CFPB Seeks OMB Approval to Conduct a Consumer Survey to Test Debt Collection Disclosures


6/12/2017 8:19:00 PM

The proposed web-based survey seeks to explore consumer comprehension and decision making in response to debt collection disclosure forms.

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On June 5, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced in a Federal Register notice that it is requesting a new information collection under the Paperwork Reduction Act titled, “Debt Collection Quantitative Disclosure Testing.”  This notice was released during the same week that Director Richard Cordray announced the CFPB will now consider substantiation proposals jointly in a subsequent first-party rulemaking while moving forward on other aspects of the third-party debt collection rulemaking, including consumer disclosures.

According to the notice, the CFPB plans to seek approval from the Office of Management and Budget to conduct a web-based survey of 8,000 individuals as part of the CFPB’s research on debt collection disclosures.  Unlike previous disclosure testing which used a smaller sample size and focused on aspects of the disclosure form itself (like layout), this survey will use a much larger sample size and updated forms to explore consumer comprehension and decision making in response to debt collection disclosure forms. 

Specifically, the CFPB plans to use the survey to test a number of outstanding questions related to disclosures the bureau is developing in conjunction with its debt collection rulemaking, including:

  • Whether additional information should be added to the validation notice to help consumers recognize whether they owe the debts.
  • Whether additional information about consumer rights under the FDCPA should be disclosed to consumers at the time the validation notice is given.
  • Whether consumers should receive disclosures in validation notices or subsequent communications regarding time-barred or obsolete debts, or if other disclosures should be provided.

The CFPB plans to use the information gathered from the web survey “to help assess whether it can improve the clarity of forms used during debt collection to facilitate consumer decision making,” as well as to help inform the development of future consumer disclosures, according to the CFPB’s supporting statement.

Of particular note, the CFPB has retained a contractor to conduct the proposed research who will subcontract with a survey research firm to assist with administration of the web survey.  The consumer-respondents will be recruited from GfK’s “KnowledgePanel,” an online panel.  Ultimately, after the survey data is tabulated, it will be presented to the CFPB with an executive summary and detailed findings about consumer comprehension and decision-making related to the tested debt collection form alternatives.  The CFPB states that it will also receive the underlying data from the contractor so that it can conduct any additional analysis.

To date, the CFPB has released the results of two research projects related to the debt collection rulemaking, both of which contained significant shortcomings: a study that looked at the operational costs of debt collection firms in July 2016 and a survey on consumer views on debt in January 2017.  ACA is cautiously optimistic, however, that the CFPB’s latest research endeavor will result in a more robust study to help inform any new debt collection rules.  Nevertheless, it is imperative that regardless of the entity that conducts the research, the survey itself and the accompanying methodology are in conformance with the requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act, its findings are used appropriately to develop data-driven rules, and that the CFPB fairly portrays the results of its research in a clear and fair way in any accompanying reports or press releases.

ACA is actively analyzing the CFPB’s proposed survey and its related materials.  Comments are due on Aug. 4, 2017. 

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