Skip to comments.Feds Re-Impose Loan Standards They Helped Undermine
Posted on 02/22/2009 8:09:48 AM PST by No One Special
When President Obama announces Washingtons new plan to help troubled mortgage-holders today, the betting is that the program will include a loan-modification effort that reduces the size of a besieged homeowners debt. One goal would be to cut the size of loans and perhaps also their interest rate so that a mortgage holders monthly payment would equal no more than 31 percent of his pre-tax income. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have already been experimenting with an income-to-payment ratio of 38 percent in their loan modification efforts, but Washington wants to go further, indeed probably needs to go further, if it is to stem the tide of defaults.
There is a great irony that Washington will now lead the way in imposing new, stricter standards, including a tougher income-to-payment ratio, because it was Washington, prodded by affordable housing advocates, which pushed mortgage lenders to dilute their traditional underwriting values in the first place. Federal regulators attacked those established standards as being unintentionally biased against low and moderate income borrowers and used a variety of laws and regulatory bodies to push often resistant lenders into programs based on these lower standards. The government and those who backed its actions assured lenders these lower standards were safer than they thought, even though there was little research to support that contention. Now that a huge chunk of the market based on these debased standards has melted down, the government is going full circle.
The movement to water down underwriting standards grew out of claims of some housing advocates and elected officials that mortgage lenders were redlining, or avoiding, certain urban neighborhoods, and that these credit-starved areas were decaying from a lack of capital. When bankers countered that they received few credit-worthy applications based on their traditional underwriting criteria in many of these neighborhoods, regulators and housing advocates began to argue that there must be something wrong with the lending criteria, which needed to change.
One group that led the way was the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, which began protesting bank mergers and expansion requests in the mid-1980s under the Community Reinvestment Act. In 1986, ACORN threatened to oppose an acquisition by a Southern bank, Louisiana Bancshares, until the financial institution agreed to new flexible credit and underwriting standards for low-income borrowers, including agreeing to take into account on mortgage applications such income as public assistance and food stamps. ACORN also led a coalition of community groups that demanded industry-wide changes in lending standards for urban residents, including watering down minimum down-payment requirements. The community groups also attacked Fannie Mae as part of the problem with bank lending in certain areas because the giant, quasi government agencys underwriters were strictly by-the-book interpreters of standards who turned down purchases of unconventional loans, which sent a message to banks that these loans were unsafe.
Under pressure from Washington, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac agreed to begin purchasing mortgages under new, looser guidelines. Freddie Mac, for instance, made 28 changes to its underwriting standards, including approving low-income buyers without credit histories or with bad credit as long as they were current on rent and utilities payments--even though research had concluded that such buyers are more likely to default. Freddie Mac also said it would count income from seasonal jobs and public assistance toward income minimums, although such income (particularly seasonal work) was by definition not steady.
The giant agencies began several experimental lending programs based on watered-down standards. Freddie Mac began a program with Sears Mortgage Corporation to make mortgages to borrowers with an income-to-monthly payment ratio of 50 percent, at a time when most private mortgage companies aimed for a 28-to-33 percent ratio. The program also allowed borrowers with bad credit to win mortgage approval if they took credit counseling classes administered by local nonprofits like ACORN, although research would show that credit counseling classes have little impact on default rates.
These efforts gained the endorsement of some of our most authoritative federal institutions. Shortly after producing a controversial study in 1992 which asserted there was some evidence that lenders were intentionally avoiding minority neighborhoods, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston produced a guide to equal opportunity lending in which it told mortgage makers that conventional underwriting standards were unintentionally biased because they didnt take into account the economic culture of urban, lower-income and nontraditional customers. Among other things, the Boston Fed told lenders they should consider junking the industry's traditional obligation ratios, including the 28 percent income-to-payments ratio. The Fed noted in its guide that the secondary market, that is, those that purchased mortgages from banks, was willing to buy loans with higher ratios, thereby implying that others thought these loans a good bet, too. But at this point the secondary market for such loans consisted of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which had both been cajoled into buying them by Washington.
Under pressure, these institutions accepted these new standards even though there were plenty of early warning signs as well as several decades worth of research which suggested that when banks departed too far from traditional underwriting criteria delinquencies and foreclosures rose sharply. For instance, a minority loan program put together by banks in Atlanta after a newspaper series accused local financial institutions of redlining quickly ran into predictable trouble. The program allowed loans with payments that were up to 50 percent of an applicants monthly income, and within a year, 10 percent of the loans were delinquent. Even worse, those who took out the loans fell deeper into other kinds of debt, defaulted on credit card payments and had goods theyd purchased on credit repossessed.
Meanwhile, a Freddie Mac program called Affordable Gold, which purchased loans from banks under looser underwriting standards, including loans which allowed a borrower to make a down payment with funds contributed from a third party like a government assistance program or a nonprofit, showed sharply higher default rates, up to four times higher than traditional underwriting standards.
Despite such evidence, over time these programs moved from the experimental stage to a large part of the marketplace because politicians in both parties made expanding the number of home owners in America a high priority, and the only way to keep doing that was to lend to people with increasingly riskier credit. Fannie Mae announced a $1 trillion commitment to purchase affordable housing loans in 1992, then in 1999 under pressure from the Clinton administration announced a new program to buy loans made to borrowers with slightly impaired credit. In 2005 Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac committed to another $1 trillion in affordable housing lending.
And as their loan pools grew, their credit standards deteriorated. In a recent Forbes article Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute and Edward Pinto, former chief credit officer of Fannie Mae, point out that by 2001, 18 percent of Fannie Maes portfolio consisted of loans to people with credit scores below 680the traditional definition of a loan to someone with riskier credit, who is also someone more likely to default.
Of course, with two huge federal agencies willing to purchase such loans, mortgage makers couldnt churn them out fast enough, and private investors also began snapping up the loans in competition with Fannie and Freddie. Prof. Stan Liebowitz of the University of Texas uncovered a 1998 sales pitches by Bear Stearns, the leading private packager of mortgage-backed securities, in which a managing director of the firm assures banks in language remarkably similar to that used by government regulators that these loans were safer than traditionally thought and that investors were ready to buy them, if only banks would make more of them. Do we automatically exclude or severely discount loans with [poor credit scores]? Absolutely not, the eager investment banker tells his audience. Bear Stearns, of course, was eventually sunk by such loans.
Today, housing advocates and ex-government regulators say federal programs were not the problem because many of the worst loans portfolios were created by non-bank lenders which are not even subject to the Community Reinvestment Act. But thats an argument that ignores the much broader role that government played in watering down standards, including using pressure to force players across the industry to participate.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton, for instance, threatened to introduce legislation to make non-bank lenders, that is, mortgage finance companies, subject to CRA if these firms didnt sign on to affordable lending goals. HUD even crafted an agreement with the Mortgage Bankers Association, the industry trade group, which pledged that the groups members would aid in affordable housing goals. One of the first members of the MBA to take up the pledge was Countrywide, which pledged to introduce low-down payment loans with high income-to-payment ratios for low-income borrowers. Countrywide and its co-founder, Angelo Mozilo, ultimately became infamous as one of the first major mortgage lenders to melt down under the weight of its bad lending, but before it was notorious Countrywide was celebrated for its low-income efforts.
Today, the Obama administration acknowledges through its bailout program that those standards were unsafe. Its a backhanded acknowledgement that comes only because bailout efforts up until now have largely failed except in cases where borrowers are given new mortgages written to reflect former underwriting standards, which in many cases can only be accomplished by simply forgiving a big chunk of the borrowers debt. I suppose thats about as far as we can expect government to go in admitting the mess it helped to make.
Steven Malanga is an editor for RealClearMarkets and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute
The democrats mandated BY LAW that lending institutions give out worthless mortgages to people with no ability to ever re-pay these loans: The CRA Act of 1996, brought to full toxic fruition with the criminal corruption of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by Rahm Emanuel, Jamie Gorelik, Franklin Raines, Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, and the rest of the as yet Unindicted.
Can you say ACORN and Jesse Jackson shake-down of financial institutions when it came to so-called red lining? IMHO no one should be paying 31% of their pay to a mortgage company. If you have kids you cannot afford to have almost 1/3 of your salary going for a mortgage payment.
Insane. So a loan issued on perhaps 200% [exaggeration!] of the homeowner’s lied-about income must now be reduced to 31% of his actual income? And who makes up the difference?
When one of my kids worked as an ED for a Habitat affiliate, she discovered that most of the “homeowners” had 100% government income (a no-no in the Habitat guidelines). Interestingly enough, these people were frequently in default, even though the mortgage payment was low and, obviously, their government income was quite regular.
She insisted that people have actual income to get homes and this improved the repayment stats considerably.
what’s happening here...is that now that ACORN has a line-item practically in ‘Bama’s stimulus package...they don’t NEED CRA any longer...this Sh*& Su$%*!!!
Back in the old days, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and I bought my first house, I STARTED by adding up my pre-tax income, then calculating 30% of that and THEN shopping around for a house that sold for a price whose financing would be within that number and I could therefore afford.
The World has totally flipped on its axis since then which also explains the extinction of the less adaptable dinosaurs due to the resulting climate changes.
The guy that stares back at you when you shave every morning.
As long as they look busy. That’s what they get paid for, right? Bustling around and looking busy about “the people’s business”.
As in “somebody needs to do something”.
It is time for this country, the real Americans in it to just do the equivalent of declaring bankruptcy. Invest no, none, dollars in the stock market, maximize deductions and minimize withholding, start keeping value in forms other than deposits and paper, and to make every effort to be tied to no debt that can be subsumed by the government. This train wreck is inevitable. Obama has already said that he’s going to raise taxes and give it to those who don’t do or deserve $hit. The upper limits of what he’s promising now may be above your level of concern now, but that will change. His goal is equalization of wealth. Then he’s on to retribution.....
“Also keep in mind that banks were given CRA ratings. A low CRA rating basically labeled the bank as racist. “
Fool you once, my luck, fool you twice your fault. (Barney Frank is LHAO)
Excellent post. Thanks.
The only problem I see with your post is the fact that only one of the bailed out banks ever applied for CRA credits.
Closing the barn door...
"Gentlemen, we've got to do something to protect our phoney-baloney jobs."
I don't understand? CRA credit? I was talking about CRA rating. Banks don't apply for a CRA rating. CRA ratings are given to them by the federal government.
CRA Rating search: