How Tight Is The Credit Box?

Laurie Goodman of the Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center has posted a working paper, Quantifying the Tightness of Mortgage Credit and Assessing Policy Actions. The paper opens,

Mortgage credit has become very tight in the aftermath of the financial crisis. While experts generally agree that it is poor public policy to make loans to borrowers who cannot make their payments, failing to make mortgages to those who can make their payments has an opportunity cost, because historically homeownership has been the best way to build wealth. And, default is not binary: very few borrowers will default under all circumstances, and very few borrowers will never default. The decision where to draw the line—which mortgages to make—comes down to what probability of default we as a society are prepared to tolerate.

This paper first quantifies the tightness of mortgage credit in historical perspective. It then discusses one consequence of tight credit: fewer mortgage loans are being made. Then the paper evaluates the policy actions to loosen the credit box taken by the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) and their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), as well as the policy actions taken by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), arguing that the GSEs have been much more successful than the FHA. The paper concludes with the argument that if we don’t solve mortgage credit availability issues, we will have a much lower percentage of homeowners because a larger share of potential new homebuyers will likely be Hispanic or nonwhite—groups that have had lower incomes, less wealth, and lower credit scores than whites. Because homeownership has traditionally been the best way for households to build wealth, the inability of these new potential homeowners to buy could increase economic inequality between whites and nonwhites. (1)

Goodman has been making the case for some time that the credit box is too tight. I would have liked to see a broader discussion in the paper of policies that could further loosen credit. What, for instance, could the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau do to encourage more lending? Should it be offering more of a safe harbor for lenders who are willing to make non-Qualified Mortgage loans? The private-label mortgage-backed securities sector has remained close to dead since the financial crisis.  Are there ways to bring some life — responsible life — back to that sector? Why aren’t portfolio lenders stepping into that space? What would they need to do so?

When the Qualified Mortgage rule was being hashed out, there was a debate as to whether there should be any non-Qualified Mortgages available to borrowers.  Some argued that every borrower should get a Qualified Mortgage, which has so many consumer protection provisions built into it. I was of the opinion that there should be a market for non-QM although the CFPB would need to monitor that sector closely. I stand by that position. The credit box is too tight and non-QM could help to loosen it up.

The State of Mortgage Lending

AmericanBankersAssociation-1950

The American Bankers Association has issued its 23rd Annual ABA Residential Real Estate Survey Report for 2016. There is a lot to unpack in its findings. The key ones are

  • About 86 percent of loans originated by banks were QM [Qualified Mortgage] compliant compared to 90 percent in 2014, likely because more banks are adjusting underwriting criteria to target selected non-QM loan opportunities
  • Despite increased non-QM lending, approximately 72 percent of respondents expect the current ATR [Ability to Repay]/QM regulations will continue to reduce credit availability – down from nearly 80 percent in 2014
  • Relatedly, the percentage of banks restricting lending to QM segments dropped from 33 percent to 26 percent, and those providing targeted non-QM lending rose to 54 percent from 48 percent
  • High debt-to-income levels continue to be the most likely reason why a non-QM loan did not meet QM standards
  • The percentage of single family mortgage loans made to first time home buyers continues to climb to a new all-time high as it represented 15 percent of loans underwritten in 2015 – up from 13 percent in 2013 and 14 percent in 2014
  • Approximately half of the respondents state that regulations have a moderate negative impact on business, while nearly a quarter report the impact as extremely negative (4)

The most important finding is that banks are becoming more and more comfortable with non-QM loans. I had thought that this would happen more quickly than it has, but it now seems that the industry has become comfortable with the ATR/QM regs.

There are good non-QM loans — for good borrowers with quirky circumstances. And there are bad non-QM loans — for bad borrowers generally. As a result, the finding that “High debt-to-income levels continue to be the most likely reason why a non-QM loan did not meet QM standards” could cut both ways. There are some non-QM borrowers with high debt-to-income [DTI] ratios who are good credit risks.  Think of the doctor about to finish a residency and enter private practice. And there are some non-QM borrowers with high DTI who are bad credit risks. Think of the borrower with lots of student loan, credit card and auto debt. Unfortunately this survey does not provide any insight into what types of non-QM loans are being originated. That is a big limitation of this survey.

The finding that about “half of the respondents state that regulations have a moderate negative impact on business, while nearly a quarter report the impact as extremely negative” is also ambiguous. Is a negative impact a reduction in the number of loan originations? But what if those loans were likely to be unsustainable because of the high DTI ratios of bad borrowers? Is it so bad for the ATR/QM regulations to have kept those loans from having been made in the first place? I don’t think so. It is hard to tell what is meant by this survey question as well. Perhaps the ABA could tighten up its questions for next year’s survey.

Did Dodd-Frank Make Getting a Mortgage Harder?

Christopher Dodd

Christopher Dodd

Barney Frank

 

 

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The short answer is — No. The longer answer is — No, but . . .

Bing Bai, Laurie Goodman and Ellen Seidman of the Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center have posted Has the QM Rule Made it Harder to Get a Mortgage? The QM rule was originally authorized by Dodd-Frank and was implemented in January of 2014, more than two years ago. The paper opens,

the qualified mortgage (QM) rule was designed to prevent borrowers from acquiring loans they cannot afford and to protect lenders from potential borrower litigation. Many worry that the rule has contributed to the well-documented reduction in mortgage credit availability, which has hit low-income and minority borrowers the hardest. To explore this concern, we recently updated our August 2014 analysis of the impact of the QM rule. Our analysis of the rule at the two-year mark again finds it has had little impact on the availability of mortgage credit. Though the share of mortgages under $100,000 has decreased, this change can be largely attributed to the sharp rise in home prices. (1, footnotes omitted)

The paper looks at “four potential indicators of the QM rule’s impact:”

  1.  Fewer interest-only and prepayment penalty loans: The QM rule disqualifies loans that are interest-only (IO) or have a prepayment penalty (PP), so a reduction in these loans might show QM impact.
  2. Fewer loans with debt-to-income ratios above 43 percent: The QM rule disqualifies loans with a debt-to-income (DTI) ratio above 43 percent, so a reduction in loans with DTIs above 43 percent might show QM impact.
  3. Reduced adjustable-rate mortgage share: The QM rule requires that an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) be underwritten to the maximum interest rate that could be charged during the loan’s first five years. Generally, this restriction should deter lenders, so a reduction in the ARM share might show QM impact.
  4. Fewer small loans: The QM rule’s 3 percent limit on points and fees could discourage lenders from making smaller loans, so a reduction in smaller loans might show QM impact. (1-2)

The authors find no impact on on interest only loans or prepayment penalty loans; loans with debt-to-income ratios greater than 43 percent; or adjustable rate mortgages.

While these findings seem to make sense, it is important to note that the report uses 2013 as its baseline for mortgage market conditions. The report does acknowledge that credit availability was tight in 2013, but it implies that 2013 is the appropriate baseline from which to evaluate the QM rule. I am not so sure that this right — I would love to see some modeling that shows the impact of the QM rule under various credit availability scenarios, not just the particularly tight credit box of 2013.

To be clear, I agree with the paper’s policy takeaway — the QM rule can help prevent “risky lending practices that could cause another downturn.” (8) But we should be making these policy decisions with the best possible information.

Exotic Mortgage Increase

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DepositAccounts.com quoted me in 10 Things You Might See From Your Bank in 2016. It reads, in part,

It’s that time of year when experts pull out the crystal ball and start talking about “what they see”. Banking pros are no exception. When it comes to 2016, they expect plenty; change is on the horizon. Here’s a look at some of them.

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4. Exotic mortgages increase

David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, specializing in real estate believes that banks are going to get more comfortable with originating more exotic mortgages as they have more experience with the mortgage lending rules that were prescribed in Dodd-Frank. These rules, such as the Qualified Mortgage Rule and Ability To Repay Rule, encourages lenders to make “plain vanilla” mortgages. But there are opportunities to expand non-Qualified Mortgages, so “2016 may be the year where it really takes off,” says Reiss. The bottom line? “This means consumers who have been rejected for plain vanilla mortgages, may be able to get a non-traditional mortgage. This is a two-edge[d] sword. Access to credit is great, but consumers will need to ensure that the credit they get is sustainable credit that they can manage year in, year out.”

Expanding the Credit Box

Tracy Rosen

DBRS has posted U.S. Residential Mortgage Servicing Mid-Year Review and 2015 Outlook. There is a lot of interest in it, including a table that demonstrates how “the underwriting box for prime mortgages slowly keeps getting wider.” (7) The report notes that

While most lenders continue to originate only QM [Qualified Mortgage] loans some have expanded their criteria to include Non-QM loans. The firms that are originating Non-QM loans typically ensure that they are designated as Ability-to-Repay (ATR) compliant and adhere to the standards set forth in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Reg Z, Section 1026.43(c). Additionally, most Non-QM lenders are targeting borrowers with high FICO scores (typically 700 and above), low loan to values (generally below 80%) and a substantial amount of liquid reserves (usually two to three years). Furthermore, most require that the borrower have no late mortgage payments in the last 24 months and no prior bankruptcy, foreclosure, deed-in-lieu or short sale. DBRS believes that for the remainder of 2015 the industry will continue to see only a few Non-QM loan originators with very conservative programs.

CFPB ATR And QM Rules

The ATR and QM rules (collectively, the Rules) issued by the CFPB require lenders to demonstrate they have made a reasonable and good faith determination, based on verified and documented information, that a borrower has a reasonable ability to repay his or her loan according to its terms. The Rules also give loans that follow the criteria a safe harbor from legal action. (8)

DBRS believes

that the issuance of the ATR and QM rules removed much of the ambiguity that caused many originators to sit on the sidelines for the last few years by setting underwriting standards that ensure lenders only make loans to borrowers who have the ability to repay them. In 2015, most of the loans that were originated were QM Safe Harbor. DBRS recognizes that the ATR and QM rules are still relatively new, having only been in effect for a little over a year, and believes that over time, QM Rebuttable Presumption and Non-QM loan originations will likely increase as court precedents are set and greater certainty around liabilities and damages is established. In the meantime, DBRS expects that most lenders who are still recovering from the massive fines they had to pay for making subprime loans will not be originating anything but QM loans in 2015 unless it is in an effort to accommodate a customer with significant liquid assets. As a result, DBRS expects the availability of credit to continue to be constrained in 2015 for borrowers with blemished credit and a limited amount of cash reserves. (8)

The DBRS analysis is reasonable, but I am not so sure that lenders are withholding credit because they “are still recovering from the massive fines they had to pay for making subprime loans . . ..” There may be a sense of caution that arises from new CFPB enforcement. But if there is money to be made, past missteps are unlikely to keep lenders from trying to make it.

Optimizing Mortgage Availability

"Barack Obama speaks to press in Diplomatic Reception Room 2-25-09" by Pete Souza - http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/09/02/25/Overhaul/. Licensed via ttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Barack_Obama_speaks_to_press_in_Diplomatic_Reception_Room_2-25-09.jpg#/media/File:Barack_Obama_speaks_to_press_in_Diplomatic_Reception_Room_2-25-09.jpg

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report, Mortgage Reforms: Actions Needed to Help Assess Effects of New Regulations. The GAO did this study to predict the effects of the Qualified Mortgage (QM) and Qualified Residential Mortgage (QRM) regulations. The GAO found

Federal agency officials, market participants, and observers estimated that the qualified mortgage (QM) and qualified residential mortgage (QRM) regulations would have limited initial effects because most loans originated in recent years largely conformed with QM criteria.

  • The QM regulations, which address lenders’ responsibilities to determine a borrower’s ability to repay a loan, set forth standards that include prohibitions on risky loan features (such as interest-only or balloon payments) and limits on points and fees. Lenders that originate QM loans receive certain liability protections.
  • Securities collateralized exclusively by residential mortgages that are “qualified residential mortgages” are exempt from risk-retention requirements. The QRM regulations align the QRM definition with QM; thus, securities collateralized solely by QM loans are not subject to risk-retention requirements.

The analyses GAO reviewed estimated limited effects on the availability of mortgages for most borrowers and that any cost increases (for borrowers, lenders, and investors) would mostly stem from litigation and compliance issues. According to agency officials and observers, the QRM regulations were unlikely to have a significant initial effect on the availability or securitization of mortgages in the current market, largely because the majority of loans originated were expected to be QM loans. However, questions remain about the size and viability of the secondary market for non-QRM-backed securities.

This last bit — questions about the non-QRM-backed market — is very important.

Some consumer advocates believe that there should not be any non-QRM mortgages. I disagree. There should be some sort of market for mortgages that do not comply with the strict (and, in the main, beneficial) QRM limitations.

Some homeowners will not be eligible for a plain vanilla QM/QRM mortgage but could still handle a mortgage responsibly. The mortgage markets would not be healthy without some kind of non-QRM-backed securities market for those consumers.

So far, that non-QRM market has been very small, smaller than expected. Regulators should continue to study the effects of the new mortgage regulations to ensure that they incentivize making the socially optimal amount of non-QRM mortgage credit available to homeowners.

S&P’s Upbeat Outlook on Mortgage Market

S&P posted U.S. RMBS Roundtable: Mortgage Origination And Securitization In The Post-Qualified Mortgage/Ability-To-Repay Market. The roundtable discussion offers views on many aspects of the 2015 mortgage market, but I found this passage to be particularly interesting:

Originators agreed loans that fall outside of the safe harbor by virtue of interest-only (IO) features have been and will continue to be attractive non-QM lending products. These loans have been originated post-crisis, and originators expect to continue lending to high-quality borrowers with substantial equity in their properties. There was general consensus that IO loans should not have been automatically excluded from QM treatment.

However, large bank depository lenders have shown a desire to originate and hold larger balance IO loans on their balance sheets rather than including them in securitizations. One participant from a major depository institution indicated that, given the increasing IO concentration on those institutions’ balance sheets, there may be a desire to securitize these loans upon meeting balance sheet thresholds. (1)

After Dodd-Frank, there was a lot of concern that the Qualified Mortgage and Ability-to-Repay rules would shut down the mortgage markets. It seems pretty clear to me that lenders are figuring out how to navigate both the plain-vanilla world of the Qualified Mortgage and the exotic world of the non-Qualified Mortgage, with its interest-only and other non-prime products. Lenders are still figuring out how far afield they can roam from a plain-vanilla product, but that is to be expected during a major transition such as the one from the pre- to the post-Dodd-Frank world.