Geng Li, Weifeng Wu and Vincent Yao, three Fed economists, have posted a research note, Do People Leave Money on the Table? Evidence from Joint Mortgage Applications and the Minimum FICO Rule. The authors state that there “is mounting evidence that households make suboptimal savings and investment decisions” and find that
many mortgage borrowers appear to have failed to apply for mortgages that give the lowest interest rates. Specifically, we find that nearly 10 percent of prime borrowers who applied for their loans jointly could have lowered their mortgage interest rate at least one eighth of 1 percentage point if the mortgage was applied for by the applicant with a higher credit score and an income high enough to qualify for the mortgage. Furthermore, among the joint applicants with a lower credit score below 740, for whom mortgage interest rates are most sensitive to credit scores, more than 25 percent could have significantly reduced their borrowing cost by having the individual with a higher credit score apply. This is due to the fact that when lenders price mortgages with joint applications, the interest rates are determined by the lower score of the two–often known as the minimum FICO rule. We estimate that such borrowers could reduce their annual interest payment by between $220 and $1,400. Consistent with the existing literature, we find that couples who appeared to have left money on the table tend to have lower credit scores and be much younger and less financially sophisticated. (1, emphasis added)
This note provides an example of just how complicated the mortgage underwriting process is, particularly for less financially sophisticated borrowers.
One wonders if the CFPB should take a look at this. Should lenders be required to evaluate if joint mortgage applicants would get a better rate if only one of them ended up taking out the mortgage? And when the answer is yes, should lenders be required to share that information with the applicants? I can think of a variety of reasons why that should not be the case (not the least of which is that it could leave just one member of the family holding the bag if things go south), but it might be worth exploring this question more systematically.