Alston & Bird Consumer Finance Blog

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FSOC Issues Report on Nonbank Mortgage Servicing Highlighting Strengths, Vulnerabilities and Recommendations

What Happened?

In May 2024, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC or Council) issued a Report on Nonbank Mortgage Servicing (the Report). The Report recognizes the strengths of nonbank mortgage companies (NMCs) and the important role they serve. However, the Council warns that the vulnerabilities of NMCs are more acute due, in part, to the mortgage market shift from banks to NMCs, the increasing federal government exposure to NMCs, financial strain of nonbank originators following the end of the refinance boom, and considerable liquidity risk from NMCs funding sources. The Council warns that it will continue to monitor such risks and take or recommend additional actions in accordance with its Analytic Framework (the 2023 Analytic Framework) and Nonbank Designation Guidance (the 2023 Nonbank Designation Guidance), which we discussed in a prior blog post. The Council also makes several recommendations, including asking Congress to establish a fund financed by the nonbank mortgage sector and administered by an existing federal agency to ensure there are no taxpayer-funded bailouts should a nonbank mortgage servicer fail.

Why Does it Matter?

Background

The Dodd-Frank Act empowers FSOC to designate a nonbank financial company subject to enhanced prudential standards and supervision by the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors by a two-thirds vote of the Council. The Council is comprised of 10 voting members consisting of the U.S. prudential regulators, the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, an independent member having insurance expertise, and five non-voting members with the Secretary of the Treasury serving as Chairperson of the Council.

This designation can be made upon the Council’s finding that:

  • Material financial distress at the nonbank financial company could pose a threat to the financial stability of the United States; or
  • The nature, scope, size, scale, concentration, interconnectedness, or mix of the activities of the nonbank financial company could pose a threat to the financial stability in the United States.

The Council’s 2023 Analytic Framework provides a non-exhaustive list of eight potential risk factors and the indicators that FSOC intends to monitor that include: (i) leverage, (ii) liquidity risks and maturity mismatches, (iii) interconnections, (iv) operational risk, (v) complexity of opacity, (vi) inadequate risk management, (vii) concentration, and (viii) destabilizing activities. Additionally, FSOC will assess the transmission of those risks by evaluating: (i) exposure, (ii) asset liquidation, (iii) critical function or service, and (iv) contagion. The 2023 Nonbank Designation Guidance, procedural in nature, defines a two-stage process the Council will use to make a firm-specific “nonbank financial company determination” pursuant to FSOC’s Analytic Framework. The Council also has the authority to make recommendations to regulators and Congress and engage in interagency coordination.

The 2024 Report on Nonbank Mortgage Servicing

At the outset, the Council recognizes that the NMC market share has increased significantly. Based on HMDA data, NMCs originate around two-thirds of mortgages in the United States and owned the servicing rights on 54 percent of mortgage balances in 2022 as compared to 2008 when NMCs originated only 39 percent of mortgages and owned the servicing rights on only four percent of mortgage balances. Moreover, in the 10-year period between 2014 and 2024, the share of Agency (i.e., Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae) servicing handled by NMCs increased from 35 percent 66 percent.

In 2023, NMCs serviced around $6 trillion for the Agencies and approximately 70 percent of the total Agency market.

FSOC recognizes that NMCs filled a void following the 2007-2009 crisis when banks exited the market due to several factors (such as the revised capital rules on banks, making MSRs less attractive, as well as perceived increased costs of default servicing resulting from the National Mortgage Settlement, the Independent Foreclosure Review, prosecutions under the False Claims Act, and private litigation.) According to FSOC, NMCs developed substantial operational capacity and embraced technology. The Council also recognizes NMCs’ strength in servicing historically underserved borrowers. In 2022, NMCs originated greater than 70 percent of mortgages extended to Black and Hispanic borrowers and more than 60 percent of low- and moderate-income borrowers.

While recognizing the strengths of NMCs, the Report also highlights several vulnerabilities. Of the eight risk factors identified in the 2023 Analytic Framework, FSOC focuses its concerns on the following four vulnerabilities:

  • Liquidity Risks & Maturity Mismatches: As provided in the 2023 Analytic Framework, a shortfall of sufficient liquidity to cover short-term needs, or reliance on short-term liabilities to finance longer-term assets, can lead to rollover or refinance risk. FSOC may measure this risk by looking at the ratios of short-term debt to unencumbered liquid assets and the amount of additional funding available to meet unexpected reductions in available short-term funds. FSOC reports “considerable” liquidity concerns from NMCs’ funding sources and servicing contracts. First, NMCs’ reliance on warehouse lines of credit can result in (i) margin calls, (ii) repricing or restructuring lines by raising interest rates, changing the types of acceptable collateral, or canceling lines, (iii) exercising cross default provisions, and (iv) the risk of multiple warehouse lenders enforcing covenants or imposing higher margin requirements at the same time. Second, NMCs face liquidity risk from margin calls on the hedges in place to protect interest rate movements while mortgages are on a warehouse line. Third, NMCs face liquidity risks from their lines of credit that are collateralized by mortgage servicing rights (MSRs), that can also result in margin calls. Finally, requirements to advance funds on behalf of the investor (particularly Ginnie Mae) or repurchase mortgages from securitization pools may result in liquidity strains.
  • Leverage: As provided in the 2023 Analytic Framework, leverage is assessed by levels of debt and other off-balance sheet obligations that may create instability in the face of sudden liquidity restraints, within a market or at a limited number of firms in a market. To assess leverage, the Council may look at quantitative metrics such as ratios of assets, risk-weighted assets, debts, derivatives liabilities or exposures, and off-balance sheet obligations to equity. The Report cites to data from Moody’s Ratings which requires an NMC to have a ratio of secured debt to gross tangible assets of less than 30 percent for its long-term debt rating to be investment grade. In the third quarter of 2023, 37% of NMCs met this standard and 35% of NMCs had ratios in excess of 60 percent which is considered a high credit risk. According to FSOC, equity funding by NMCs add to leverage vulnerability.
  • Operational Risk: As provided in the 2023 Analytic Framework, operational risk arises for the “impairment or failure of financial market infrastructures, processes or systems, including due to cybersecurity vulnerabilities.” The Report highlights that for NMCs operational risks include continuity of operations, threats from cyber events, third-party risk management, quality control, governance, compliance, and processes for servicing delinquent loans.
  • Interconnections: As provided in 2023 Analytic Framework, direct or indirect financial interconnections include exposures of creditors, counterparties, investors, and borrowers that can increase the potential negative effect measured by the extent of exposure to certain derivatives, potential requirement to post margin or collateral, and overall health of the balance sheet. Through warehouse lenders, other financing sources, servicing and subservicing relationships, NMCs are connected to each other. Because of such linkages, the Council is concerned that financial difficulties at one core lender could affect many NMCs.

Because of these NMC vulnerabilities, FSOC is concerned that NMCs could transmit the negative effects of such shocks to the mortgage market and broader financial system through the following channels discussed in the 2023 Analytic Framework:

  • Critical Functions and Services: As provided in 2023 Analytic Framework, a risk to financial stability can arise if there could be a disruption of critical functions or services that are relied upon by market participants for which there is no substitute. FSOC is concerned that if an NMC is under financial strain, it would not have the resources to carry out its core responsibilities, which could result in bankruptcy, borrower harm, operational harm, or servicing transfers mandated by state regulators.
  • Exposures: This refers to the level of direct and indirect exposure of creditors, investors, counterparties, and others to particular instruments or asset classes. Again, if an NMC faced financial strain that impacted the ability of the NMS to execute its functions, other counterparties could be harmed, including investors and credit guarantors. The Agencies could also experience high costs and credit losses and may have challenges in transferring servicing to a more stable servicer. The Report notes that “servicing assumption risk may be slightly less acute (though not less costly) for the enterprises, which have more preemptive tools available to them to assist a servicer in distress than Ginnie Mae does.”
  • Contagion and Asset Liquidation: While these are two separate risks, the Council grouped them together. As defined in the 2023 Analytic Framework, contagion is the potential for financial contagion arising from public perceptions of vulnerability and loss of confidence in widely held financial instruments. Asset liquidation is rapid asset liquidation and the snowball effect of a widespread asset selloff across sectors. The Council is concerned that because MSRs are a large share of NMCs’ assets, “changes in macroeconomic conditions or funder risk appetite” could depress MSR valuations resulting in rapid liquidation and have a material impact on NMC solvency and access to credit.

Because of the federal government’s financial support to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the direct responsibility for Ginnie Mae’s guarantee to bond investors, the federal government has an interest in addressing servicing risks. FSOC does not believe such risks, as identified above, are sufficiently addressed by the states or existing federal authority. First, “[n]o federal regulator has direct prudential authorities over nonbank mortgage servicers.” Second, the state regulators have prudential authority, however, only nine states (as of April 2024) have adopted prudential financial and corporate governance standards. To that end, the Council recommends:

  • State regulators adopt enhanced prudential requirements, further coordinate supervision of nonbank mortgage servicers, and require recovery and resolution planning for large nonbank mortgage servicers.
  • Federal and state regulators should continue to monitor the nonbank mortgage sector and develop tabletop exercises to prepare for the failure of nonbank mortgage servicers.
  • Congress should provide the Federal Housing Finance Agency and Ginnie Mae with additional authority to establish safety and soundness standards and directly examine nonbank mortgage servicer counterparties for compliance with such standards. Congress should also authorize Ginnie Mae and encourage state regulators to share information with each other and Council members.
  • Congress should consider legislation to provide more protections for borrowers to keep their homes.
  • Congress should consider providing Ginnie Mae with authority to expand its Pass-Through Assistance Program (PTAP) to include tax and insurance payments, foreclosure costs and or advances during periods of severe market stress.
  • Congress should through legislation establish a fund (financed by the nonbank mortgage servicing sector) to facilitate operational continuity of servicing for servicers in bankruptcy or failure to ensure the servicing obligations can be transferred, or the company is recapitalized or sold. The Council recommends that Congress provide “sufficient authority to an existing federal agency to implement and maintain the fund, assess appropriate fees, set criteria for making disbursements, and mitigate risks associated with the implementation of the fund.”

What Do I Need to Do?

Well, shortly after the Report was issued, CFPB Director Chopra issued a statement, indicating that: “The Report is silent on what, if any, tools the FSOC itself should use to address these risks. That must be the next phase of our work. In line with the 2023 Analytic Framework and Nonbank Designation Guidance, we should carefully consider whether any large nonbank mortgage companies meet the statutory threshold for enhanced supervision and regulation by the Federal Reserve Board.”

Given that warning, NMCs should pay careful attention to the statutory threshold for enhanced supervision and work on mitigating their liquidity and other risks. The Report points out that the CSBS enhanced prudential standards are enforceable by the states that have adopted such standards “including through multistate examinations that include at least one state that has adopted the standards or through referrals to states that have adopted these standards.” Thus, servicers should anticipate more state or multistate probes concerning liquidity and corporate governance. And, while stating the obvious, now is the time to double down on managing operational risks, including but not limited to continuity of operations, threats from cyber events, third-party risk management, quality control, governance, compliance, and processes for servicing delinquent loans.

Large Nonbank Ginnie Mae Issuers: Ginnie Mae Wants Your Recovery Plans

What Happened?

Following the release of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) Report on Nonbank Mortgage Servicing, Ginnie Mae announced in APM 24-08 that certain large nonbank Ginnie Mae Issuers will now be required to prepare and submit recovery plans to address the event of a material adverse change in business operations or failure.  Such issuers will also be required to attest to the content in the recovery plans every to two years.

Why Does it Matter?

To understand why it matters, it is important to consider some interesting statistics.  According to the recent report of FSOC (an interagency panel of regulators commissioned by the Dodd Frank Act to monitor financial stability) on nonbank mortgage servicing, the share of loans serviced by nonbank mortgage servicers for Ginnie Mae rose from 34 percent in 2014 to 83 percent in 2023.  For the last several annual reports, FSOC has highlighted the vulnerabilities of nonbank mortgage companies.  In its most recent report specific to nonbank mortgage servicing, FSOC has indicated that such concerns are becoming “more acute” because of government’s increasing exposure to nonbank mortgage companies, the strain on mortgage origination due to the high interest rate environment, and the fact that “vulnerabilities in mortgage origination can bleed into mortgage servicing.”  FSOC is particularly concerned with the ability of nonbank mortgage companies to carry out their responsibilities in times of stress and provides, in relevant part, that “[t]he federal government has an interest in addressing servicing risks due to . . . the direct responsibility for Ginnie Mae’s guarantee to bond investors.” FSOC encourages Congress to provide Ginnie Mae more tools to manage counterparty risk.  If and until that occurs, it should come as no surprise that Ginnie Mae is utilizing its existing tools for managing the failure of servicers (such as facilitating servicing transfers), by requiring its nonbank Issuers to document how they would proceed if an adverse event were to occur.

What Do I Need to Do?

First, it is important to determine if your company is subject to these new obligations.  Generally speaking, nonbank Ginnie Mae Issuers whose portfolios equal or exceed a remaining principal balance of $50 billion at the end of December 31, 2024 will be required to prepare and submit recovery plans to Ginnie Mae by no later than June 30, 2025. Of note, the requirements do not apply to bank holding companies, banks, wholly owned subsidiaries of bank holding companies that are consolidated for purposes of regulatory oversight, thrifts, savings and loan holding companies, and credit unions.

Second, it is important to start developing a plan which, at a high level, must include:

  • Business Operations Description: For business operations relevant to the Ginnie Mae MBS Program (i.e., single-family, multi-family, manufactured housing and HECM), the plan must provide a detailed description of the company’s corporate structure, identify the interconnections and interdependencies among the company and its key stakeholders, related financial entities, and critical operations of the core business. The plan must also identify major counterparties, to whom the company had pledged MBS collateral, and the locations of its servicing operations.
  • Information Systems: In the event that Ginnie Mae must complete a servicing transfer, it is requiring companies to provide a detailed inventory and description of all key management information systems and applications in servicing Ginnie Mae loans along with a mapping of such systems and a description of how ancillary systems feed into the core servicing system.
  • Recovery Planning: Companies will need to consider and respond to a series of questions including but not limited to, providing a general framework for the order in which the company’s assets would be liquidated in the event of a material adverse event, identifying whether funding has been set aside to continue operations for a certain period. Ginnie Mae also requires how intercompany services would continue under such circumstances and to provide excerpts of its business continuity plan relevant to this recovery planning exercise.
  • Current Documentation: Ginnie Mae requires the plan to identify senior management official who will serve as a point of contact and a vendor directory for material vendors.

While the deadline for submitting recovery plans to Ginnie Mae is June 30, 2025, it is not too early to start gathering all the stakeholders, calendaring the deadline, and starting the framework for a thoughtful plan.

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.

Fannie Mae Issues Guidance in Response to New York Foreclosure Abuse Prevention Act

What Happened?

On March 13, 2024, Fannie Mae issued Servicing Guide Announcement (SVC-2024-02) (the “Announcement”), which announced, among other things, updates to Fannie Mae’s Loan Modification Agreement (Form 3179), with additional instructions in response to the New York Foreclosure Abuse Prevention Act (“FAPA”). Specifically, for all Loan Modification Agreements (Form 3179) sent to a borrower for signature on or after July 1, 2024, servicers are required to amend the modification agreement to insert the following as new paragraphs 5(e) and (f) for a mortgage loan secured by a property in New York:

(e) Borrower promises to pay the debt evidenced by the Note and Security Instrument.  Further, Borrower acknowledges and agrees that any election by Lender to accelerate the debt evidenced by the Note and Security Instrument and the requirement by Lender of immediate payment in full thereunder is revoked upon the first payment made under the Agreement; and, the Note and Security Instrument, as amended by the Agreement, are returned to installment status and the obligations under the Note and Security Instrument remain fully effective as if no acceleration had occurred.

(f) Borrower further agrees to execute or cause to be executed by counsel, if applicable, a stipulation (to be filed with the court in the foreclosure action), that the Lender’s election to accelerate the debt evidenced by the Note and Security Instrument and requirement of immediate payment in full thereunder is revoked upon the first payment made under the Agreement and the debt evidenced by the Note and Security Instrument is deaccelerated at that time pursuant to New York General Obligations Law § 17-105, or other applicable law.

Fannie Mae encourages servicers to implement these changes immediately but requires that servicers do so for all modification agreements sent to the borrower for signature on and after July 1, 2024. Freddie Mac does not yet appear to have issued similar guidance.

Why Is It Important?

As we previously discussed in a prior blog post, FAPA reversed judicial precedent that permitted a lender, after default, to unilaterally undo the acceleration of a mortgage and stop the running of the statute of limitations in a foreclosure action through voluntary dismissal, discontinuance of foreclosure actions, or de-acceleration letters. For more than a year following FAPA’s enactment, the mortgage industry has grappled with how to address certain of the risks created by FAPA, including whether certain language could be adopted and incorporated into servicers’ loss mitigation documents to mitigate FAPA risk.

Fannie Mae’s Announcement is significant because it represents the first piece of guidance from a federal agency or government-sponsored enterprise (i.e., Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac) that provides some clarity as to what language may be appropriate to mitigate certain of the risks engendered by the New York FAPA.

What Do I Need to Do?

Servicers of Fannie Mae-backed mortgage loans (secured by property in New York) should evaluate their loss mitigation processes and make appropriate updates to ensure compliance with the Announcement.  Servicers should also continue to monitor for additional guidance or caselaw as this issue remains in flux.

CFPB and FTC Amicus Brief Signals Stance on “Pay-to-Pay” Fees under FDCPA

What Happened?

On February 27, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed an amicus brief in the 11th Circuit case Glover and Booze v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC arguing that certain convenience fees charged by mortgage servicer debt collectors are prohibited by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).  This brief comes on the heels of an amicus brief Alston & Bird LLP filed on behalf of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).  In its brief, the MBA urged the 11th Circuit to uphold the legality of the fees at issue.

While litigation surrounding convenience fees has spiked in recent years, there is no consensus on whether convenience fees violate the FDCPA.  Federal courts split on the issue, as there is little guidance at the circuit court level, and the issue before the 11th Circuit is one of first impression.  Consequently, the 11th Circuit’s ruling could significantly impact what fees a debt collector is permitted to charge, both within that circuit and nationwide.

Why is it Important?

Convenience fees or what the agencies refer to as “pay-to-pay” fees are the fees charged by servicers to borrowers for the use of expedited payment methods like paying online or over the phone.  Borrowers have free alternative payment methods available (e.g., mailing a check) but choose to pay for the convenience of a faster payment method.

Section 1692f(1) of the FDCPA provides that a “debt collector may not use unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt,” including the “collection of any amount (including any interest, fee, charge, or expense incidental to the principal obligation) unless such amount is expressly authorized by the agreement creating the debt or permitted by law.”  The CFPB and FTC argues that Section 1692f(1)’s prohibition extends to the collection of pay-to-pay fees by debt collectors unless such fees are expressly authorized by the agreement creating the debt or affirmatively authorized by law.

First, the agencies contend that pay-to-pay fees fit squarely with the provision’s prohibition on collecting “any amount” in connection with a debt and that charging this fee constitutes a “collection” under the FDCPA.  Specifically, the agencies attempt to counter Ocwen’s argument that the fees in question are not “amounts” covered by Section 1692f(1) because the provision is limited to amounts “incidental to” the underlying debt. They argue that fees need not be “incidental to” the debt in order to fall within the scope of Section 1692f(1). In making this point, the agencies claim the term “including” as used is the provision’s parenthetical suggests that the list of examples is not an exhaustive list of all the “amounts” covered by the provision.  Further, the agencies attempt to counter Ocwen’s argument that a “collection” under the FDCPA refers only to the demand for payment of an amount owed (i.e., a debt). They argue that Ocwen’s understanding of “collects” is contrary to the plain meaning of the word; rather, the scope of Section 1692f(1) is much broader and encompasses collection of any amount , not just those which are owed.

Next, focusing on the FDCPA’s exception for fees “permitted by law,” the agencies contend that a fee is not permitted by law if it is authorized by a valid contract (that implicitly authorizes the fee as a matter of state common law). The agencies suggest if such fees could be authorized by any valid agreement, the first category of collectable fees defined by Section 1692(f)(1)—those “expressly authorized by the agreement creating the debt”—would be superfluous. Lastly, the Agencies argue neither the Electronic Funds Transfer Act nor the Truth in Lending Act – the two federal laws Ocwen relies on in its argument – affirmatively authorizes pay-to-pay fees.

What Do You Need to Do?

Stay tuned. The 11th Circuit has jurisdiction over federal cases originating in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. Its ruling is likely to have a significant impact on whether debt collectors may charge convenience fees to borrowers in those states, and it could be cited as persuasive precedent in courts nationwide.