October 31, 2014
The Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) issued a report, Homeowners Can Get Lost in the Shuffle And Suffer Harm When Their Servicer Transfers Their Mortgage But Not the HAMP Application or Modification, that highlights some of the structural problems in the servicing industry. The report notes, for instance, that, “Homeowner calls to SIGTARP’s Hotline about difficulties experienced in HAMP as a result of mortgages being transferred from one servicer to another have persisted throughout the life of the program and have escalated in the last year.” (1) This is just the most recent reminder that servicing transfers continue to be a major source of trouble for homeowners.
October 30, 2014
MainStreet quoted me in Fed’s End to Quantitative Easing Will Affect How You Invest and Buy a House. It reads in part,
The Federal Reserve’s decision to end its bond buying program after six years to help boost the economy is a sign that more recovery and growth will occur. So what does the typical American on Main Street need to know?
While the Fed did not indicate a timeline for when interest rates will rise, consumers should be prepared and “see the writing on the wall” since variable rates such as credit cards, adjustable rate mortgages and home equity loans will start to rise slowly and gradually, said Bankrate.com chief financial analyst Greg McBride, CFA.
“The low interest rates will come to an end,” he said. “Consumers should pay down debt while the rates are low rather than contend with it once rates move up.”
Mortgage rates will remain low but will fluctuate according to global risks, not because of any actions taken by the Fed, said Ernie Goss, a professor of economics at Creighton University in Omaha. Consumers should expect rates for short term rates such as auto loans to rise “ever so slightly” between now and July 2015, he said.
The good news about rising interest rates is that savers will begin earning more on their nest eggs, but the increase could be offset by a higher cost of borrowing and could discourage people from getting loans and spending, said Gail Cunningham, a spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C. non-profit organization.
“If mortgage rates rise, consumers with variable rate mortgages will see their monthly payments go up, putting a dent in the amount they have available for disposable spending,” she said.
Even if mortgage rates do increase, consumers need to consider the costs of refinancing before they embark on the process, said David Reiss, a law professor at the Brooklyn Law School in New York. Homeowners need to determine how long they plan to live in their home and if the cost of refinancing outweighs the lower monthly payments.
“If you are not sure that you will be there for a few years at least, the cost of refinancing may be more than the amount you save in decreased interest payments,” he said. “How many years will it take you to recoup that cost in reduced interest rate payments?”
October 29, 2014
I have submitted a Comment on Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Proposed Rulemaking to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Basically, I argue
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Home Mortgage Disclosure Act proposed rulemaking (proposed Aug. 29, 2014) is a reasonable one. It increases the amount of information that is to be collected about important consumer products, such as reverse mortgages. It also increases the amount of important information it collects about all mortgages. At the same time, it releases lenders from having to determine borrowers’ intentions about how they will use their loan proceeds, something that can be hard to do and to document well. Finally, while the proposed rule raises some privacy concerns, the CFPB can address them.
October 28, 2014
I have posted a short Response, Who Should Be Providing Mortgage Credit to American Households?, to SSRN (as well as to BePress). The abstract reads,
Who should be providing mortgage credit to American households? Given that the residential mortgage market is a ten-trillion-dollar one, the answer we come up with had better be right, or we may suffer another brutal financial crisis sooner than we would like. Indeed, the stakes are as high as they were in the Great Depression when the foundation of our current system was first laid down. Unfortunately, the housing finance experts of the 1930s seemed to have a greater clarity of purpose when designing their housing finance system. Part of the problem today is that debates over the housing finance system have been muddled by broader ideological battles and entrenched special interests, as well as by plain old inertia and the fear of change. It is worth taking a step back to evaluate the full range of options available to us, as the course we decide upon will shape the housing market for generations to come. This is a Response to Brent Horton, For the Protection of Investors and the Public: Why Fannie Mae’s Mortgage-Backed Securities Should Be Subject to the Disclosure Requirements of the Securities Act of 1933, 89 Tulane L. Rev. __ (forthcoming 2014-2015).
October 27, 2014
As the FHFA sets the housing goals for 2015-2017, it should focus on maximizing the creation and preservation of affordable housing. Less efficient proposed subgoals should be rejected unless the FHFA has explicitly identified a compelling rationale to adopt them. The FHFA has not identified one in the case of the proposed small multifamily subgoal. Thus, it should be withdrawn.
October 23, 2014
Todd Zywicki has posted The Behavioral Law and Economics of Fixed-Rate Mortgages (and Other Just-So Stories) to SSRN. The article contains
a spoof, in order to make a larger point.
The abstract reads,
A major cause of the recent financial crisis was the traditional American mortgage, which is distinctive for the following features: it is a thirty-year, self-amortizing loan with an unlimited right to prepay. The United States is unique in the world for standardizing on a mortgage product with these features. Yet not only have a majority of the foreclosures that occurred during the financial crisis been fixed-rate mortgages, the fixed-interest-rate characteristics have undermined efforts by the Federal Reserve and government to assist recovery of the housing market. Moreover, the long fixed-rate term and ability to refinance are highly expensive and suboptimal features for many consumers. Nevertheless, many consumers persist in purchasing this mortgage. Drawing on the methodology of behavioral law and economics, this article provides rationalizations for how behavioral law and economics can explain the persistence of a product that is so harmful to many consumers and to the economy at large. The article then draws conclusions about what this analysis means for the behavioral law and economics research program generally and for the use of behavioral law and economics in government policymaking.
I have a lot to say about this article but I don’t want to ruin it for you! Suffice it to say, the article is a provocative critique of behavioral law and economics. Those of us who hope to see a healthy mortgage market develop would do well to take this critique seriously — even if you end up rejecting its broader implications.