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Consumer Finance State Roundup

The latest edition of the Consumer Finance State Roundup features recently enacted measures of potential interest from Colorado and South Carolina:

  • Colorado: Effective May 17, House Bill 24-1011 (2024 Colo. Sess. Laws 189) adds new Section  38-40-106 to the Colorado Revised Statutes addressing requirements for mortgage servicers with respect to the disbursement of insurance proceeds in connection with mortgaged residential property.

First, the new section sets forth certain actions that mortgage servicers must take regarding disbursement of insurance proceeds to borrowers.  Upon a borrower’s request, a mortgage servicer must promptly disclose to the borrower specific conditions under which it will disburse insurance proceeds to the borrower in the event a residential property subject to a mortgage is damaged or destroyed and an insurance company pays insurance proceeds to satisfy a claim for such damage or destruction.  Next, upon receipt from a borrower of a “repair plan” or a “rebuild plan” (either of which the borrower must develop in consultation with a contractor), a mortgage servicer has 30 days to approve or deny such plan.  A repair plan or rebuild plan must include specific milestones, enumerated in the new section, that require the mortgage servicer to disburse insurance proceeds in certain amounts upon meeting those milestones.

Second, immediately when it begins servicing a borrower’s mortgage and upon the borrower’s request thereafter, a mortgage servicer must disclose to the borrower the interest rate associated with the mortgage and provide the borrower with contact information of a primary point of contact for communication with the mortgage servicer.

Finally, the measure makes conforming amendments to the Non-bank Mortgage Servicers Act by adding new Section 5-21-107.5, and repeals Section 10-4-112 as it pertains to property damage and time of payment provisions.

  • South Carolina:  Effective November 21, Senate Bill 700 enacts the “South Carolina Earned Wage Access Services Act,” (the “Act”), S.C. Code Ann. §§ 39-5-810 et seq. For purposes of the Act, “earned wage access services” means “the business of providing consumer-directed wage access services [“offering or providing earned wage access services directly to consumers”] or employer-integrated wage services.” In addition to administrative provisions (e.g., application, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements), we note the following:

First, the Act requires a “provider” – a business entity that will engage in the business of providing earned wage access services to consumers – to register with the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs (“Department”).  However, the Act does not apply entities doing business under South Carolina or federal laws relating to banks, credit unions, savings and loan associations, savings banks, or trust companies.

Second, the Act sets forth compliance obligations for a provider.  Among other requirements, a provider must: (a) develop and implement policies and procedures to respond to questions raised by consumers and address any consumer complaints in an expedient manner; and (b) offer a consumer at least one reasonable option to obtain proceeds at no cost to the consumer, and clearly explain to the consumer how to elect such no-cost option.

Third, the Act prohibits a provider from engaging in certain conducting, such as charging a late fee, interest, or any other penalty or charge for failure to repay outstanding proceeds.

Appraisal Bias Settlement: Potential Roadmap

What Happened?

The lender and consumers reached a settlement in an appraisal bias case, Nathan Connolly and Shani Mott v. Shane Lanham, 20/20 Valuations, LLC, and loanDepot.com, LLC, filed in Maryland District Court, that gained the attention of the CFPB and DOJ. While some of the terms in the settlement are already industry standard, there appear to be some newer obligations that could be a template for other lenders to follow.

Why it Matters?

The settlement is important – both for what it does and what it doesn’t do. Unfortunately, the settlement does not address the question of whether a lender is responsible for the actions of an appraiser who is neither an employee nor an agent of the lender.

By way of background, in response to the Great Financial Crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act established new rules to ensure appraisal independence and address issues of inflated appraisals or overvaluation. More recently, however, partially due to changes in the market, consumers have lodged complaints of undervaluation, alleging that discrimination resulted in the appraisal coming in too low.

Given this increase in complaints and the Administration’s focus on racial equity, regulators have been grappling with how best to address and eliminate appraisal bias. Prior to the settlement, the CFPB and DOJ jointly made arguments in a statement of interest that would hold lenders liable for the actions of an appraiser who is neither an employee nor an agent of the lender.

In response, the MBA issued an amicus brief requesting that the Court recognize that there is no existing legal authority to hold a lender liable for the alleged actions of an independent appraiser. The resulting settlement is silent on this point.

The settlement does, however, impose several obligations on the lender and its and appraisal management companies (AMCs), providing insight into what the mortgage industry could do to combat appraisal bias.

In particular, the settlement requires mortgage loan applications be provided with information on how to raise concerns with a valuation sufficiently early in the valuation process so that issues or errors can be resolved before a final decision on the application is made, including:

  • The right to request a reconsideration of value (ROV) as soon as possible;
  • A description of the process to obtain an ROV (which may not create unreasonable barriers or discourage applicants from making ROV requests) and a description of the lender’s evaluation process;
  • If the ROV is denied or the value is unchanged, a written explanation of the lender’s evaluation of the submitted material;
  • The standards that trigger a second appraisal; and
  • The applicant’s right to file a complaint with the CFPB or HUD, as part of the ROV process.

Further, the settlement requires the lender to:

  • Conduct statistical analysis tracking appraisal outcomes by protected class and neighborhood demographics including whether the loan was denied, whether a second appraisal was ordered, and whether there was a change in the valuation as a result of the ROV process. Such analysis must track individual appraisers including appraisal outcomes, ROV requests, and bias complaints.
  • Not utilize appraisers who, according to the statistical analysis, received multiple complaints from minority applicants in minority neighborhoods alleging appraisal bias, or who have a pattern of undervaluing homes owned by minority applicants or homes in minority neighborhoods, or who have been found to have discriminated in an appraisal.
  • Clearly outline internal stakeholder roles and responsibilities for processing an ROV request.
  • Ensure that ROV requests of valuation bias or discrimination complaints across all relevant business channels are escalated to the appropriate channel for research or a response.
  • Adhere to ROV timelines for certain milestones.
  • Review appraiser response to ROV requests for completeness, accuracy, and indicia of bias and discrimination.
  • Establish standards for offering a second appraisal which at a minimum must include when the first appraisal has indicia of bias or discrimination is otherwise defective.
  • Ensure that the applicant’s interest rate will remain locked during the ROV process.
  • Ensure that ensure applicants are not charged for the cost of an ROV or second appraisal.
  • Include on its website educational information on how to understand an appraisal report and contact information for questions on the appraisal report.
  • Update its fair and responsible lending policy to explicitly prohibit discrimination in violation of state and federal fair lending laws on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, disability, marital status, or age.
  • Provide training annually and for new employees on discrimination in residential mortgage lending and appraisals, and on all policies related to the ROV process, appraisal reviews, and the use of value adjustments.
  • Not utilize appraisers who previously were found by a regulatory body or court of law to have discriminated in an appraisal.

Finally, the settlement requires that AMCs and appraisers doing business with the lender contractually agree to:

  • Represent that appraisers will receive fair lending training; and
  • Certify that appraisers have not been subject to any adverse finding related to appraisal bias or discrimination, or list or describe any findings.

What to do now?

Lenders should carefully review the settlement and compare it to existing policies and procedures. While the settlement is only binding on the parties to the agreement, others should take interest. Historically, lenders conduct fair lending statistical testing for underwriting, pricing, and redlining risk. It might be time to consider adding appraisal risk.

FHA and VA Announce New Loss Mitigation Options

What Happened?

Both the FHA and VA have established new loss mitigation options to provide payment reduction to delinquent borrowers.  On February 21, 2024, the Federal Housing Administration (“FHA”) within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) issued a new mortgagee letter (ML 2024-02) which, among other things, establishes the Payment Supplement loss mitigation option for all FHA-insured Title II Single-Family forward mortgage loans (the “Payment Supplement”) and also extends FHA’s COVID-19 Recovery Options through April 30, 2025. The provisions of ML 2024-02 may be implemented starting May 1, 2024 but must be implemented no later than January 1, 2025. The Payment Supplement will bring a borrower’s mortgage current and temporarily reduce their monthly mortgage payment without requiring a modification.

And, on April 10, 2024 , the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) announced the release of its much-anticipated Veterans Affairs Servicing Purchase (“VASP”) program, which is a new, last-resort tool in the VA’s suite of home retention options for eligible veterans, active-duty servicemembers, and surviving spouses with VA-guaranteed home loans who are experiencing severe financial hardship. The VASP program will take effect beginning on May 31, 2024.

Why Does it Matter?

FHA’s Payment Supplement

ML 2024-02 establishes the Payment Supplement as a new loss mitigation option to be added to FHA’s current loss mitigation waterfall. Specifically, if a servicer is unable to achieve the target payment reduction under FHA’s current COVID-19 Recovery Modification option, the mortgage must review the borrower for the Payment Supplement. The Payment Supplement is a loss mitigation option that utilizes Partial Claim funds to bring a delinquent mortgage current and couples it with the subsequent provision of a Monthly Principal Reduction (“MoPR”) that is applied toward the borrower’s principal due each month for a period of 36 months to provide payment relief without having to permanently modify the borrower’s mortgage loan. The maximum MoPR is the lesser of a 25 percent principal and interest reduction for 36 months, or the principal portion of the monthly mortgage payment as of the date the Payment Supplement period begins.

The Payment Supplement will temporarily reduce an eligible borrower’s monthly mortgage payment for a period of three years, without requiring modification of the borrower’s mortgage loan. At the end of the three-year period, the borrower will be responsible for resuming payment of the full monthly principal and interest amount. A borrower is not eligible for a new Payment Supplement until 36 months after the date the borrower previously executed Payment Supplement documents.

To be eligible for the Payment Supplement, servicers must ensure that:

  • that at least three or more full monthly payments are due and unpaid;
  • the mortgage is a fixed rate mortgage;
  • sufficient Partial Claim funds are available to bring the mortgage current and to fund the MoPR;
  • the borrower meets the requirements for loss mitigation during bankruptcy proceedings set forth in Section III.A.2.i.viii of FHA Single-Family Handbook 4000.1;
  • the principal portion of the borrower’s first monthly mortgage payment after the mortgage is brought current will be greater than or equal to a “Minimum MoPR” which must be equal to or greater than 5 percent of the principal and interest portion of the borrower’s monthly mortgage payment, and may not be less than $20.00 per month, as of the date the Payment Supplement period begins;
  • the MoPR does not exceed the lesser of a 25% principal and interest reduction for three years or the principal portion of the monthly mortgage payment as of the date the Payment Supplement period begins; and
  • the borrower indicates they have the ability to make their portion of the monthly mortgage payment after the MoPR is applied (servicers are not required to obtain income documentation from the borrower).

Servicers are responsible for making monthly disbursements of the MoPR from a Payment Supplement Account, which is a separate, non-interest bearing, insured custodial account that holds the balance of the funds paid by FHA for the purpose of implementing the Payment Supplement, and which must segregated from funds associated with the FHA-insured mortgage, including escrow funds, and any funds held in accounts restricted by agreements with Ginnie Mae. Neither the servicer nor the borrower has any discretion in how the Payment Supplement funds are used or applied.

Borrowers will be required to execute a non-interest-bearing Note, Subordinate Mortgage, and a Payment Supplement Agreement, which is a rider to and is incorporated by reference into the Payment Supplement promissory Note, given in favor of HUD, to secure the Partial Claim funds utilized and the amount of the MoPR applied toward the borrower’s principal during the 36-month period. The Note and Subordinate Mortgage do not require repayment until maturity of the mortgage, sale or transfer of the property, payoff of the mortgage, or termination of FHA insurance on the mortgage.

After the Payment Supplement is finalized, servicers must send borrowers written disclosures annually and 60-90 days before the expiration of the Payment Supplement period. ML 2024-02 also sets forth servicers’ obligations if a borrower defaults during the Payment Supplement period.

Contemporaneous with the publication of ML 2024-02, HUD published the following model documents necessary to complete a Payment Supplement: (1) Payment Supplement Promissory Note and Security Instrument, (2) Payment Supplement Agreement Rider, (3) Annual Payment Supplement Disclosure, and (4) Final Payment Supplement Disclosure. However, servicers will need to ensure these model documents comply with applicable state law.

Given that the Payment Supplement only provides temporary relief, it is likely that borrowers will experience “payment shock” at the end of the Payment Supplement period. HUD has indicated that it is aware of this risk and intends to assess this issue on an ongoing basis as borrowers begin to reach the end of their Payment Supplement period to help inform future updates to FHA loss mitigation.

VA’s VASP Program

Effective May 31, 2024, VASP will be added as the final home retention option on the VA Home Retention Waterfall where the VA may elect to purchase a loan from the servicer under an expediated basis after the servicer evaluates the loans and certain criteria are met.  Unlike a traditional VA Purchase, a trial payment period may also be required before VA purchases the loan.

Importantly, a borrower cannot elect to use the VASP program. Rather, servicers must follow the VA’s home retention waterfall to determine the most appropriate home retention option. If the waterfall leads to VASP, then the servicer must determine if certain qualifying loan criteria are met, including:

  • the loan is between 3 to 60-months delinquent on the date the servicer submits to VALERI either the VASP TPP event or VASP with No TPP event;
  • the property is owner-occupied;
  • none of the obligors are in active bankruptcy at the time of the applicable VASP event;
  • the reason for default has been resolved and the borrower has indicated they can resume scheduled payments;
  • the loan is in first-lien position and is not otherwise encumbered by any liens or judgments that would jeopardize VA’s first-lien position;
  • the borrower has made at least six monthly payments on the loan since origination;
  • the borrower is the property’s current legal owner of record; and
  • the borrower and all other obligors agree to the terms of the VASP modification.

After determining that a loan qualifies for VASP, the servicer must determine the appropriate terms that may be offered to the borrower. Until further notice, all VASP loans will be modified at a fixed rate of 2.5% interest, with either a 360-month term or, if this does not realize at least a 20% reduction in the principal and interest payment, a 480-month term. Borrowers who cannot afford to resume monthly payments at the 480-month term are to be evaluated for and offered any appropriate alternatives to foreclosure. A three-payment trial payment plan will be required if (i) the loans is 24 months or more delinquent, or (ii) the principal and interest portion of the monthly payment is not reduced by at least 20%. Borrowers who fail three trial payment plans during a single default episode are no longer eligible for VASP.

Once VA has certified the VASP payment, servicers have 60 days to complete a standard transfer to VA’s contractor, after which the servicer must report the transfer event in VALERI.

Importantly, servicers that fail to properly evaluate the loan in accordance with VA’s requirements may be subject to enforcement action and/or refusal by VA to either temporarily or permanently guarantee or insure any loans made by such servicer and may bar such servicer from servicing or acquiring guaranteed loans. The risk of enforcement is exacerbated by the VASP program’s technical requirements, which may cause operational challenges for servicers.

What Do I Need to Do?

FHA’s Payment Supplement and VA’s VASP programs both have relatively short implementation timelines but will likely require substantial effort to operationalize given their technical requirements.  Therefore, servicers of FHA-insured and/or VA-guaranteed mortgage loans should begin reviewing the requirements of both programs now, as applicable, and ensure that they make any necessary updates to policies, procedures, systems, training, and other controls to ensure compliance with these programs once they take effect. Alston & Bird’s Consumer Financial Services team is well-versed in these programs and is happy to assist with such a review.

Don’t Miss the Small Stuff Lenders: New Mexico Issues Regulatory Guidance for Completing the “Freedom to Choose” Insurance Company Form

A&B Abstract:

Under New Mexico’s Insurance Code, it has been a long-standing requirement that lenders may not condition a loan of money on the procurement of insurance from any particular insurer, agent, solicitor, or broker.  The lender is required to inform the buyer of their rights “regarding the placement of insurance on a form prescribed by the superintendent” and the borrower must “signify that he has been so informed.”  The form of the required “Freedom to Choose” is provided by regulation to the Insurance Code as follows:

FREEDOM TO CHOOSE INSURANCE COMPANY AND INSURANCE PROFESSIONAL

The undersigned person hereby acknowledges that I have been informed by (individual’s name) on behalf of (name of lender) that, although I may be required by the seller or lender to purchase insurance to cover the property that is being used as security for the loan, I may purchase that insurance from the insurance company or agent of my choice, and cannot be required by the seller or lender, as a condition of the sale or loan, to purchase or renew any policy of insurance covering the property through any particular insurance company, agent, solicitor, or broker. I hereby acknowledge receipt of a true copy of this notice on the _____day of_____________, _____.

__________________________________

(Signature of Purchaser or Borrower)

The New Mexico Financial Institutions Division (FID) issued regulatory guidance (the “Guidance”) this month as some lenders have not been completing the form correctly.  The Guidance clarifies that the “Freedom to Choose” notice requires the name of the individual providing the notice, and the FID finds the practice of providing only the company name in the blank reserved for the individual’s name as a violation of the Insurance Code.

 Takeaway:

Lenders take note as this is an easy violation to avoid.  To that end, now is a good time to review your New Mexico policies, procedures and QC reviews to ensure compliance with this requirement.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions on when the form is required and how to ensure it is completed correctly.  While the FID’s Guidance does not speak to penalties, it is worth noting that the Superintendent of the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department has authority to impose monetary penalties for violations of this provision, including a fine not to exceed $500 per violation. The statute also authorizes administrative penalties and civil actions.

NYDFS Finalizes Second Amendment to Its Cybersecurity Regulation

On November 1, 2023, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) published the finalized Second Amendment to its Cybersecurity Regulation (23 NYCRR Part 500), which includes a number of significant and, for many covered entities, onerous changes to its original regulation. The finalized Second Amendment is much like the June 2023 proposed draft (which made certain revisions to the November 2022 draft). Covered entities should take note of these now-final changes that will require covered entities to review and revamp major components of their cybersecurity programs, policies, procedures, and controls to ensure they are in compliance. This is particularly important as the NYDFS continues to take on an active enforcement role following cyber events, marking itself as a leading cyber regulator in the United States.

Covered entities must notify the NYDFS of certain cybersecurity incidents, including providing notice within: (1) 72 hours after determining a cybersecurity event resulting in the “deployment of ransomware within a material part of the covered entity’s information system” occurred; and (2) 24 hours of making an extortion payment in connection with a cybersecurity event.

Covered entities must implement additional cybersecurity controls, including expanding their use of multifactor authentication and maintaining a comprehensive asset inventory. Covered entities are also required to maintain additional (or more prescriptive) cybersecurity policies and procedures, including ensuring that their incident response plans address specific delineated issues (outlined in the Second Amendment) and maintaining business continuity and disaster recovery plan requirements (both of which must be tested annually).

The most senior levels of the covered entity (senior governing body) must have sufficient knowledge to oversee the cybersecurity program. Additionally, the highest-ranking executive and the CISO are required to sign the covered entity’s annual certification of material compliance.

A material failure (which could be a single act) to comply with any portion of the Cybersecurity Regulation for a 24-hour period is considered a violation.

The Second Amendment became effective on November 1, 2023, and covered entities generally have 180 days to come into compliance with the new requirements. There are certain requirements, however, that will be phased in over the next two years. We have outlined the material changes and the effective dates below.

NYDFS Finalizes Second Amendment to Its Cybersecurity Regulation Chart

The NYDFS is providing a number of resources for covered entities, including a helpful visual overview of the implementation timeline for covered entitiesClass A companies, and small businesses (NYDFS-licensed individual producers, mortgage loan originators, and other businesses that qualify for exemptions under Sections 500.19 (a), (c), and (d)). The NYDFS is also hosting a series of webinars to provide an overview of the Second Amendment; individuals can register for the webinars on the NYDFS’s website.