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

BY: Melissa Malpass
Residential Mortgage

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.

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