Getting CAMELS Past Regulators

photo by Max Pixel

Bloomberg BNA Banking Daily quoted me in Court Asked to Second-Guess Bank Capital, Earnings, Risk Ratings (behind a paywall). It reads, in part,

A now-shuttered Chicago bank is taking on the proverbial giant in a fight to give banks the right to challenge safety and soundness ratings by federal regulators.
Builders Bank, an Illinois-chartered community bank that technically closed its doors in April, wants a federal judge to review a so-called CAMELS rating of 4 it got from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, a rating it said triggered higher costs for insurance premiums (Builders Bank v. Federal Dep. Ins. Corp., N.D. Ill., 15-cv-06033, response 9/13/17). The rating should be reviewed by a court, it said, because it didn’t accurately reflect the bank’s risk profile. A 3 rating would have been more appropriate, it said.
It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of the awkwardly-named CAMELS ratings, which also are used by the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The ratings — which measure capital, assets, management, earnings, liquidity, and sensitivity to market risk on a range of 1 to 5, with 1 being the best rating — can mean thumbs-up or thumbs-down on business plans by banks and affiliates.
Want to merge with or buy another bank? Don’t bet on it if your bank has a low CAMELS rating. Want to pay lower premiums for federal deposit insurance? A high rating may mean yes, a low rating probably not. Want to lower your capital costs? Endure fewer examinations? Open new branches? Hold on to a profitable business unit or face regulatory demands to divest it? All of those business decisions and others can turn on how well a bank scores under the CAMELS system.
Pinchus D. Raice, a partner with Pryor Cashman LLP in New York who represents the New York League of Independent Bankers, said judges should be able to look over those rating decisions.
Judicial review would enhance the integrity of bank examinations, he said. “I think it would increase confidence in the process,” Raice told Bloomberg BNA. “Somebody should be looking over the shoulders of the agency, because CAMELS ratings are critical to the life of an institution.” The New York trade group has filed a brief in the suit urging the court to rule against the FDIC.
FDIC Rating Challenged
The FDIC has asked Judge Sharon J. Coleman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to dismiss the case on several grounds.
For one, the FDIC said, Builders Bank no longer exists. It voluntarily dissolved itself earlier this year and in April transferred its assets to Builders NAB LLC, a nonbank limited liability company in Evanston, Ill., that couldn’t be reached for comment. In a Sept. 13 filing, the bank said Illinois law allows it to continue the suit even though it’s now merged with the LCC, and that it’s seeking damages in the amount of the excessive deposit insurance premiums it says were paid.
Bank Groups Join
The next likely step is a ruling on the FDIC’s motion to dismiss, though it’s not clear when the court might make a decision. Meanwhile, the case has attracted briefs from several banking groups — a joint brief filed in August by the Clearing House Association, the American Bankers Association, and the Independent Community Bankers of America, and a separate brief a few weeks later by the New York League of Independent Bankers.
None of the four groups is wading into the actual dispute between Builders Bank and the FDIC, and their briefs explicitly said they’re not supporting either party. However, all four groups urged the court not to issue a sweeping decision that says CAMELS ratings are exempt from outside review.
According to the Clearing House, the ABA, and the ICBA, banks should be able to seek judicial review in exceptional cases “where such review is necessary and appropriate,” such as if regulators get their calculations wrong, or if regulators use ratings to retaliate against banks that criticize FDIC policies or personnel.
“At a minimum, given the complexity of the CAMELS rating system and the consequences of CAMELS ratings, this court should not issue a ruling that is broader than necessary to decide this dispute and that may undermine the ability of other banks to obtain judicial review,” the brief said.
*     *      *
David Reiss, professor of finance law at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, N.Y., called the case a signal that the banking industry believes a range of agency actions might be held to be unreviewable. “As a general philosophy, unless Congress has made unreviewability crystal clear, I think we want to be careful,” Reiss told Bloomberg BNA. “This does seem intuitively overbroad to me.”
He also said the case, because it involves a bank that no longer exists, raises the possibility of a result that might not be welcomed by the banking industry. “The bank groups may be somewhat worried that a now-dissolved bank may get a court ruling that could have unintended consequences for banks still doing business,” he said.

Mortgage Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval

photo by Steve Spinks

Realtor.com quoted me in Mortgage Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval: What’s the Difference? It opens,

When buying a home, cash is king, but most folks don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars lying in the bank. Of course, that’s why obtaining a mortgage is such a crucial part of the process. And securing mortgage pre-qualification and pre-approval are important steps, assuring lenders that you’ll be able to afford payments.
However, pre-qualification and pre-approval are vastly different. How different? Some mortgage professionals believe one is virtually useless.

“I tell most people they can take that pre-qualification letter and throw it in the trash,” says Patty Arvielo, a mortgage banker and president and founder of New American Funding, in Tustin, CA. “It doesn’t mean much.”

What is mortgage pre-qualification?

Pre-qualification means that a lender has evaluated your creditworthiness and has decided that you probably will be eligible for a loan up to a certain amount.

But here’s the rub: Most often, the pre-qualification letter is an approximation—not a promise—based solely on the information you give the lender and its evaluation of your financial prospects.

“The analysis is based on the information that you have provided,” says David Reiss, a professor at the Brooklyn Law School and a real estate law expert. “It may not take into account your current credit report, and it does not look past the statements you have made about your income, assets, and liabilities.”

A pre-qualification is merely a financial snapshot that gives you an idea of the mortgage you might qualify for.

“It can be helpful if you are completely unaware what your current financial position will support regarding a mortgage amount,” says Kyle Winkfield, managing partner of O’Dell, Winkfield, Roseman, and Shipp, in Washington, DC. “It certainly helps if you are just beginning the process of looking to buy a house.”

Understanding The Ability To Repay Rule

photo by http://401kcalculator.org

The Spring 2017 edition of the Consumer Financial Bureau’s Supervisory Highlights contains “Observations and approach to compliance with the Ability to Repay (ATR) rule requirements. The ability to repay rule is intended to keep lenders from making and borrowers from taking on unsustainable mortgages, mortgages with payments that borrowers cannot reliably make.  By way of background,

Prior to the mortgage crisis, some creditors offered consumers mortgages without considering the consumer’s ability to repay the loan, at times engaging in the loose underwriting practice of failing to verify the consumer’s debts or income. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) amended the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) to provide that no creditor may make a residential mortgage loan unless the creditor makes a reasonable and good faith determination based on verified and documented information that, at the time the loan is consummated, the consumer has a reasonable ability to repay the loan according to its terms, as well as all applicable taxes, insurance (including mortgage guarantee insurance), and assessments. The Dodd-Frank Act also amended TILA by creating a presumption of compliance with these ability-to-repay (ATR) requirements for creditors originating a specific category of loans called “qualified mortgage” (QM) loans. (3-4, footnotes omitted)

Fundamentally, the Bureau seeks to determine “whether a creditor’s ATR determination is reasonable and in good faith by reviewing relevant lending policies and procedures and a sample of loan files and assessing the facts and circumstances of each extension of credit in the sample.” (4)

The ability to repay analysis does not focus solely on income, it also looks at assets that are available to repay the mortgage:

a creditor may base its determination of ability to repay on current or reasonably expected income from employment or other sources, assets other than the dwelling (and any attached real property) that secures the covered transaction, or both. The income and/or assets relied upon must be verified. In situations where a creditor makes an ATR determination that relies on assets and not income, CFPB examiners would evaluate whether the creditor reasonably and in good faith determined that the consumer’s verified assets suffice to establish the consumer’s ability to repay the loan according to its terms, in light of the creditor’s consideration of other required ATR factors, including: the consumer’s mortgage payment(s) on the covered transaction, monthly payments on any simultaneous loan that the creditor knows or has reason to know will be made, monthly mortgage-related obligations, other monthly debt obligations, alimony and child support, monthly DTI ratio or residual income, and credit history. In considering these factors, a creditor relying on assets and not income could, for example, assume income is zero and properly determine that no income is necessary to make a reasonable determination of the consumer’s ability to repay the loan in light of the consumer’s verified assets. (6-7)

That being said, the Bureau reiterates that “a down payment cannot be treated as an asset for purposes of considering the consumer’s income or assets under the ATR rule.” (7)

The ability to repay rule protects lenders and borrowers from themselves. While some argue that this is paternalistic, we do not need to go much farther back than the early 2000s to find an era where so-called “equity-based” lending pushed many people on fixed incomes into default and foreclosure.

What is the Debt to Income Ratio?

OppLoans.com quoted me in What is the Debt to Income Ratio? It opens,

One of the great things about credit is that it lets you make purchases you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford at one time. But this arrangement only works if you are able to make your monthly payments. That’s why lenders look at something called your debt to income ratio. It’s a number that indicates what kind of debt load you’ll be able to afford. And if you’re looking to borrow, it’s a number you’ll want to know.

Unless your rich eccentric uncle suddenly dies and leave you a giant pile of money, making any large purchase, like a car or a home, is going to mean taking out a loan. Legitimate loans spread the repayment process over time (or a longer term), which makes owning these incredibly expensive items possible for regular folks.

But not all loans are affordable. If the loan’s monthly payments take up too much of your budget, then you’re likely to default. And as much as you, the borrower, do not want that to happen, it’s also something that lenders want to avoid at all costs.

It doesn’t matter how much you want that cute, three-bedroom Victorian or that sweet, two-door muscle car (or even if you’re just looking for a personal loan to consolidate your higher interest credit card debt). If you can’t afford your monthly payments, reputable lenders aren’t going to want to do business with you. (Predatory payday lenders are a different story, they actually want you to be unable to afford your loan. You can read more about that shadiness in our personal loans guide.)

So how do mortgage, car, and personal lenders determine what a person can afford before they lend them? Well, they usually do it by looking at their debt to income ratio.

What is the debt to income ratio?

Basically, it’s the amount of your monthly budget that goes towards paying debts—including rent or mortgage payments.

“Your debt to income ratio is benchmark metric used to measure an individual’s ability to repay debt and manage their monthly payments,” says Brian Woltman, branch manager at Embrace Home Loans (@EmbraceHomeLoan).

“Your ‘DTI’ as it’s commonly referred to is exactly what it sounds like. It’s calculated by dividing your total current recurring monthly debt by your gross monthly income—the amount you make before any taxes are taken out,” says Woltman. “It’s important because it helps a lender to determine the proper amount of money that someone can borrow, and reasonably expect to be paid back, based on the terms agreed upon.”

According to Gerri Detweiler (@gerridetweiler), head of market education for Nav (@navSMB), “Your debt to income ratio provides important information about whether you can afford the payment on your new loan.”

“On some consumer loans, like mortgages or auto loans, your debt to income ratio can make or break your loan application,” says Detweiler. “This ratio typically compares your monthly recurring debt payments, such as credit card minimum payments, student loan payments, mortgage or auto loans to your monthly gross (before tax) income.”

Here’s an example…

Larry has a monthly income of $5,000 and a list of the following monthly debt obligations:

Rent: $1,200

Credit Card: $150

Student Loan: $400

Installment Loan: $250

Total: $2,000

To calculate Larry’s DTI we need to divide his total monthly debt payments by his monthly income:

$2,000 / $5,000 = .40

Larry’s debt to income ratio is 40 percent.

David Reiss (@REFinBlog), is a professor of real estate finance at Brooklyn Law School. He says that the debt to income ratio is an important metric for lenders because “It is one of the three “C’s” of loan underwriting:

Character: Does a person have a history of repaying debts?

Capacity: Does a person have the income to repay debts?

Capital: Does the person have assets that can be used to retire debt if income should prove insufficient?

What is a good debt to income ratio?

“If you listen to Ben Franklin, who subscribed to the saying ‘neither a borrower nor lender be,’ the ideal ratio is 0,” says Reiss. But he adds that only lending to people with no debt whatsoever would put home ownership out of reach for, well, almost everyone. Besides, a person can have some debt on-hand and still be a responsible borrower.

“More realistically, in today’s world,” says Reiss, “we might take guidance from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) which advises against having a DTI ratio of greater than 43 percent. If it creeps higher than that, you might have trouble paying for other important things like rent, food and clothing.”

“Requirements vary but usually if you can stay below a 33 percent debt-to-income ratio, you’re fine,” says Detweiler. “Some lenders will lend up to a 50 percent debt ratio, but the interest rate may be higher since that represents a higher risk.”

For Larry, the guy in our previous example, a 33 percent DTI would mean keeping his monthly debt obligations to $1650.

Let’s go back to that 43 percent number that Reiss mentioned because it isn’t just an arbitrary number. 43 percent DTI is the highest ratio that borrower can have and still receive a “Qualified Mortgage.”

Trust for Trump

photo by David R. Tribble

US News & World Report quoted me in Here’s What We Know About Donald Trump’s Trust Fund. It opens,

With all the talk about how Donald Trump will be handling his vast business empire as he assumes the presidency, some questions were finally answered this week, and this much is clear: Donald Trump is putting his business assets in a trust.

“Through the trust agreement, he has relinquished leadership and management of the Trump Organization to his sons Don and Eric, and a longtime Trump executive, Alan Weiselberg,” says Sheri Dillon, a lawyer for the president-elect.

But what does that mean?

What is a trust to begin with? A trust is a legal structure with three main parties: The trustor, trustee and beneficiary. The trustor gives another party, the trustee, the right to manage the specified assets for the benefit of its designated beneficiaries.

“According to Trump, his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, as well as a business associate, would be the trustees. After transferring the assets to the trust, Trump could then be a beneficiary of the trust,” says David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School. “The trustees administer the affairs of the trust on behalf of the beneficiaries. The beneficiary receives the income from the trust or the property within the trust.”

Trump has previously said his children will be the primary financial beneficiaries of the trust, but Trump made it clear that he planned on returning to the Trump Organization when his presidency is over. At that point, it’s possible Trump could have a fat check waiting for him, depending on the trust’s structure.

“The trust’s income or property could be doled out on an ongoing basis or deferred to some future point in time, depending on the terms of the trust,” Reiss says.

The Cost of Selling Trump’s Empire

photo by KylaBorgPolitico quoted me in Selling His Empire Would Cost Trump Money. A Lot of It. It opens,

Donald Trump’s critics say the only way for him to keep his business interests separate from the public’s interest is to simply get out of business entirely, selling his companies and putting the proceeds into anonymous assets that someone else can manage.

But there’s nothing simple about it: unloading a real estate empire as large as Trump’s is a lengthy, complicated process fraught with ethical pitfalls, one that could end up costing a fortune.

“He has to make a choice,” said David Reiss, director of Brooklyn Law’s Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship. “How much pain is he willing to take?”

Trump, who’s expected to lay out a plan to address conflicts of interest at a press conference Wednesday, heads a particularly difficult estate to unwind. Forbes has pegged his net worth at $3.7 billion in September, attributing most of that to real property holdings tangled in debt, partnership agreements, management contracts, branding deals and tax deferrals.

Ethics watchdogs say Trump’s cleanest break would be to sell his company to the public, but an initial public offering — especially one that folds in most or all of Trump’s scattered businesses — would be complicated, costly and time-consuming.

“The nature of the business doesn’t lend itself to going public,” said Jan Baran, co-chair of Wiley Rein’s election law and government ethics practice. “Rolling in all the real estate and the royalty contracts and all the other orphans like wineries and steaks, it’s a little hard to imagine any public companies that resemble what his business is, because it’s such a hodgepodge of things. It would take a while, it would take at least a year.”

What’s more, Baran noted, an IPO would require underwriters to raise capital and pull together an offering — raising new concerns about investment firms potentially currying favor with the new administration.

“Are the ethics complainers willing to let Goldman Sachs do the underwriting on this public offering?” he said. “Somebody’s got to put it together.”

Even if Trump chose to skip the IPO and just liquidate his assets via direct sales, he’d face a complex task — and a costly one.

“This would be an extraordinarily difficult situation,” said Neil Shapiro, a law partner at Herrick Feinstein in New York. “It would certainly be unprecedented in terms of somebody liquidating a portfolio of this size. We’re in uncharted territories here.”

The problems start with finding a buyer. The pool of people shopping for, say, a Fifth Avenue skyscraper is small, and only the buyer and seller can say for sure whether the price paid is fair. As such, selling a property raises nearly as many ethical quandaries for Trump as owning it. A buyer looking to curry favor with the next president might pay too much. Another might do Trump a favor by making a quick deal while paying too little.