The numbers coming out of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau were striking: Disputes over reverse mortgages spiked by 172% from 2012, the first full year that the CFPB opened its virtual doors to such complaints, to 2016. Over that same period, the CFPB saw a 102% increase in all Federal Housing Administration-related loans, while Americans aged 62 and older represent a disproportionally high amount of overall CFPB mortgage complaints.

But the story is slightly more complicated than the data depicts without context. According to Reid Herlihy, a partner at the Washington, D.C. law firm of Ballard Spahr, the rise in mortgage-related complaints has more to do with general awareness of the CFPB’s role and reporting functions, and not necessarily with a decline in mortgage-servicing quality over the five years for which data was available.

“I would put that to the general awareness of the CFPB,” Herlihy told RMD of the rise in complaints over time.

Herlihy pointed out that after a substantial spike between 2011 and 2012 — entirely due to the fact that the agency only began accepting complaints in December 2011 — the overall number of gripes has remained relatively stable between 38,000 to 42,000 per year, with a jump to 49,408 in 2013 representing the only outlier. He also posited that any significant gains in categorical complaints were the result of the CFPB gradually expanding the product classes for which it accepts consumer disputes.

Still, the data does illustrate some interesting issues relevant to the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage space.

As RMD reported back in early March, financial industry watchers seem to think that substantially rolling back laws and regulations ostensibly designed to help average consumers might be too politically harmful for more middle-of-the-road politicians.

“The experience of the subprime mortgage crisis is still fresh in everybody’s mind, and the Great Recession is still fresh in everybody’s mind,” attorney Christopher Willis, who leads the Ballard Spahr firm’s Consumer Financial Services Litigation Group, told RMD at the time. “And I don’t think that the Republicans can safely do away with the agency given the perceived value it has to the electorate.”

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