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Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

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May 26, 2015

Going It Alone on Your Mortgage

By David Reiss

walking alone

WiseBread quoted me in When It Makes Sense to Apply for a Mortgage Loan Without Your Spouse. It opens,

You and your spouse or partner are ready to apply for a mortgage loan. It makes sense to apply for the loan jointly, right? That way, your lender can use your combined incomes when determining how much mortgage money it can lend you.

Surprisingly, this isn’t always the right approach.

If the three-digit credit score of your spouse or partner is too low, it might make sense to apply for a mortgage loan on your own — as long as your income alone is high enough to let you qualify.

That’s because it doesn’t matter how high your credit score is if your spouse’s is low. Your lender will look at your spouse’s score, and not yours, when deciding if you and your partner qualify for a home loan.

“If one spouse has a low credit score, and that credit score is so low that the couple will either have to pay a higher interest rate or might not qualify for every loan product out there, then it might be time to consider dropping that spouse from the loan application,” says Eric Rotner, vice president of mortgage banking at the Scottsdale, Arizona office of Commerce Home Mortgage. “If a score is below a certain point, it can really limit your options.”

How Credit Scores Work

Lenders rely heavily on credit scores today, using them to determine the interest rates they charge borrowers and whether they’ll even approve their clients for a mortgage loan. Lenders consider a FICO score of 740 or higher to be a strong one, and will usually reserve their lowest interest rates for borrowers with such scores.

Borrowers whose scores are too low — say under 640 on the FICO scale — will struggle to qualify for mortgage loans without having to pay higher interest rates. They might not be able to qualify for any loan at all, depending on how low their score is.

Which Score Counts?

When couples apply for a mortgage loan together, lenders don’t consider all scores. Instead, they focus on the borrower who has the lowest credit score.

Every borrower has three FICO credit scores — one each compiled by the three national credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Each of these scores can be slightly different. When couples apply for a mortgage loan, lenders will only consider the lowest middle credit score between the applicants.

Say you have credit scores of 740, 780, and 760 from the three credit bureaus. Your spouse has scores of 640, 620, and 610. Your lender will use that 620 score only when determining how likely you are to make your loan payments on time. Many lenders will consider a score of 620 to be too risky, and won’t approve your loan application. Others will approve you, but only at a high interest rate.

In such a case, it might make sense to drop a spouse from the loan application.

But there are other factors to consider.

“If you are the sole breadwinner, and your spouse’s credit score is low, it usually makes sense to apply in your name only for the mortgage loan,” said Mike Kinane, senior vice president of consumer lending at the Hamilton, New Jersey office of TD Bank. “But your income will need to be enough to support the mortgage you are looking for.”

That’s the tricky part: If you drop a spouse from a loan application, you won’t be penalized for that spouse’s weak credit score. But you also can’t use that spouse’s income. You might need to apply for a smaller mortgage loan, which usually means buying a smaller home, too.

Other Times to Drop a Spouse

There are other times when it makes sense for one spouse to sit out the loan application process.

If one spouse has too much debt and not enough income, it can be smart to leave that spouse out of the loan process. Lenders typically want your total monthly debts — including your estimated new monthly mortgage payment — to equal no more than 43% of your gross monthly income. If your spouse’s debt is high enough to throw this ratio out of whack, applying alone might be the wise choice.

Spouses or partners with past foreclosures, bankruptcies, or short sales on their credit reports might stay away from the loan application, too. Those negative judgments could make it more difficult to qualify for a loan.

Again, it comes down to simple math: Does the benefit of skipping your partner’s low credit score, high debt levels, and negative judgments outweigh the negative of not being able to use that spouse’s income?

“The $64,000 question is whether the spouse with the bad credit score is the breadwinner for the couple,” says David Reiss, professor of law with Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, New York. “The best case scenario would be a couple where the breadwinner is also the one with the good credit score. Dropping the other spouse from the application is likely a no-brainer in that circumstance. And of course, there will be a gray area for a couple where both spouses bring in a significant share of the income. In that case, the couple should definitely shop around for lenders that can work with them.”

May 26, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

May 25, 2015

Charge of the Light Brigade

By David Reiss

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Alfred Tennyson

       I
HALF a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

       II
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

       III
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

       IV
Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke
Shatter’d and sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

       V
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

       VI
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

May 25, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Happy Memorial Day!

By Shea Cunningham

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

— John F. Kennedy

 

May 25, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

May 22, 2015

Airbn-Beffudled

By David Reiss

ox

MainStreet quoted me in Is Airbnb Making It Impossible For You To Rent That Dream Apartment?. It opens,

The accusation is blunt: Airbnb, say some, is sucking up apartment units that otherwise would be available to renters. In San Francisco, that claim is spoken so loudly – by so many politicians – a city agency just filed a report on it.

Similar claims are heard in Santa Monica, Calif., in Manhattan and some Brooklyn neighborhoods, a few areas in Seattle and also a sliver of Boston and adjacent Cambridge. True? False? Is that Airbnb host putting vacationers up in what should be your prime Greenwich Village flat?

Some think such accusations are just distracting from the main issue at hand: housing inventory shortages.

“It’s a diversion,” says Richard Green, the Lusk Chair in Real Estate at the University of Southern California. “Politicians are not dealing with what they should be dealing with to address housing unavailability so they are singling out Airbnb.” His nuanced point is that in most markets the number of Airbnb units is trivial and so whatever impact it has on apartment availability is minimal.

The San Francisco government report does not disagree: “the Budget and Legislative Analyst estimates that between 925 and 1,960 units citywide have been removed from the housing market from just Airbnb listings. At between 0.4 and 0.8%, this number of units is a small percentage of the 244,012 housing units that comprised the rental market in 2013.”

Read the San Francisco report. It said that under 1% of apartments have been removed from rental channels due to Airbnb. How important is that? What does it mean?

What is unique about San Francisco – also Manhattan and a few other places – is that apartment vacancy rates are fiercely low. In a recent survey, it stood at 4.1% in San Francisco and that means this is the type of town where would-be renters get in line early whenever a decent unit goes up for rent. Add back in those Airbnb units and, yes, that might be a happy day for some tenants. But not many.

The other unique feature: San Francisco, Manhattan and a very few other places attract large tourist populations, especially Millennials, and that has been a sweet spot for sharing economy rentals. Take tight supply, add in high hotel prices and a flood of tourists and there is the recipe for cries about any apartment that seems to be lost to the longterm tenant market.

In a lot of markets – from Phoenix to Houston – vacancy rates are already high, tourist numbers are low and nobody really thinks Airbnb is having any impact on local rentals.

But in some cities it just may be. Harry Campbell, TheRideShareGuy.com, said of Airbnb: it is “having a huge impact in coastal communities [of Los Angeles] like Venice/Santa Monica where mid level chain hotels can run upwards of $300-$400 a night. It just doesn’t make much sense for landlords to rent their apartments out traditionally when the profits are so much higher using Airbnb.” (Santa Monica, in mid May, enacted legislation banning short-term rentals such as Airbnb. Nobody knows how it will be enforced or if it will withstand legal challenges.)

At least one Portland, Ore. Airbnb host emailed Mainstreet to admit that two apartment units that had been rented to regular tenants are no longer. Explained that host: “From the point of view of a former landlord, the Airbnb experience is far superior. Airbnb guests are, on the whole, responsible, considerate and never late with rent since this is collected in advance by Airbnb.”

Either way, however, the calculus is not one-sided, not even in those premium markets like San Francisco. Green added: “You could also say that Airbnb is increasing the stock of affordable housing units by letting some keep their apartments by occasionally renting them out. It’s entirely possible Airbnb produces as many units as it loses.”

In that regard, listen to Kip (last name withheld) — a self-described 60+ woman living alone in Beverly Hills in a two bedroom apartment. A few times a month, said Kip, she rents it out through Airbnb. “That helps me with the cost of living,” she said. She stressed she would never take in a roommate but is happy with having guests a few nights a month. “It’s helped me boost my flagging income,” she said.

Christopher Nulty, an Airbnb spokesperson, had fighting words in response to the San Francisco report in particular.

“This comes from the same people who want to ban new housing in the Mission [a San Francisco neighborhood], ban home sharing and make San Francisco more expensive for middle class families,” he said. “Home sharing is an economic lifeline for thousands of San Franciscans who depend on the extra income to stay in their homes.”

So, who’s telling the truth?

“When evaluating claims about Airbnb, it is important to keep in mind whose ox is being gored,” said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School. His point: In some cases, maybe Airbnb brings some harm. In other cases, it does good. Matters just aren’t simple or black and white.

May 22, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

May 22, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

May 21, 2015

AG Lynch on Wall Street

By David Reiss

Loretta_Lynch_US_Attorney

Institutional Investor quoted me in Will New Attorney General Loretta Lynch Shake up Wall Street? It opens,

Those unhappy with the lack of personal accountability for the 2008–’09 financial crisis are running out of time to see justice served: In the U.S., the statute of limitations for many bank-related criminal charges is ten years. But the recent appointment of Loretta Lynch as the first black woman to the post of attorney general could present a window of opportunity.

Given mounting public frustration over the failure to punish financial executives who helped push the world to the brink of another Great Depression, Lynch may be well positioned to act where her predecessor, Eric Holder, was unsuccessful. The U.S. Department of Justice has often talked up its efforts to hold individuals responsible for crimes they may have committed, but there hasn’t been much progress. Last year, however, saw an uptick in the size of bank settlements related to the crash, including a $16.65 billion deal with Bank of America Corp. and a $7 billion agreement with Citigroup.

Some industry observers believe Lynch, who turns 56 on Thursday, could use this momentum to target people. “If she does anything differently [than Holder did], she may push her folks to try to make those cases against individuals higher up the corporate ladder,” says Glen Kopp, former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York and a New York–based partner in the white-collar practice at law firm Bracewell & Giuliani.

Lynch’s critics have griped that she may be not be strict enough with Wall Street. They point to her 1980s stint with law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel, which has counted among its clients BofA, Credit Suisse Group and HSBC Holdings, and to a spell early last decade at Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells), where she practiced white -collar criminal defense.

Detractors say both positions, as well as her tenure at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 2003 to 2005, have compromised her ability to prosecute big banks by establishing relationships that she may not wish to jeopardize as attorney general. During Lynch’s lengthy confirmation process, Republicans criticized her for being too soft on HSBC in a 2012 settlement; the British bank agreed to pay $1.92 billion in a money-laundering case after New York and federal authorities decided that criminal charges might bring down the institution.

But many in the legal community believe the more likely outcome will be somewhere in the middle.

“The financial industry will be dealing with an extremely well-informed AG who will seek to balance the competing concerns that arise when investigating and prosecuting large enterprises like those that dominate Wall Street,” says David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School with expertise in property, mortgage lending and consumer financial services matters.

May 21, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Round-Up

By Serenna McCloud

  • Federal Reserve Bank of New York Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit finds that delinquencies, foreclosures, and bankruptcies improve as household debt stays flat.
  • NYU Furman Center Report: Building New or Preserving Oldfinds that in neighborhoods with high rents, leasing underdeveloped NYCHA-owned land for private development could generate either substantial annual lease payments for NYCHA or significant numbers of affordable units. This  would help the city meet two of its housing goals: creating new units of affordable housing without additional subsidy, and generating new revenue to help fill NYCHA’s budget shortfall.
  • National Association of Realtors Summary of April 2015 Existing Homes Sales Statistics details the 3.3% slowdown by region and other factors.
  • National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Out of Reach 2015 details the affordability of rental units nationwide. According to the study, the 2015 National Housing Wage is $19.35, meaning that someone working full-time, 40 hours a week, would need to earn $19.35 per hour in order to afford a modest two-bedroom rental unit while spending no more than 30% of household income on housing costs.
    • In 13 states and the District of Columbia, the Housing Wage is more than $20 per hour.
    • The 2015 Housing Wage is now 2.7 times the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
    • There is no state in the country where someone earning either the state or federal minimum wage can afford even a one-bedroom apartment renting at the HUD Fair Market Rent (FMR).

May 21, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments