On January 19, the CFPB released a special edition of Supervisory Highlights detailing the agency’s Covid-19 prioritized assessment (PA) observations. Since May 2020, the Bureau has conducted PAs in response to the pandemic in order to obtain real-time information from supervised entities operating in markets that pose an elevated risk of pandemic-related consumer harm. According to the Bureau, the PAs are not designed to identify federal consumer financial law violations, but are intended to spot and assess risks in order to prevent consumer harm. Targeted information requests were sent to entities seeking information on, among other things, ways entities are assisting and communicating with consumers, Covid-19-related institutional challenges, compliance management system changes made in response to the pandemic, and service provider data. Highlights of the Bureau’s findings include:

  • Mortgage servicing. The CARES Act established certain forbearance protections for homeowners. The Bureau pointed out that many servicers faced significant challenges, including operational constraints, resource burdens, and service interruptions. Consumer risks were also present, with several servicers (i) providing incomplete or inaccurate information regarding CARES Act forbearances, failing to timely process forbearance requests, or enrolling borrowers in unwanted or automatic forbearances; (ii) sending collection and default notices, assessing late fees, and initiating foreclosures for borrowers in forbearance; (iii) inaccurately handling borrowers’ preauthorized electronic funds transfers; and (iv) failing to take appropriate loss mitigation steps.
  • Auto loan servicing. The Bureau noted that many auto loan servicers provided insufficient information to borrowers about the impact of interest accrual during deferment periods, while other servicers continued to withdraw funds for monthly payments even after agreeing to deferments. Additionally, certain borrowers received repossession notices even though servicers had suspended repossession operations during this time.
  • Student loan servicing. The CARES Act established protections for certain student loan borrowers, including reduced interest rates and suspended monthly payments for most federal loans owned by the Department of Education. Many private student loan holders also offered payment relief options. The Bureau noted however that servicers faced significant challenges in implementing these protections. For certain servicers, these challenges led to issues which raised the risk of consumer harm, including (i) provision of incorrect or incomplete payment relief options; (ii) failing to maintain regular call center hours; (iii) failing to respond to forbearance extension requests; and (iv) allowing certain payment allocation errors and preauthorized electronic funds transfers.
  • Small business lending. The Bureau discussed the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), noting that when “implementing the PPP, multiple lenders adopted a policy that restricted access to PPP loans beyond the eligibility requirements of the CARES Act and rules and orders issued by the SBA.” The Bureau encouraged lenders to consider and address any fair lending risks associated with PPP lending.

The Supervisory Highlights also examined areas related to credit card accounts, consumer reporting and furnishing, debt collection, deposits, prepaid accounts, and small business lending.