Optimizing Mortgage Availability

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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.

Gimme (Mortgage) Data

The CFPB announced that it is seeking feedback on potential changes to mortgage information reported under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA). Data collection seems like a pretty obscure issue, but some Republicans and financial industry interests have been attacking the CFPB for collecting so much data. Given the rapid changes in the consumer financial services sector, it seems to me that collecting more data about the types of products being offered to different types of consumers is essential to regulating that sector. For those unfamiliar with HMDA, it

was enacted in 1975 to provide information that the public and financial regulators could use to monitor whether financial institutions were serving the housing needs of their communities and providing access to residential mortgage credit. The law requires lenders to disclose information about the home mortgage loans they sell to consumers. HMDA was later expanded to capture information useful for identifying possible discriminatory lending patterns.

In the wake of the recent mortgage market crisis, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) transferred HMDA rulemaking authority to the CFPB. The law directs the Bureau to expand the HMDA dataset to include additional loan information that would be helpful in spotting troublesome trends. (1)

 The CFPB is considering requiring the following information pursuant to HMDA:

  • total points and fees, and rate spreads for all loans
  • riskier loan features including teaser rates, prepayment penalties, and non-amortizing features
  • lender information, including unique identifier for the loan officer and the loan
  • property value and improved property location information
  • age and credit score (1-2)

There are additional data points under consideration, but these five alone would go a long way to identifyingpredatory trends as they are developing in the mortgage market. Lay people are probably unaware of the rate of change in the industry, but during boom times the kinds of products that are popular can change dramatically in a few months. It is hard enough for regulators to keep on top of such rapid changes, but it is even harder when they only have access to some of the relevant information. The CFPB’s proposal is a step in the right direction as it seeks to get a handle on the market that it regulates.