CFPB publishes language access plan for consumers with limited English proficiency

Throughout the past few years, the CFPB has sought input from a range of stakeholders, including community-based organizations and financial institutions, for feedback about how it can improve consumer financial products and services for consumers with limited English proficiency (LEP).  As a part of these efforts, the CFPB has taken the following actions: in 2020, it published a Request for Information regarding challenges faced by LEP consumers and hosted a roundtable to discuss these challenges with stakeholders; in 2021, it published a statement providing compliance principles and guidelines on assisting LEP consumers.  Most recently, the agency published its Language Access Plan, which describes its own internal operations and its expectations for the industry.

In the plan, the CFPB discusses its recent initiatives, including the agency’s Language Access Task Force (LATF).  This task force is a “working group that aims to understand, develop, and execute an agency-wide strategy to provide consumers with LEP meaningful access to CFPB information and services.”  More specifically, it aims to improve the infrastructure for access to financial education resources, to develop new programs and to promote consistency in communications, and to identify the changes necessary to remove barriers to financial services.

The CFPB discusses the specific efforts it is currently taking to enhance access to services for LEP consumers, as well as what the Bureau expects from industry participants.  First, the CFPB considers language access when creating new rules, such as the small business lending rule.  For data collection under the rule, the CFPB will provide translated versions of the data collection sample form.  Further, the CFPB published a number of translated brochures meant to help LEP consumers understand their rights and protections, such as protections under fair lending laws.  The Bureau also reiterated its 2021 guidance, which “reminded mortgage servicers of their obligation to educate and assist all borrowers, including consumers with LEP, with resolving delinquencies and providing loss mitigation options when transitioning out of COVID-related mortgage forbearance programs.”  In addition to these recommendations, the CFPB again encouraged financial institutions to take advantage of special purpose credit programs, in order to reach historically disadvantaged communities.  As previously reported, last year the CFPB joined with other federal regulators to release guidance encouraging the use of special purpose credit programs for expanding access to credit.

The agency reminds the industry of its 2021 Statement Regarding the Provision of Financial Products and Services to Consumers with Limited English Proficiency, which “encourages financial institutions to better serve LEP consumers in languages other than English and provides guidance on how financial institutions can increase access to credit in non-English languages.”  The statement goes through a number of considerations associated with providing products and services to LEP consumers, and sets forth approaches for industry participants to address those considerations.  For example, the CFPB encourages providing LEP consumers with clear and timely disclosures in non-English languages describing the extent and limits of any language services provided throughout the product lifecycle.

Further, the CFPB encourages financial institutions to provide financial information in languages other than English in order to create more opportunities for consumers to access financial services.  The statement reminds financial institutions that a number of CFPB issued model forms are available in both English and Spanish, including disclosures that are required under the TRID rule for mortgages, and other commonly used forms.  In the past, the CFPB has found a failure to offer account disclosures in languages other than English an abusive act or practice under UDAAP.  For example, in 2021, the CFPB brought suit against Libre by Nexus, alleging that Libre engaged in abusive acts by using predominantly English-language agreements to enroll clients, even though Libre knew that many of its clients and co-signers did not understand English, and alleging its employees rushed through the enrollment process and omitted or misrepresented material terms of its written agreements.  The Bureau has also brought enforcement actions for related conduct, such as citing ECOA violations for excluding consumers with Spanish-language preferences and Puerto Rico mailing addresses from certain offers.

Lastly, the CFPB describes its internal strategy for expanding access to its content.  In addition to its dedicated website for Spanish-speaking consumers with translated financial education and information, the CFPB recently created website pages in Arabic, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Tagalog, and Vietnamese, in order to reach more consumers.  The CFPB also participates in a number of roundtables and working groups in order to gain insight on challenges faced by LEP consumers.

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