The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a federal government agency tasked with protecting consumers from harms caused by the financial markets. The stated vision of the CFPB for 2022 is as follows:
"To ensure all households have access to markets for consumer financial products and services that are fair, transparent, and competitive. In a market that works, the prices, risks, and terms of the deal are clear upfront so that consumers can understand their options and comparison shop, and where companies all play by the same consumer protection rules and compete fairly on providing quality and service" (emphasis added by the author).
See the CFPB's 2022 Strategic Plan here.
Despite the CFPB’s laudatory public vision – and despite an annual budget of more than half a billion dollars and a dedicated staff of more than 1500 attorneys and employees – the CFPB has failed to issue any guidance to the nearly 1,000 consumers who filed a historic number of Hunstein lawsuits in the past year against collection agencies regulated by the CFPB.
The stated vision of the CFPB to require all companies to “play by the same consumer protection rules” is apparently aspirational only because the CFPB itself will not articulate any rule for collection agencies to use letter vendors. How is it that nearly 1,000 consumers in the United States retained private attorneys in the past year to sue collection agencies on the exact same issue and apparently alleging the same harm and yet the CFPB has remained silent?
Three Steps the CFPB Must Take Today to Prevent Further Consumer Harm in the Hunstein Litigation
The lack of leadership and guidance from the CFPB on the Hunstein issue fostered an environment of compliance uncertainty in the debt collection industry. This uncertainty resulted in a record number of consumers challenging debt collectors’ use of letter vendors in lawsuits filed in both Federal and State Court. The CFPB must take the following actions today to end the consumer harm and uncertainty caused by the Hunstein litigation:
1. File an Amicus Brief in the Hunstein lawsuit pending in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals confirming the exact circumstances in which a debt collector may use a letter vendor. The CPFB has filed dozens of amicus briefs in debt collection cases in the past on issues that had substantially less impact on consumers. Filed briefs | Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (consumerfinance.gov)
2. Issue a compliance bulletin confirming the exact circumstances in which a debt collector may use a letter vendor.
3. Revise Regulation F and the collection agency exam manual to confirm the exact circumstances in which a debt collector may use a letter vendor.
The CFPB is apparently choosing to remain silent on the Hunstein issue because it believes the only harm its inaction is causing is the millions of dollars in legal fees, costs and employee time needlessly expended by the collection agencies responding to this wave of consumer litigation. However, the CFPB’s own mission statement compels this federal agency to act in the interest of both consumers and the debt collectors it regulates by immediately taking the three steps outlined above and defining the “consumer protection rules” for the debt collectors’ use of letter vendors.
While the CFPB seeks to be a leader in the financial markets like the prudential Federal regulators, its silence on the Hunstein litigation raises questions about whether CFPB leadership possesses the requisite courage and vision to truly lead the financial markets – and if there is even a place for such qualities at the CFPB today.
If you agree with this editorial, I encourage you to reach out to your contacts at the CFPB, share this editorial with your chosen media outlets or just mail your comments via First Class Mail to the CFPB at the following address:
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
1700 G St. NW
Washington, DC 20552