CFPB Issues Advisory Opinion Warning Against Kickbacks for Mortgage Rate Shopping Platforms

A&B ABstract:

Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued an advisory opinion to address the applicability of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA)’s Section 8 – the anti-kickback provision – to operators of certain digital technology platforms that enable consumers to comparison shop for mortgages and other real estate settlement services. These platforms include those that generate potential leads for the platform participants through consumers’ interactions with the platform, referred to by the CFPB as Digital Mortgage Comparison-Shopping Platforms.

The Advisory Opinion

The Advisory Opinion is an interpretive rule issued under the CFPB’s authority to interpret RESPA and Regulation X, including under section 1022(b)(1) of the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010, which authorizes guidance as may be necessary or appropriate to enable the CFPB to administer and carry out the purposes and objectives of federal consumer financial laws.

The Advisory Opinion provides that an operator of a Digital Mortgage Comparison-Shopping Platform violates RESPA section 8 if the platform provides enhanced placement or otherwise steers consumers to platform participants based on compensation the platform operator receives from those participants rather than based on neutral criteria.

More specifically, the Advisory Opinion states that an operator of a Digital Mortgage Comparison-Shopping Platform receives a prohibited referral fee in violation of RESPA section 8 when: (1) the Digital Mortgage Comparison-Shopping Platform non-neutrally uses or presents information about one or more settlement service providers participating on the platform; (2) such non-neutral use or presentation of information has the effect of steering the consumer to use, or otherwise affirmatively influences the selection of, those settlement service providers, thus constituting referral activity; and (3) the operator receives a payment or other thing of value that is, at least in part, for that referral activity. In other words, where the platform’s operator presents lenders based on extracted referral payments rather than the shopper’s personal data or preferences or other objective criteria, the platform has violated section 8 of RESPA. The CFPB provides two (2) examples of prohibited conduct:

  • Platform operator presents a lender as the best option because that lender pays the highest referral fee. However, the shopper is led to believe the lender was selected based on their shared personal data or preferences.
  • Platform receives payments from lenders to rotate them as the top presented option regardless of whether the highlighted lender is the best fit for the shopper.

Furthermore, if an operator of a Digital Mortgage Comparison-Shopping Platform receives a higher fee for including one settlement service provider compared to what it receives for including other settlement service providers participating on the same platform, the CFPB views this as evidence of an illegal referral fee arrangement (absent other facts indicating that the payment is not for enhanced placement or other form of steering). Ultimately, where a platform’s formula is designed to steer shoppers to use providers in which the operator has a financial stake, the platform has violated section 8 of RESPA.


The CFPB is concerned that Digital Mortgage Comparison-Shopping Platforms, particularly popular during a time of increasing mortgage interest rates, may attempt to take advantage of consumers rather than provide them with a neutral and fair presentation of the providers that may best meet their mortgage or other settlement needs. Any entity involved, even tangentially, in the mortgage settlement process, should ensure that services are offered based on neutral criteria rather than the compensation received from a third-party provider.

Assumptions on the Rise: Are You Ready for Mortgage Assumptions?

A&B ABstract:

Mortgage assumptions – where a buyer assumes the existing mortgage loan of a seller – have fluctuated in popularity since the 1980s. However, inflation and the high interest rate environment, coupled with an observable shift to a buyer’s market, are raising the prospect that assumable mortgages – especially those with historically low interest rates – are likely to become a selling point for potential sellers. Statements by the real estate broker industry, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and former Ginnie Mae officials, to name a few, corroborate this hunch. Ultimately, given these rumblings, it appears that lenders, and more so mortgage servicers, will need to prepare for a potential increase in mortgage assumption volume. Below are several key considerations with respect to mortgage assumptions.

Servicer Capabilities

Servicers generally will need to diligently evaluate the assuming buyer’s creditworthiness. In certain cases, servicers may need to offer and service home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) and second liens to support the cost difference between the amount of the loan to be assumed and the cost of the property. Further, as servicers will likely have to evaluate the assuming consumer’s credit eligibility in connection with the processing of most mortgage assumptions, such activities may give rise to additional state mortgage lender and/or loan originator licensing obligations. While the federal SAFE Mortgage Licensing Act and its implementing Regulation G and H generally do not consider mortgage loan origination activity to encompass a servicer’s activities in connection with the processing of a loan modification, when the borrower is reasonably likely to default, there is no such exemption for mortgage assumptions. Moreover, states that license mortgage loan origination activities may vary as to whether a license is required to process an assumption.

 Investor Restrictions

Even if a buyer is deemed creditworthy to assume the seller’s mortgage payments, the agency or investor backing the seller’s mortgage loan must approve the assumption. Most government-backed mortgage loans, such as those guaranteed or insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are assumable, provided specific requirements are met.  On the other hand, conventional mortgages (i.e., loans meeting the requirements for purchase by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the “GSEs”)) may be more difficult to assume.

It is important to note that the requirements for processing and/or approving an assumption vary from agency to agency and among the GSEs. By way of example:

  • FHA loans are assumable if the buyer meets certain credit requirements, according to FHA guidelines. Buyers who assume FHA mortgages pay off the remaining balance at the current rate, and the lender releases the seller from the loan.
  • VA mortgage assumption guidelines are similar to FHA, with some notable differences. The VA or the VA-approved lender must evaluate the creditworthiness of the buyer, who generally must also pay a VA funding fee of 0.5% of the loan balance as of the transfer date. Unlike new loans, buyers can’t finance the funding fee when assuming a loan, it must be paid in cash at the time of transfer. Moreover, the only way the seller can have their VA entitlement restored would be to have the home assumed by a fellow eligible active-duty service member, reservist, veteran, or eligible surviving spouse.
  • USDA permits loan assumptions but operates differently from FHA-insured or VA-guaranteed loans. For example, according to USDA guidelines, when most buyers assume a USDA loan, the lender will generally issue new terms, which may include a new rate.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may permit an assumption under certain circumstances. For example, Fannie Mae may permit the assumption of certain first-lien adjustable-rate mortgage (ARMs) loans that have not been converted to a fixed-rate-mortgage loan.

Due-on-Sale Clauses

Many conventional mortgages today contain “due-on-sale” clauses that authorize a lender, at its option, to declare due and payable sums secured by the lender’s security interest if all or any part of the property, or an interest therein, securing the loan is sold or transferred without the lender’s prior written consent. However, the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act prohibits a lender from exercising its option pursuant to a due-on-sale clause in connection with certain exempt transfers or dispositions, including, among others: (1) a transfer by devise, descent, or operation of law on the death of a joint tenant or tenant by the entirety; (2) a transfer to a relative resulting from the death of a borrower; (3) a transfer where the spouse or children of the borrower become an owner of the property; and (4) a transfer resulting from a decree of a dissolution of marriage, legal separation agreement, or from an incidental property settlement agreement, by which the spouse of the borrower becomes an owner of the property. 12 U.S.C. § 1701j–3(d).


Whether an assumption fee can be charged, and the amount of such fee, will depend on many factors including application of the Garn-St. Germain Act, the CFPB mortgage servicing rules, investor and agency guidelines, and state laws. Further, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) may impact whether a servicer may assess and collect an assumption fee. While most states neither expressly permit nor prohibit assumption fees, several other states, such as Idaho and Michigan, explicitly recognize and permit assumption fees in limited cases (e.g., only where the fee is included in the purchase contract or other agreement). Other states may regulate the amount of an assumption fee. For example, Colorado law limits assumption fees to one-half of 1% of the outstanding principal mortgage amount.

General Federal Consumer Financial Compliance

Assumption transactions also raise compliance considerations under federal consumer financial laws. Under TILA and Regulation Z, an assumption occurs if the transaction meets the following elements: (1) includes the creditor’s express acceptance of the new consumer as a primary obligor; (2) includes the creditor’s express acceptance in a written agreement; and (3) is a “residential mortgage transaction” as to the new consumer. 12 C.F.R. § 1026.20(b). A “residential mortgage transaction” is a transaction: (a) in which a security interest is created or retained in the new consumer’s principal dwelling; and (b) which finances the acquisition or initial construction of the new consumer’s principal dwelling. 12 C.F.R. 1026.2(a)(24). If the transaction is an assumption under Regulation Z (12 C.F.R. § 1026.20(b)), then, as noted by the CFPB in its TILA-RESPA Factsheet, creditors must provide a Loan Estimate and Closing Disclosure, unless the transaction is otherwise exempt. Moreover, the assumption transaction may also trigger requirements under Regulation Z’s loan originator compensation and ability-to-repay rules.

With respect to RESPA and Regulation X, however, assumptions are exempt unless the mortgage instruments require lender approval for the assumption and the lender approves the assumption. Specifically, Regulation X expressly exempts from its coverage any “assumption in which the lender does not have the right expressly to approve a subsequent person as the borrower on an existing federally related mortgage loan.” 12 C.F.R. § 1024.5(b)(5). By way of example, the Fannie/Freddie Uniform Security Instrument provides that:

Subject to the provisions of Section 18, any Successor in Interest of Borrower who assumes Borrower’s obligations under this Security Instrument in writing, and is approved by Lender, shall obtain all of Borrower’s rights and obligations under this Security Instrument.  Borrower shall not be released from Borrower’s obligations and liability under this Security Instrument unless Lender agrees to such release in writing.  The covenants and agreements of this Security Instrument shall bind (except as provided in Section 20) and benefit successors of Lender.

Finally, with respect to the CFPB’s Mortgage Servicing Rules, if a successor in interest assumes a mortgage loan obligation under state law or is otherwise liable on the mortgage loan obligation, the protections that the consumer enjoys under Regulation X go beyond the protections that apply to a confirmed successor in interest. 12 C.F.R. § 1024.30(d).


The processing of mortgage assumptions involves many of the same regulatory considerations as originating a new loan. However, because of varying requirements under agency and investor guidelines, there are several unique aspects to processing assumptions, which may pose challenges for servicers that do not regularly engage in mortgage origination. The economic climate appears to be ripe for an uptick in mortgage loan assumption activity. Accordingly, servicers should ensure their compliance management systems are prepared to manage the associated compliance risks.