Consumer Protection Changes in 2017


Business News Daily quoted me in 6 Big Regulatory Changes That Could Affect Your Business in 2017. It reads, in part,

It’s a new year and there’s a new incoming administration. That means there are likely some big-time regulation changes in the pipeline, not to mention changes that were already on the agenda. Some proposals will fail, while others will pass, but all of them could significantly affect your business in 2017 and beyond.

Top of the list this year are the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the currently suspended change in Department of Labor overtime regulations, and minimum wage or paid sick leave efforts at local and state levels. However, there are a bevy of other potential changes on the horizon that the savvy entrepreneur should be aware of as well.

Here are some of the proposals we’re keeping an eye on this year, and how they might affect small businesses.

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3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) arbitration rules

Proposed rules from the federal CFPB would prohibit what are known as mandatory arbitration clauses in financial products. Those clauses essentially prevent consumers from filing class-action lawsuits against the company in the event that something goes wrong. The rules would instead leave people to litigate on their own, a time-consuming, costly endeavor that often has very little payoff in the end.

“It is expected that the Obama administration will issue the final rule before President-elect Trump’s inauguration,” David Reiss, research director of the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at the Brooklyn Law School, said. “Entrepreneurs with consumer credit cards should expect that they could join class actions involving financial products. They should also expect that credit card companies will be more careful in setting the terms of their agreements, given this regulatory change.”

Reiss added that the final adoption or rejection of these rules is also subject to the Congressional Review Act, which empowers Congress to invalidate new federal regulations. Even if the rules were adopted, Congress could ultimately reject them.

“Republicans have been very critical of the proposed rule, which they see as anti-business,” Reiss said.

Tuesday’s Regulatory & Legislative Update

  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has finalized a Rule to expand reporting requirements imposed upon financial institutions under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA). Dodd-Frank included a mandate directing the CFPB to collect metrics to allow, among other things, a better understanding of the mortgage market, quicker identification of trends, and spotting of discriminatory patterns and practices. The CFPB also hopes to use the data to avoid some of the mistakes in the mortgage market which led to the Financial Crisis.  The CFPB also has a site containing resources to help financial institutions comply.
  • CFPB has released the prepared remarks of Director Richard Corday, which he delivered before the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Annual Convention. In discussing the new agency’s work since Dodd-Frank, Corday asserted that the CFPB has worked hard to create a “set of rules that protect prospective homebuyers in a manner that never existed in the past, while supporting responsible lenders against those who led a race to the bottom in underwriting standards.  We now have a system in place that consumers can trust in a way they could not trust in the marketplace a decade ago.”
  • The Terwilliger Foundation hosted a Housing Summit in New Hampshire where Presidential Hopefuls, including, among others: Martin O’Malley, Chris Christie, George Pataki), Mike Huckabee, and Rand Paul.  The Enterprise Community Partners Blog has a great piece which describes the affordable housing policy proposals of the various candidates. 

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing


Fast on the heels of the recent Supreme Court decision upholding disparate impact Fair Housing claims, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued a final rule, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing:

Through this final rule, HUD provides HUD program participants with an approach to more effectively and efficiently incorporate into their planning processes the duty to affirmatively further the purposes and policies of the Fair Housing Act, which is title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The Fair Housing Act not only prohibits discrimination but, in conjunction with other statutes, directs HUD’s program participants to take significant actions to overcome historic patterns of segregation, achieve truly balanced and integrated living patterns, promote fair housing choice, and foster inclusive communities that are free from discrimination. The approach to affirmatively furthering fair housing carried out by HUD program participants prior to this rule, which involved an analysis of impediments to fair housing choice and a certification that the program participant will affirmatively further fair housing, has not been as effective as originally envisioned. This rule refines the prior approach by replacing the analysis of impediments with a fair housing assessment that should better inform program participants’ planning processes with a view toward better aiding HUD program participants to fulfill this statutory obligation.

Through this rule, HUD commits to provide states, local governments, public housing agencies (PHAs), the communities they serve, and the general public, to the fullest extent possible,with local and regional data on integrated and segregated living patterns, racially or ethnically concentrated areas of poverty, the location of certain publicly supported housing, access to opportunity afforded by key community assets, and disproportionate housing needs based on classes protected by the Fair Housing Act. Through the availability of such data and available local data and knowledge, the approach provided by this rule is intended to make program participants better able to evaluate their present environment to assess fair housing issues such as segregation, conditions that restrict fair housing choice, and disparities in access to housing and opportunity, identify the factors that primarily contribute to the creation or perpetuation of fair housing issues, and establish fair housing priorities and goals. (1-2)

The tenacious hold that segregation has had over so many communities has been so difficult to address and HUD’s past attempts to do so have come up short so often. One can hope that this change in strategy from an “analysis of impediments” to “a fair housing assessment” can make incremental improvements throughout the nation.

It will be up to the next administration to really implement this rule because at first the rule just requires more planning about fair housing on the part of local communities. It is only later, when HUD evaluates their success and decides whether there will be any consequences for failure, that the rule’s effectiveness can be identified.

Fannie and Freddie Begin a New Stage

The Federal Housing Finance Agency has ordered Fannie and Freddie to begin making contributions to the Housing Trust Fund and to the Capital Magnet Fund.  These two funds were created pursuant to the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, the same statute that authorized placing the two companies in conservatorship. In 2008, FHFA Acting Director DeMarco suspended payments into the two funds because the two companies were being bailed out by the federal government. Now that the two companies are on firmer financial footing, the FHFA has lifted the suspension. The suspension will go back into effect for a company if it has to make a draw from Treasury under the Senior Preferred Stock Purchase Agreement, that is if the company does not have enough excess monies to make the payments into the two funds from its own income.

This action is not so surprising, given Watt’s past statements. It does, however, have some interesting implications. In terms of the GSE shareholder litigation, these allocations reduce the enterprises’ capital by a not insignificant amount; if shareholders were to win one of their lawsuits, monies placed in these two funds would be unavailable to them. In terms of housing finance reform, this action signals that the companies have moved beyond their crisis stage into a more stable one. It also emphasizes that the FHFA can take big steps on its own when it comes to housing finance reform, notwithstanding Congressional gridlock. All in all, it feels like the beginning of a new stage in the lives of the two companies.

The FHFA has issued an Interim Final Rule and Request for Comments relating to the payments into the two funds. The rule “implements a statutory prohibition against the Enterprises passing the cost of such allocations through to the originators of loans they purchase or securitize.” (1) Comments are due 30 days after the interim final rule is published in the Federal Register.

Access to Sustainable Credit

Reid & Quercia have posted Risk, Access and the QRM Reproposal. This document is intended to influence the most recent proposed rulemaking for the Qualified Residential Mortgages (QRMs). The rulemaking process for the QRM has been controversial and the stakes could not be higher for the health of the residential mortgage market. The first  proposed rulemaking in 2011 would have required QRMs to have substantial down payments. A broad coalition of lenders and consumer groups believed that this requirement would excessively restrict credit and so the regulators responsible for the QRM rule issued an new proposed rulemaking in 2013 that removed the requirement for down payments from the QRM definition.

Reid & Quercia argue that the more restrictive 2011 proposed QRM rule only provided marginal benefits over the 2013 proposed QRM rule, while significantly restricting credit particularly for households of color. They note that the “objective of weighing the marginal benefit of stricter QRM requirements against the costs of cutting off access to the mainstream mortgage market is an important one.” (7) They have created simple metrics “for evaluating the tradeoffs of reducing the number of defaults against the number of successful borrowers who would not be able to obtain a QRM loan as a result of stricter down payment and credit score requirements” (7)

While Reid & Quercia do not say so explicitly, I believe that their metrics, such as the benefit ratio, should be explicitly worked into the final QRM rule so that regulators are constantly considering the two sides of credit: availability and sustainability. There is a lot of pressure to increase access to residential mortgage credit by a range of players — consumer advocates, lenders and politicians to name just a few. But credit that cannot be sustained by homeowners leads to mortgage default and foreclosure. We will be doing new homeowners no favors by letting them take out mortgages with payments that they cannot consistently make, year in and year out.