Spotty Responses by Companies Undermine COVID-19 Consumer Relief Related to Evictions, Economic Income Payments, and Student Loans
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a new complaint bulletin covering several areas of concern related to relief provided in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction moratorium. Some consumers reported facing homelessness because of the negative impact of an eviction on their credit history reported by debt collectors. Consumers were also deprived of the full benefit of the economic impact payments as a result of overdraft practices at some financial institutions, and not all student loan borrowers were able to get the timely information and assistance they needed from their student loan servicer to get the full benefit of the variety of federal loan forgiveness, cancellation, and discharge programs offered through the CARES Act.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted unprecedented financial hardship on consumers across the nation,” said CFPB Acting Director Dave Uejio. “Millions of families, including renters, homeowners, and student loan borrowers, are facing the end of pandemic-era protections and payment assistance in the coming months. For an equitable recovery, shoddy customer service cannot stand in the way of everyone receiving the relief Congress provided.”
As of May 2021, an estimated 6.7 million renter householders were behind on their rental payments.. Consumers contacting the CFPB reported financial distress caused by the pandemic. Many of these consumers reported that they were current on rental payments before the pandemic, only to fall behind after losing their jobs due to the pandemic.
Consumers reported multiple issues with debt collection practices related to eviction, such as receiving notices for outstanding account balances — in some cases for amounts higher than their rent payments — for apartments they had been evicted from earlier in the pandemic. Other consumers reported receiving collection notices for charges they viewed as questionable, such as fees for damaged property or outstanding utility balances.
Some consumers have reported receiving debt collection notices following an eviction for outstanding account balances for apartments they had been evicted from earlier in the pandemic. Other consumers reported concerns that their eviction would have detrimental effects on their ability to secure future housing.
The CFPB has taken actions to protect renters from illegal evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- In March, the CFPB and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a joint statement on preventing illegal evictions.
- In April, the CFPB issued an interim final rule to address certain debt collector conduct associated with the eviction moratorium issued by the CDC.
- In May, the CFPB and the FTC put the nation’s largest landlords on notice that tenants must be fully informed of their rights under federal law before any eviction process starts.
The CFPB will closely monitor evictions and related debt collection activities as the nation emerges from the pandemic.
Economic Impact Payments
Complaints related to Economic Impact Payment (EIP) disbursements generally arose from confusion caused by financial institutions’ advances of stimulus funds and subsequent recovery of the advances. In many cases, when the financial institution reversed the advance, consumers were hit with an overdraft fee. Consumers also contacted the CFPB about difficulties they experienced accessing the EIP funds.
Upon the initial EIP disbursement, several financial institutions advanced to consumers with overdrawn accounts an amount equal to the overdraft amount, so consumers could access the full stimulus payment amount. These advances, sometimes referred to as provisional credits, were then reversed, usually a month later. Consumers who submitted checking account complaints reported being charged overdraft fees when funds advanced by their financial institutions were later reversed. Some consumers did not realize that an advance was posted to their account, and in some cases, were more overdrawn after the reversal.
Following the initial disbursement of EIPs, some consumers who received their payments on prepaid cards claimed that funds were deposited onto old or defunct cards, which had been used to receive tax refunds in prior years. Consumers reported that these errors created delays in accessing their money and that subsequent disbursements led to their accounts being locked and preventing them from accessing additional funds.
Student Loan Servicing
Student loan borrowers have encountered long delays, sometimes lasting weeks, to get answers to questions about their account status during the suspension of loan payments. In some cases, borrowers who complained to the CFPB could not get all of their issues addressed by their servicer within the 60 days allotted by the CFPB to respond to consumer complaints.
These reported delays in customer service have come at the same time as a significant decrease in federal student loan complaint volume following the suspension of payments on federally owned student loans in March 2020.
If consumers have an issue with a consumer financial product or service, they can submit a complaint to the CFPB. We will work to get consumers a response from the company. Consumers can also call (855) 411-2372 or via TTY/TDD at (855) 729-2372.