On June 16th, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”) issued a Compliance Aid titled “Consumer Reporting FAQs Related to the CARES Act and COVID-19 Pandemic.” This Compliance Aid clarifies the Bureau’s April 1, 2020 Statement that providing furnishers flexibility in handling disputes during the pandemic is not unlimited, putting consumer reporting agencies and furnishers on notice that the Bureau is enforcing the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), as amended by the CARES Act, and its implementing Regulation V. The Compliance Aid also addresses questions on reporting CARES Act accommodations.
CFPB Focusing on Credit Reporting Accuracy and Dispute Handling
In its April 1, 2020 statement, the Bureau indicated that while furnishers are expected to comply with the CARES Act, the Bureau “does not intend to cite in examinations or take enforcement actions against those who furnish information to [CRAs] that accurately reflects the payment relief measures they are employing” and will not take enforcement or supervisory actions against furnishers and CRAs for failing to timely investigate consumer disputes. On June 16th the Bureau clarified that it is enforcing FCRA and that while it previously provided some flexibility the April 1st Statement “did not state that the Bureau would give furnishers or CRAs an unlimited time beyond the statutory deadlines to investigate disputes before the Bureau would take supervisory or enforcement action.” The Bureau warns that it will take public enforcement action against companies or individuals that fail to comply with FCRA, but will consider the unique circumstances that entities face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and entities’ good faith efforts to timely investigate disputes.
CARES Act Amendment to FCRA
Section 4021 of the CARES Act amends FCRA by adding a new section providing a special instruction for reporting consumer credit information to credit reporting agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, if a creditor or other furnisher offers an “accommodation” to a consumer affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in connection with a credit obligation or account, and the consumer satisfies the conditions of such accommodation, the furnisher must:
- report the credit obligation or account as “current;” or
- if the credit obligation or account was delinquent before the accommodation maintain the delinquent status during the effective period of the accommodation, or, if the consumer brings the account current during such period, then to report the account as current.
Stated differently by the CFPB, “during the accommodation, the furnisher cannot advance the delinquent status.” The CFPB provides the following example:
If the credit obligation or account was current before the accommodation, during the accommodation the furnisher must continue to report the credit obligation or account as current.
If the credit obligation or account was delinquent before the accommodation, during the accommodation the furnisher cannot advance the delinquent status. For example, if at the time of the accommodation the furnisher was reporting the consumer as 30 days past due, during the accommodation the furnisher may not report the account as 60 days past due. If during the accommodation the consumer brings the credit obligation or account current, the furnisher must report the credit obligation or account as current. This could occur, for example, if the accommodation itself brings the credit obligation or account current (such as a loan modification that resolves amounts past due so the borrower is no longer considered delinquent) or if the consumer makes past due payments that bring the credit obligation or account current.
An “accommodation,” as defined in this section, includes relief granted to impacted consumers such as an agreement to defer a payment, make a partial payment, grant forbearance, modify a loan or contract, or any other assistance or relief granted to a consumer affected by COVID-19. The reporting requirements do not apply to charged-off accounts. This section applies from January 31, 2020 through the later of 120 days after: (i) enactment of this section, or (ii) termination of the national emergency declaration.
Questions on Reporting Accommodations under FCRA
There has been much confusion in how the CARES Act requirements translate into Metro 2 reporting requirements. The CFPB offers the following guidance:
- When furnishers are reporting an account to the CRAs, furnishers are expected to understand all the CRA’s data fields, to ensure that the information reported accurately reflects a consumer’s status as current or delinquent. Specifically, the Bureau provides “information a furnisher provides about an account’s payment status, scheduled monthly payment, and the amount past due may all need to be updated to accurately reflect that a consumer’s account is current consistent with the CARES Act.”
- With respect to the use of special comment codes, the CFPB provides that “Furnishing a special comment code indicating that a consumer with an account is impacted by a disaster or that the consumer’s account is in forbearance does not provide consumer reporting agencies with this CARES Act-required information. Left unaddressed is whether servicers are permitted to report special comment codes and other fields as required by CDIA/Metro2.
- With respect to reporting the status of an account after an accommodation ends, the Bureau provides two instructions. First, the Bureau states “[a]ssuming payments were not required or the consumer met any payment requirements of the accommodation, a furnisher cannot report a consumer that was reported as current pursuant to the CARES Act as delinquent based on the time period covered by the accommodation after the accommodation end.” Second, “a furnisher also cannot advance the delinquency of a consumer that was maintained pursuant to the CARES Act based on the time period covered by the accommodation after the accommodation ends.”
Questions remain on how to address a consumer’s delinquency after an accommodation ends if the delinquency hasn’t been resolved through loss mitigation or otherwise. Also unaddressed is whether furnishers are permitted to report (i) a “special comment code” for natural disaster or forbearance or (ii) the “terms frequency” field (each of which can indicate an account is in forbearance or deferment, even while the “account status code” field is marked “current”), without violating the CARES Act requirement to report borrowers in forbearance as “current.”
CFPB has put furnishers on notice that the Bureau will begin to enforce the CARES Act credit reporting requirements. Companies should pay attention to credit reporting complaint trends in the coming months. Companies should also document good faith efforts to comply and respond to disputes as soon as possible. Last, with the CFPB’s revised Responsible Business Conduct Policy, companies may consider getting in front of any issues while the environment is still favorable. Once forbearance ends and foreclosures resume, and given where we are in the election cycle, the situation could turn political this Fall and the enforcement posture could change.