Servicers Should Gear Up for Expected Surge in Homeowners Needing Assistance
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today warned mortgage servicers to take all necessary steps now to prevent a wave of avoidable foreclosures this fall. Millions of homeowners currently in forbearance will need help from their servicers when the pandemic-related federal emergency mortgage protections expire this summer and fall. Servicers should dedicate sufficient resources and staff now to ensure they are prepared for a surge in borrowers needing help. The CFPB will closely monitor how servicers engage with borrowers, respond to borrower requests, and process applications for loss mitigation. The CFPB will consider a servicer’s overall effectiveness in helping consumers when using its discretion to address compliance issues that arise.
“There is a tidal wave of distressed homeowners who will need help from their mortgage servicers in the coming months. Responsible servicers should be preparing now. There is no time to waste, and no excuse for inaction. No one should be surprised by what is coming,” said CFPB Acting Director Dave Uejio. “Our first priority is ensuring struggling families get the assistance they need. Servicers who put struggling families first have nothing to fear from our oversight, but we will hold accountable those who cause harm to homeowners and families.”
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides borrowers with federally- backed mortgages with access to forbearance, and private lenders have also provided similar assistance. As of January 2021, approximately 2.7 million borrowers remained in such programs, with 2.1 million borrowers in forbearance and at least 90 days delinquent on their mortgage payments. Another 242,000 mortgages not in forbearance programs were at least 90 days delinquent. Industry data suggest that nearly 1.7 million borrowers will exit forbearance programs in September and the following months, with many of them a year or more behind on their mortgage payments. Beginning with the expiration of the federal foreclosure moratoriums at the end of June 2021, mortgage servicers will need ramped-up capacity to reach out and respond to the large number of homeowners likely to need loss mitigation assistance. To meet this surge, servicers will need to plan now.
In its oversight of mortgage servicers, the CFPB is focused on preventing avoidable foreclosures. The CFPB will pay particular attention to how well servicers are:
- Being proactive. Servicers should contact borrowers in forbearance before the end of the forbearance period so they have time to apply for help.
- Working with borrowers. Servicers should work to ensure borrowers have all necessary information and should help borrowers in obtaining documents and other information needed to evaluate the borrowers for assistance.
- Addressing language access. The CFPB will look carefully at how servicers manage communications with borrowers with limited English proficiency and maintain compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and other laws.
- Evaluating income fairly. Where servicers use income in determining eligibility for loss mitigation options, servicers should evaluate borrowers’ income from public assistance, child-support, alimony or other sources in accordance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act’s anti-discrimination protections.
- Handling inquiries promptly. The CFPB will closely examine servicer conduct where hold times are longer than industry averages.
- Preventing avoidable foreclosures. The CFPB will expect servicers to comply with foreclosure restrictions in Regulation X and other federal and state restrictions in order to ensure that all homeowners have an opportunity to save their homes before foreclosure is initiated.
Provided that servicers are demonstrating effectiveness in helping consumers, in accord with today’s compliance bulletin, the CFPB will continue to evaluate servicer activity consistent with the Joint Statement on Supervisory and Enforcement Practices Regarding the Mortgage Servicing Rules in Response to the COVID-19 Emergency and the CARES Acton April 3, 2020, which provides flexibility on certain timing requirements in the regulations.