Understanding Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

photo by David Hilowitz

LendingTree quoted me in Guide to Understanding Private Mortgage Insurance (That’s PMI). It opens,

Part I: Basics of private mortgage insurance (PMI)

What is PMI?

If you’ve ever purchased a home without a large down payment, you may have faced the possibility of paying PMI, or private mortgage insurance. This financial product is a type of loan insurance typically bought by consumers when they purchase a house. However, the premiums paid toward PMI aren’t intended to protect the consumer. Rather, they provide protection for the lender, in case you stop making payments on your home loan.

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) notes, PMI is typically arranged by your lender during the home loan process and comes into play when you have a conventional loan and put down less than 20 percent of the property’s purchase price. However, private mortgage insurance is not just associated with home purchases; it can also be required when a consumer refinances his or her home and has less than 20 percent equity in it.

Generally speaking, PMI can be paid in three different ways — as a monthly premium, a one-time upfront premium or a mix of monthly premiums with an upfront fee.

There are also ways to avoid paying PMI altogether, which we’ll address later in this guide.

PMI versus MIP: What’s the difference?

While PMI is private mortgage insurance consumers buy to insure their conventional home loans, the similarly named MIP –  that’s mortgage insurance premium — is mortgage insurance you buy when you take out an FHA home loan.

MIP works kind of like PMI, in that it’s required for FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loans with a down payment of less than 20 percent of the purchase price. With MIP, you pay both an upfront assessment at the time of closing and an annual premium that is calculated every year and paid within your monthly mortgage premiums.

Generally speaking, the upfront component of MIP is equal to 1.75 percent of the base loan amount. The annual MIP premiums, on the other hand, are based on the amount of money you owe each year.

The biggest difference between PMI and MIP is this: PMI can be canceled after a homeowner achieves at least 20 percent equity in his/her property, whereas homeowners paying MIP in conjunction with a FHA loan that originated after June 13, 2013, cannot cancel this coverage until their mortgage is paid in full. You can also get out from under MIP by refinancing your FHA loan into a new, conventional loan. However, you’ll need to leave at least 20 percent equity in your home to avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance on the refi.

Which types of home loans require PMI? MIP?

If you’re thinking of buying a home and wondering if you’ll be on the hook for PMI or MIP, it’s important to understand different scenarios in which these extra charges may apply.

Here are the two main loan situations where you’ll absolutely need to pay mortgage insurance:

  • FHA loans with less than 20 percent down – If you’re taking out a FHA loan to purchase a home, you may only be required to come up with a 3.5 percent down payment. You will, however, be required to pay both upfront and annual mortgage insurance premium (MIP).
  • Conventional loans with less than 20 percent down – If you’re taking out a conventional home loan and have less than 20 percent of the home’s purchase price to put down, you’ll need to pay PMI.

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Part V: Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Before you decide whether to pay PMI – or whether you should try to avoid it – it pays to learn all you can about this insurance product. Consider these frequently asked questions and their answers as you continue your path toward homeownership.

Q. Is PMI tax-deductible?

According to David Reiss, professor of law and academic program director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School, PMI may be tax-deductible but it all depends on your situation. “The deduction phases out at higher income levels,” he says.

According to IRS.gov, the deduction for PMI starts phasing out once your adjusted gross income exceeds $100,000 and phases out completely once it exceeds $109,000 (or $54,500 if married filing separately).

Safeguarding The CFPB’s Arbitration Rule

image by Nick Youngson http://nyphotographic.com/

 

I was one of the many signatories of this letter to Senators Crapo (R-ID) and Brown (D-OH) opposing H.R. Res. 111/S.J. Res. 47, “which would block the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new forced arbitration rule.” the 423 signatories all agree “(1) it is important to protect financial consumers’ opportunity to participate in class proceedings; and (2) it is desirable for the CFPB to collect additional information regarding financial consumer arbitration.” The letter, reads, in part,

Class action lawsuits are an important means of protecting consumers harmed by violations of federal or state law. Class actions enable a court to see that a company’s violations are widespread and to order appropriate relief. The CFPB’s study shows that, over five years, 160 million class members were awarded $2.2 billion in relief – after deducting attorneys’ fees. Class actions are especially important for small dollar claims, because the time, expense and investigation needed for an individual claim typically make no sense either for the consumer or for an attorney. Additionally, class actions provide behavioral relief both for the plaintiffs and the public at large, incentivizing businesses to change their behavior or to refrain from similar practices.

Individual arbitrations are not a realistic substitute for class actions. Compared to the annual average of 32 million consumers receiving $440 million per year in class actions, the CFPB’s study found an average of only 16 consumers per year received relief from affirmative claims and another 23 received relief through counterclaims; in total, those consumers received an average of $180,770 per year. While the average per-person arbitration recovery may be higher than the average class action payment, the types of cases are completely different. The few arbitrations that people pursue tend to be individual disputes involving much larger dollar amounts than the smaller claims in class actions. Most consumers do not pursue individual claims in either court or arbitration for several reasons: they may not know their rights were violated; they may not know how to pursue a claim; the time and expense would outstrip any reward; or they cannot find an attorney willing to take an individual case. Thus, if a class action is not permitted, most consumers will have no chance at having their dispute vindicated at all. Class actions, on the other hand, are an efficient method of resolving claims impacting a large number of people.

The U.S. legal system depends on private enforcement of rights. Whereas some countries invest substantial resources in large government agencies to enforce their laws, the United States relies substantially on private enforcement. The CFPB’s study shows that, in those cases where there was overlap between private and public enforcement, private action preceded government enforcement 71% of the time. Moreover, consumer class actions provide monetary recoveries and reform of financial services and products to many consumers whose injuries are not the focus of public enforcers. American consumers can’t solely depend on government agencies to protect their rights.

Reporting on individual arbitrations will increase transparency, broaden understanding of arbitration, and improve the arbitration process. As scholars, we heartily endorse the information reporting requirements of the rule for individual arbitrations. This reporting will address many questions that have gone largely unanswered, due to the lack of transparency that currently exists in this area of law. For example, the public will now know the rate at which claimants prevail, whether it is important to be represented by an attorney, and whether repeat arbitrators tend to rule more favorably for one side than the other. The reporting will permit academic study, which will prompt a necessary debate on how to strengthen and improve the process.

In conclusion, we strongly support the CFPB rule as an important step in protecting consumers. We believe it is vital that Congress not deprive injured consumers of the right to group together to have their day in court or block important research into the arbitration process.

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.

Running Circles around the CFPB

Lauren Willis has posted The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Quest for Consumer Comprehension to SSRN.  It addresses an important subject — the cat and mouse game of the regulator and the regulated. The abstract reads,

To ensure that consumers understand financial products’ “costs, benefits, and risks,” the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been redesigning mandated disclosures, primarily through iterative lab testing. But no matter how well these disclosures perform in experiments, firms will run circles around the disclosures when studies end and marketing begins. To meet the challenge of the dynamic twenty-first-century consumer financial marketplace, the bureau should require firms to demonstrate that a good proportion of their customers understand key pertinent facts about the financial products they buy. Comprehension rules would induce firms to inform consumers and simplify products, tasks that firms are better equipped than the bureau to perform. (74)

The Bureau has worked hard to tackle financial education in a meaningful way, but Willis is right that this is a Herculean task given the profit incentive that financial institutions have to run circles around consumers and the Bureau itself. Willis explains

the feebleness of mandated disclosures, the inherent flaws in the alternatives the CFPB has been pursuing, the advantages firms have over regulators in ensuring their customers’ comprehension, and the CFPB’s legal authority to require customer confusion audits and enforce comprehension rules. I then elaborate on a few examples of how this form of regulation might operate in practice, including these four key elements:

1. Measuring the quality of a valued outcome (comprehension) rather than of an input that is often pointless (mandated or preapproved disclosure);

2. Assessing actual customer comprehension in the field as conditions change over time, rather than imagining what the “reasonable consumer” would understand or testing consumers in the lab or in single-shot field experiments;

3. Requiring firms to affirmatively and routinely demonstrate customer understanding, rather than relying on the bureau’s limited resources to examine firm performance ad hoc when problems arise ; and

4. Giving firms the flexibility and responsibility to effectively inform their customers about key relevant costs, benefits and risks through whatever means the firms see fit, whether that be education or product simplification, rather than asking regulators to dictate how disclosures and products should be designed. (76) (footnotes omitted)

Hopefully the Bureau will take a serious look at Willis’ critique.  It is important, of course, to get consumer financial literacy right in order to benefit consumers directly. But it is also important for the Bureau to get it right in order to protect its reputation as an effective regulator that brings real value to the consumer finance sector.

Hope for the Securitization Market

The Structured Finance Industry Group has issued a white paper, Regulatory Reform: Securitization Industry Proposals to Support Growth in the Real Economy. While the paper is a useful summary of the industry’s needs, it would benefit from looking at the issue more broadly. The paper states that

One of the core policy responses to the financial crisis was the adoption of a wide variety of new regulations applicable to the securitization industry, largely in the form of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”). While many post-crisis analysts believe that the crisis laid bare the need for meaningful regulatory reform, SFIG members believe that any such regulation must: ƒ

  • Reduce risk in a manner such that benefits outweigh costs, including operational costs and inefficiencies; ƒ
  • Be coherent and consistent across the various sectors and across similar risk profiles; ƒ
  • Be operationally feasible from both a transactional and a loan origination basis so as not to compromise provision of credit to the real economy; ƒ
  • Be valued by key market participants; and ƒ
  • Be implemented in a targeted way (i.e. without unintended consequences).

In this paper, we will distinguish between the types of regulation we believe to be necessary and productive versus those that are, at the very least, not helpful and, in some cases, harmful. To support this approach, we believe it is helpful to evaluate financial market regulations, specifically those related to securitization, under three distinct categories, those that are:

1. Transactional in nature; i.e., directly impact the securitization market via a focus on underlying deal structures;

2. Banking rules that include securitization reform within their mandate; and

3. Banking rules that simply do not contemplate securitization and, therefore, may result in unintended consequences. (3)

The paper concludes,

The securitization industry serves as a mechanism for allowing institutional investors to deliver funding to the real economy, both to individual consumers of credit and to businesses of all sizes. This segment of credit reduces the real economy’s reliance on the banking system to deliver such funding, thereby reducing systemic risk.

It is important that both issuers of securitization bonds and investors in those bonds align at an appropriate balance in their goals to allow those issuers to maintain a business model that is not unduly penalized for using securitization as a funding tool, while at the same time, ensuring investors have confidence in the market via “skin in the game” and sufficiency of disclosure. (19)

I think the paper is totally right that we should design a regulatory environment that allows for responsible securitization. The paper is, however, silent on the interest of consumers, whose loans make up the collateral of many of the mortgage-backed and asset-backed securities that are at issue in the bond market. The system can’t be designed just to work for issuers and investors, consumers must have a voice too.