According to a letter sent to debt collectors, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has requested that debt collectors complete a survey regarding their basic activities and the operational costs of collecting debt. The survey is designed to assist the CFPB with potential rulemaking regarding debt collection. The CFPB, which has rulemaking authority like many other federal regulators, has already issued new rules with regard to mortgage servicing and loan origination. Future rules regarding debt collection are likely to be consumer-friendly.
The survey asks demographic questions, such as the size of the company, the types of debt that it collects, and the delinquency status of debts when assigned to the collector. It also asks companies the total value of debt in their inventory. For those of us tracking debt buyer activity, it also asks companies to state how often they receive specific types of data from creditors, for example, the chain of title to a debt and the account agreement. The survey also asks about consumer disputes, credit reporting, and compliance with federal law. Overall, if the companies respond, this should be an interesting set of data once compiled.
In the meantime, some consumer attorneys have stated that the completed questionnaires might be interesting material to request during the discovery process. However, this seems unlikely. If the survey response is retained by the debt collector, then it may be discoverable. However, if the data is solely in the hands of the CFPB, it may be more difficult to obtain. The Privacy Act of 1974 places restrictions on government retention of identifiable data. How the CFPB processes the data obtained via this survey may have an effect on whether it can be located in its original format. Additionally, it may require a Freedom of Information Act request or a subpoena to obtain the information. In that event, the CFPB must also comply with its confidentiality rules. They can be found at 12 C.F.R. §1070.40. At first glance, it may not be possible to work around the Bureau’s confidentiality rules.