Five big arguments against a move to fire Cordray

They’re spinning hard.

​Lobbyists for big Wall Street banks and predatory lenders are pushing the Trump Administration to fire CFPB Director Richard Cordray, and they’re telling reporters it’s a done deal. They’re hoping their spin will make it so.

They don’t want the Trump team to think before they act. And that’s understandable, because firing Cordray would be a terrible idea, as well as an unlawful one. Here are five reasons why:

#1 The CFPB has done a world of good for consumers. Since it got up and running less than six years ago, this agency has been bringing basic rules of fair play to the financial marketplace. Through its enforcement actions and complaint system, the Consumer Bureau has delivered some $12 billion in financial relief to more than 29 million Americans cheated by financial companies large and small.

#2 Students, servicemembers, veterans, and seniors would raise hell. The CFPB has been steadfastly in the corner of our nation’s service members and veterans, working with the Defense Department to close loopholes and make sure that the 36 percent APR limit on consumer loans to servicemembers and their dependents actually works,  while taking enforcement actions against a succession of financial fraudsters who specialize in exploiting military families. The Bureau has also stood up for student loan borrowers with actions such as its recent lawsuit against Navient, charging the nation’s largest servicer of student loans with an array of deceptive practices. And it has been aggressive in combating the growing problem of financial exploitation of the elderly.

#3 The CFPB is hugely popular. By refusing to be cowed by the payday lenders, the big banks, and their Congressional buddies, Cordray and his agency have made quite a few powerful enemies. But they have also a vast number of devoted friends. Across party lines, voters have an overwhelmingly favorable view of the CFPB and its work. Trump voters are no different: by a margin of 55 to 28 percent, they oppose efforts to weaken or eliminate this agency.

# 4 The White House would have a vexingly hard time explaining a move to fire the CFPB’s Director. Many people voted for Donald Trump in part because of his countless promises to stand up to the power of Wall Street. Attempting to remove Director Cordray would be an obvious cave-in to the financial industry. It would not go unnoticed.

# 5 He would almost certainly not get away with it. The CFPB is by law an independent agency, and not part of the Administration. Director Cordray’s term runs through July 2018, and the law says he can be removed only “for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.” Despite their feverish efforts, hostile lawmakers have been unable to come up with any charge that would pass the laugh test, and  no president has ever yet succeeded in removing an appointee for cause.

Rep. Mulvaney is the Wrong Choice for OMB–Two Constituents Say Why

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, Donald Trump’s choice to oversee the federal budget, said he hears only complaints about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). That could be because he is listening to the financial services lobby, not the ordinary Americans the agency has helped.

The South Carolina Republican, whom Trump has nominated to head the Office of Management and Budget, went on a tirade during his confirmation hearing this week, calling the CFPB “the very worst kind of government entity.”

That was a surprise to South Carolinians who actually like the idea that there’s an agency in Washington fighting to make financial companies follow the law and treat people fairly.

The CFPB recently sued Navient, the nation’s largest student loan servicer, alleging that the company handled borrowers so unfairly that they ended up paying far more than was necessary. Having an ally against a big company, it turns out, is comforting to some South Carolinians.

Amanda Green of Rock Hill, South Carolina, said Mulvaney’s comment proves he’s “disconnected” from what worries people like her, a client of Navient.

“I am currently repaying my student loans to Navient, and having learned of the CFPB’s action against them, am comforted in knowing this happened.”

Standrick Jamarr Rhodes of Lancaster, South Carolina, has struggled to repay student loans as an elementary school teacher. He’d never heard of the CFPB until they sued Navient.

“To learn that I may have been cheated in that process and that there is an agency looking out for me is a relief,” he said. “Our representatives are not only wrong with comments attacking the consumer agency, but are the prime reason why I often feel government doesn’t work for people. This agency clearly does.”

The CFPB works. Rep. Mulvaney is wrong. #DefendCFPB and reject the #SwampCabinet

Treasury Nominee Is a Foreclosure King, a System Rigger, and a Disaster Profiteer

Steven Mnuchin is an emblematic beneficiary of a rigged system, who has made an extraordinary amount of money by virtue of insider advantage and willingness  to use it to take advantage of vulnerable people.

Mnuchin’s early years were spent following a path paved by his father, from Yale to Goldman Sachs.

At Goldman Sachs, he helped build the market for risky mortgage products from the ruins of the S&L crisis of the 80’s.

  • He spent his years at Goldman earning how to “profit from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s by buying the assets of capsized banks on the cheap,”[1] trading the very products that would cause the massive foreclosure crisis from which he would later profit.
  • He was “front and center for the advent of instruments like collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and credit default swaps (CDSs).”[2], which he described as ‘an extremely positive development.’
  • Mnuchin left Goldman with $46mm to try as a hedge fund manager to capitalize on the new financial markets he’d spent his career building.

After leaving Goldman, he leveraged relationships with wealthy friends to float through some cushy jobs.

Mnuchin’s time at his own hedge fund – Dune Capital Management – had all the hallmarks of the boom years:

  • Becoming entangled with Bernie Madoff’s notoriousponzi scheme – and getting out with millions in allegedly ill-gotten profits shortly before its collapse.
  • Flirting with some of the most unsavory crisis-era financial products such as the macabre Life Settlement contracts, which made bets on the life insurance policies of the elderly.

Mnuchin’s hedge fund, and Mnuchin himself, became best-known as a Hollywood producer and financier.

Dune and Mnuchin were embroiled in scandal through their web of relationships with the bankrupt and currently-under-investigation entertainment company Relativity Media.

  • Dune invested millions in the Hollywood media firm Relativity Media, and Mnuchin served as co-chairmain of its board. During Mnuchin’s tenure, Relativity also borrowed heavily from Mnuchin’sOneWest Bank. Relativity ran into serious financial trouble, ultimately filing for Bankruptcy protection in 2015. Just months earlier,  Mnuchin abruptly resigned from the board, and shortly afterward OneWest swept millions from Relativity’s bank accounts. Relativity was accused by creditors, who lost millions, of essentially being a Ponzi scheme, and is currently the subject of an FBI Investigation.

When the financial crisis hit in 2008, Mnuchin was sought to capitalize on the unfolding disaster.

Armed with a cadre of billionaire friends and an intricate knowledge of exotic financial instruments, Mnuchin struck a deal that would quickly make him the Foreclosure King.

IndyMac, the large west-coast mortgage lender that specialized in the the most toxic kinds of loans, had failed and was taken over by the FDIC, which was desperately seeking a buyer to take on the hundreds of thousands of mortgage loans in its portfolio.Mnuchin swooped in and in 2009, his group purchased most of IndyMac’s $23.5 billion of assets and re-named it OneWest Bank in a deal that kept the FDIC on the hook for billions in losses.

As the foreclosure crisis deepened across the country, OneWest got to work trying to maximize the profit from IndyMac’s books, which included the thousands of residential mortgages. It dedicated most of its resources to- and derived most of its profit from – pushing IndyMac’s base of troubled homeowners into foreclosure,  exacerbating the foreclosure crisis in the process.

Although the loss-sharing deal crafted with the FDIC was meant to encourage loan modifications and payment plans that could keep homeowners in their homes, OneWest found it more profitable to foreclose on more than 50,000 homeowners, often aggressively and even illegally.

Mnuchin foreclosed on thousands, becoming known as the Foreclosure King

While foreclosing on tens of thousands of homeowners, OneWest earned a reputation for widespread malfeasance:

  • OneWest was at the center of the Robosigning scandal, which revealed how OneWest rushed homes through the foreclosure process by using fraudulent documents and doctored paperwork
  • The California department of Justice found evidence of widespread misconduct, including fraud, tax evasion, and violation of other state laws

Mnuchin’s foreclosure practices also targeted vulnerable communities:

  • The Elderly – OneWest preyed on the elderly through their Reverse Mortgage unit, which foreclosed on over 16,000 elderly homeowners in California alone, accounting for 40% of all CA reverse mortgage foreclosures.
  • Communities of Color Targeted communities of color, with ⅔ of their foreclosures occurring in these neighborhoods in addition to evidence of redlining throughout their districts.
  • Servicemembers Nearly a quarter of the $8.5 million federal authorities ordered OneWest to pay in compensation for thousands of cases of foreclosure misconduct went to Servicemembers, who has been illegally foreclosed on in violation of specific laws protecting them from abuse.
  • Hurricane Sandy VictimsOneWest blocked the release of millions in aid due to the victims of Hurricane Sandy, and was found to be one of the worst offenders in an investigation by New York State authorities

Foreclosure was the first choice not the last resort for OneWest bank:

Despite federal programs to incentivize loan modifications and keep struggling families in their homes, OneWest only completed modifications for 23,000 – they evicted more than twice as many people as they completed modifications for.

There is, however, one example of a loan Mnuchin was willing to modify in the face of  borrower financial distress: Donald Trump, who sued Dune in 2008 to modify a loan he’d received for Trump Tower in Chicago.

Mnuchin Cashed out of OneWest, and sets sights on loftier goals.

In 2015 – after paying themselves $1.5bn in dividends – Mnuchin and the investors sold OneWest to CIT Group for $3.4bn.Mnuchin personally made hundreds of millions on the deal. The sale faced strenuous opposition from community groups, and scores of OneWest foreclosure victims shared stories of the terrible impact of the  bank’s abuse and misconduct.

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-08-31/steven-mnuchin-businessweek

[2] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-03-22/from-indymac-to-onewest-steven-mnuchins-big-score

Two of the Nation’s Three Largest Credit Reporting Agencies Deceived Consumers About the Value and Cost of their Products

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’s first enforcement action of 2017 will return more than $17 million to consumers who were deceived into purchasing unneeded credit reporting products. On January 3, 2017, the CFPB issued a consent order against TransUnion, LLC (TransUnion) and Equifax Inc. (Equifax) and their respective subsidiaries and affiliates for making false claims about the usefulness and actual cost of the companies’ credit score services.

TransUnion and Equifax are two of the nation’s three largest credit reporting agencies. They collect consumers’ credit information in order to generate credit reports and scores to be used by businesses to determine whether to extend credit.  These companies also sell their own products directly to consumers, including credit scores, credit reports, and credit monitoring.

According to the order, TransUnion and Equifax told consumers that they would receive the same score typically used by lenders to determine their creditworthiness.  But that claim was false: in fact, the scores they sold to consumers were rarely used by lenders. Since at least 2011, TransUnion has been using a credit score model from VantageScore Solutions, LLC (VantageScore) — a model not used by the vast majority of lenders and landlords to assess consumers’ credit. Similarly, between July 2011 and March 2014, Equifax used its own proprietary credit score model, the Equifax Credit Score, which was in the form of “education credit scores” and thus intended for consumers’ educational use and rarely used by lenders.  In fact, the most widely used scores in lending are FICO scores.

TransUnion and Equifax also falsely advertised the price of their services.  They told consumers that their credit scores and credit-related products were free, or in the case of TransUnion, cost only “$1.” In reality, the companies required consumers to sign up for either a seven-day or 30 day free trial period of credit monitoring, which then automatically turned into a monthly subscription costing $16 or more per month, unless the consumer had cancelled by the end of the free trial. This payment structure, called “negative option billing,” was not adequately disclosed in the companies’ ads.

Credit reporting agencies are required by law to provide a free credit report once every 12 months. They are not allowed to advertise add-on services until “after the consumer has obtained his or her annual file disclosure.” The CFPB found that Equifax violated that requirement.

The CFPB has ordered TransUnion to pay more than $13.9 million in restitution to affected consumers, and Equifax to pay almost $3.8 million, in addition to fines of $3 million and $2.5 million respectively. The companies have also been directed to truthfully and clearly describe the usefulness of their credit score products, and to obtain consumer consent before enrolling anyone in automatic billing.

Consumers who want access to their credit reports for free should go to the official source: www.annualcreditreport.com. They can stagger their requests by ordering one report from each of the Big Three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) every four months, essentially obtaining “credit monitoring for free.” In addition, many consumers can now get a FICO score for free through the FICO Open Access program from participating credit card companies or nonprofit credit counselors.

— Veronica Meffe