Written by Richard Cordray
Iowa City, IA – Today, we’re issuing one of our most important rules to date, the Ability-to-Repay rule. It’s designed to assure the reliability of mortgages – making sure that lenders offer mortgages that consumers can actually afford to pay back. This is a simple, obvious principle that needs to be cemented in the housing market.
In the run-up to the financial crisis, we had a housing market that was reckless about lending money. Lenders thought they could make money on a loan even if the consumer could not pay back that loan, either by banking on rising housing prices or by off-loading the mortgage into the secondary market. This encouraged broad indifference to the ability of many consumers to repay loans, which dramatically increased mortgage delinquencies and rates of foreclosures.
Earlier this year, we heard from a California man named Henry, who was in the process of foreclosure. He was desperate. During the overheated years, a lender sold him a mortgage valued at more than half a million dollars. This was far more than he could afford on his annual salary of less than $50,000. He said he’d assumed that the lender knew what it was doing when he qualified for such a large loan. He’s now worried not only about losing his home, but about losing his family’s entire future.
Henry is not alone. Unaffordable loans helped cause the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. People across the country were sold unsustainable mortgages. Some may have entered with their eyes open, seeking to ride the wave of rising housing prices, but many were led astray. For many borrowers, it appears that lenders ignored the numbers to get the loan approved. This kind of reckless lending was an endemic problem.
To put it simply: lenders should not set up consumers to fail.
The 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act created broad-based changes to how creditors make loans including new ability-to-repay standards, which we are charged with implementing. Among the features of our new Ability-to-Repay rule:
- Potential borrowers have to supply financial information, and lenders must verify it;
- To qualify for a particular loan, a consumer has to have sufficient assets or income to pay back the loan; and
- Lenders will have to determine the consumer’s ability to repay both the principal and the interest over the long term ? not just during an introductory period when the rate may be lower.
In addition to the Ability-to-Repay rule, today we are also issuing a proposal for potential adjustments. There are two key parts to the proposal:
- First, a proposed exemption for designated non-profit creditors and homeownership stabilization programs, as well as certain Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Federal agency refinancing programs. These programs generally appear to be already subject to their own specialized underwriting criteria, and they are designed to help consumers refinance into a more affordable home loan.
- Second, a proposed a new category for certain loans made and held in portfolio by small creditors, such as small community banks and credit unions, called “Qualified Mortgages.”
Qualified Mortgages are a category of loans where borrowers would be the most protected. They, among other things, cannot have certain risky features like negative-amortization, where the amount owed actually increases for some period because the borrower does not even pay the interest and the unpaid interest gets added to the amount borrowed.
Consumers should be able to trust the American dream of homeownership without worrying about losing the roofs over their heads and the shirts off their backs. The Ability-to-Repay rule will help ensure that lenders and consumers share the same basic financial incentives – that both of them win when borrowers can afford their loans. With this confidence, consumers can be active participants in the market and choose which of a wide variety of products they believe is best for them.