The Budgetary Impact on Housing Finance

slide by MIT Golub

The MIT Golub Center for Finance and Policy has posted some interesting infographics on The President’s 2019 Budget: Proposals Affecting Credit, Insurance and Financial Regulators:

The White House released the President’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 on February 12, just days after President Trump signed a bill extending spending caps for military and domestic spending and suspending the debt ceiling. While the new law has already established government-wide tax and spending levels for the coming fiscal year, the specific proposals contained in the budget request reflect Administration priorities and may still be considered by the Congress. Here, we consider how such proposals may affect the Federal Government in its role as a lender, insurer, and financial regulator.

Between its lending and insurance balances, it is apparent that the U.S. Government has more assets and insured obligations than the five largest bank holding companies combined.

Through various agencies, the US government is deeply involved in the extension of credit and the provision of insurance. It also plays an active regulatory and oversight role in the financial marketplace. While individual credit and insurance programs serve different target populations, they collectively reach into the lives of most Americans, from homeowners to small business owners to bank account holders and students. Note that this graphic does not reflect social insurance, such as Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid.

I was particularly interested, of course, in the slides that focused on housing finance, but I found this one slide about all federal loans outstanding to be eye-opening:

The overall amount is huge, $4.34 trillion, and housing finance’s share is also huge, well over half of that amount.

As we slowly proceed down the path to housing finance reform, we should try to determine a principled way to evaluate just how big of a role the federal government needs to have in the housing finance market in order to serve the broad swath of American households. Personally, I think there is a lot of room for private investors to take on more credit risk so long as underserved markets are addressed and consumers are protected.

Return to the Great Recession?

US News & World Report quoted me in What Happens if Trump Dismantles the Financial Regulations of the Great Recession? It opens,

On Feb. 3, 2017, President Donald Trump signed two executive orders that will affect the financial sector. That change will come to consumers is undeniable. But exactly what change is coming is, naturally, up for debate.

One of the orders requires the Treasury secretary to review the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, passed in 2010 and designed to address some of the shortcomings in the financial system that led to the Great Recession. The other executive action mandates that the Labor Department review its Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule and look at its probable economic impact. As it stands now, the fiduciary rule is supposed to be phased in from April 10, 2017 to Jan. 1, 2018. The rule requires financial professionals who work with retirement plans or provide retirement planning advice to act in a way that’s only based on the client’s best interests.

What do these executive orders portend for consumers? Nobody knows, but what follows are some educated guesses – with best-case and worst-case outcomes.

How the housing market might be affected. There’s potential good news and bad news here, according to Francesco D’Acunto, a finance assistant professor at the University of Maryland. In a study performed by D’Acunto and faculty colleague Alberto Rossi, in the wake of Dodd-Frank, banks decreased mortgage lending to middle class families by about 15 percent in 2014.

“Title XIV, which regulates the mortgage market, could be in for a full-scale renovation that might ultimately improve the fortunes of potential homebuyers from the middle class,” D’Acunto says.

So if you’ve been having trouble getting a mortgage for a house, you may have less trouble – provided you find a reputable lender. Because the downside, according to D’Acunto, is that “such a move risks bringing a return of predatory behavior in lending and mortgage cross-selling, especially by large banks and by non-bank mortgage originators.”

To avoid that, D’Acunto hopes that Congress intervenes “surgically on Title XIV” and only reduces the regulatory costs imposed by the new Qualified Mortgage classification. Created by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Qualified Mortgage category of loans includes features designed to make it more likely that a consumer will be able to pay it back.

But if they don’t intervene with the careful attention to detail D’Acunto advises, then expect “big changes, most of them negative,” says David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor whose specialty is in real estate finance.

Potential best-case scenario: After being denied a mortgage for some time, you finally get your house.

Potential worst-case scenario: Because you were steered to a high-interest loan you can’t afford, you lose your house.

How credit cards, auto loans and student loans might be affected. There has been a lot of talk that the CFPB could be a casualty in the executive order that asks the Treasury secretary to review Dodd-Frank. But will it be ripped to shreds or have its power diminished?

The latter seems to already be happening. For instance, lawmakers, led by Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), are in the midst of trying to repeal a rule that is scheduled to go into effect this fall. The rule, among other things, would mandate prepaid-card companies to disclose detailed information about their fees, make it easier to access account information and would curb a consumer’s losses if the cards are lost or stolen.

A little weakening might not be so bad, Reiss says. He thinks the CFPB has tightened “the credit box too much, meaning that some people who could manage more credit are not getting access to it.”

But he also thinks if the CFPB were dismantled, the negatives would far outweigh the positives.

Potential best-case scenario: Easier access to loans and more choices. And for some consumers who can now get that car or credit card, their quality of life improves.

Potential worst-case scenario: Thanks to that easier access, some consumers end up stuck with high-interest loans with a lot of hidden fees and rue the day they applied for them.

Consumer Protection in Trouble under Trump

photo by www.cafecredit.com

The Dallas News quoted me in Agency That Protects Consumers from Financial Scammers in Trouble under Trump. It reads, in part,

Last week I asked 100 people in an audience, “How many of you have heard of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?”

Only five people raised their hands.

I’m surprised. In the 240-year history of our nation, we never had a truly pro-consumer federal agency until five years ago. It’s working, but now we’re in danger of losing it.

If you use money or credit, take out loans, buy cars or pay on a mortgage, this bureau in Washington, D.C. is changing the way financial companies do business with you.

We might lose the bureau because big and small banks and other financial institutions hate it. They’re fighting it in court with lawsuits and with campaign contributions to members of Congress who will decide.

We might lose it because an area congressman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, is closer to achieving his goal of watering down the nation’s financial regulatory system — nicknamed Dodd-Frank.

Hensarling leads the House committee that gives thumbs up or down to financial bills. With that power in hand, he received more campaign donations from banks, insurance companies and the securities and investment industry than any other member of Congress, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics says.

And we might lose the bureau because we have a president who, unlike the previous president, will not veto Hensarling’s pro-Wall Street bill – The Financial Choice Act — that would rip Dodd-Frank apart.

Remember that Dodd-Frank and the bureau came about after the 2008 financial meltdown. The bureau is part of the master plan to make sure it never happens again.

Accomplishments

If you haven’t heard of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I’ll take part of the blame. Maybe The Watchdog hasn’t placed a big enough spotlight on it.

It was the bureau that revealed how Wells Fargo employees created two million fraudulent customer accounts. The bureau fined Wells Fargo $100 million.

The bureau worked to get $120 million in refunds for military families by policing improper practices with mortgages, credit cards, student loans and other financial products aimed at the military.

The bureau created rules that prevented lenders from approving risky home mortgage loans and charging hidden fees to home buyers.

The bureau forced credit card issuers to pay hundreds of millions of dollars back to consumers because of illegal practices, unfair billing and deceptive marketing.

The bureau went after crooked bill collectors, check cashers and credit repair services.

The bureau forced the three major credit bureaus to make it easier to submit corrections to inaccurate information on your credit report.

In sum, the scoreboard shows the bureau’s big number at $12 billion. That’s how much the bureau claims it has refunded to consumers or zeroed out when their invalid debts were canceled.

No wonder Wall Street, its golden boy Hensarling and the corps of dark-suited lobbyists want this darn thing rubbed out. Quickly.

*     *     *

Back to Bad Loans?

One who has studied government regulation tells me that financial institutions have adapted to the new order. The rules tamed the craziness that led to financial ruin nine years ago, says David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School.

Eliminating the bureau would force “a return to the dark old days when lenders could get away” with shadowy marketing practices, Reiss says.

“If the Trump administration were to get rid of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, consumers would have to be far more cautious when dealing with lenders,” he says. “There definitely would be a return to some of the predatory and abusive behavior. No one would be looking over the lender’s shoulder.”

No-Credit-Check Loan Red Flags

photo by Rutger van Waveren

OppLoan quoted me in 6 No Credit Check Loan Red Flags. It opens,

Welp. A kid just threw a baseball through your window and ran away before you could get his parents’ information. Now you need a loan to fix it. But what if your credit score isn’t exactly a home run? What are you going to do now?

It’s a fact of modern life: a “good” credit score (a FICO score of 680 or higher) can make little financial emergencies like these much more bearable. Unfortunately, just over half of American consumers have weak or bad credit. According to credit expert David Hosterman of Castle and Cooke Mortgage (@CastleandCooke), “Customers with bad credit can have trouble financing a home, renting a home, obtaining credit cards, car loans, student loans, and more.” And it’s not a problem that goes away overnight. Hosterman says rebuilding credit can “sometimes take years to complete.”

So how can people with bad credit get a loan if an urgent need arises? One option is a “no credit check” loan. And if these loans sound too good to be true, it’s because they often are. Many “no credit check” loans are nothing more than financial traps designed to suck away as much of your paycheck as possible. Keep an eye out for these red flags before you end up in a very bad situation.

1. They Don’t Care About Your Income

Lenders see a bad credit rating and take it as a sign that a potential borrower might never pay them back. That’s why a good “no credit check” lender will make sure that you have a source of income—so they know they’ll get their money back eventually.

But not every “no credit check” lender will check your income. So how do they know you’ll pay it back? They don’t. In fact, it’s worse than that. They’re expecting you not to. Because if you can’t pay your loan in time, you’ll be forced to roll it over and pay an additional fee to extend it. These predatory practices are often associated with payday lenders, because you could end up having to turn over your paycheck as soon as you get it to pay back the loan. That doesn’t leave much money for luxuries like rent, so you could find yourself having to take out another loan or pay to extend the first one. This can easily trap you in a dangerous cycle, having to continually rollover your loan without any hope of paying it off. You want to avoid this situation at all costs.

2. Short Payment Terms

Any good lender wants you to have a real shot at actually paying back your loan in full. A bad lender, on the other hand, wants you to be trapped into rolling over your loans so that you can give them money forever. They’ll require you to pay back the entire loan, with interest, after only a few weeks—and sometimes less!

Instead, find a lender that will offer you an installment loan. David Bakke (@YourFinances101), a finance expert at MoneyCrashers.com, says that one of the main benefits of installment loans is that they “usually come with fixed interest rates, meaning that you know what your monthly payment is going to be.” A good “no credit check” lender will be certain that you have a source of income and then work with you to create a repayment plan that you can handle.

3. They Talk About Interest Rates Instead of APR

APR stands for Annual Percentage Rate. According to David Reiss (@REFinBlog), a law professor and editor of REFinBlog.com, the APR number shows the total cost of a loan, including fees and interest. Reiss points out that APRs allow potential borrowers to make an “apples-to-apples” comparison between loans. It gives you a full and clear picture of how expensive a loan really is. In other words, it’s a number that many “no credit check” lenders would prefer you never see.

They’d rather show you a basic interest rate, even though federal law requires APRs be used in most cases. Not only can that hide all sorts of fees, but it forces you to do some pretty complex math if you want to actually know how much you’ll be expected to pay. Friends never make friends do complex math problems, so if a lender isn’t talking in terms of APR, they’re likely not your friend.

Millennials and Luxury Housing

 

photo by Jeremy Levine

The Phoenix Business Journal quoted me in Avilla Homes Finds Millennial Niche in Luxury Rental Market (behind a paywall). It opens, 

As home ownership rates declined in the past decade, more and more people have opted to rent homes. This provided a niche market for young professionals: luxury rental home communities.
Arizona-based NexMetro Communities has developed Avilla Homes, which COO Josh Hartmann calls a “hybrid between single-family living and apartment living,” with communities in the Phoenix and Tucson areas, as well as recent expansion into Denver and Dallas suburbs.
Hartmann said the draw of Avilla Homes is it is a unique hybrid: providing the feel of living in your own house without the responsibilities of being a homeowner. It incorporates some aspects of apartment living, such as on-call maintenance, but focuses on the draw of living in a single-family home, such as four-walled individual units with one’s own yard space.
“I think (owning a home) is less of a draw for investment’s sakes and if you take that away, owning a home is a lot of work,” Hartmann said. “You have to be constantly fixing things. What the real draw of our product is that you don’t have to worry about all those things but you still get to live in a home.”
When the project first began in Tucson in 2011, the board of directors thought its main consumer would be people who lost their homes in the recession and were looking to rent. But the project ended up being a success with an unexpected demographic-the millennials.
Hartmann attributes millennials’ attitude toward homeownership and how they spend their money as a factor in the communities’ success. He estimates that about 65 percent of Avilla Homes’ customers are early in their career, between the ages of 25 and 34.
“I just think what they want to spend the dollars they make on is different than what my generation or the generation before me did,” Hartmann said.
David Reiss, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School says lifestyle changes coupled with the recession caused many people to turn to renting. The nation’s home ownership was down to 63.7 percent in the first quarter of 2015 from about 69 percent in 2004, according to census data.
“Another piece of it is kind of long term trends: Household formation, student loans that millennials have, another thing is income and job security,” said Reiss. ” A lot of things people have in place before they want to be a homeowner are not in many households.”

Leverage in a Tight Market

photo by Rex Pe

TheStreet.com quoted me in Home Shoppers Seeking Leverage in a Tight Market. It opens,

Homebuyers have faced tight supply issues this year, and obtaining leverage in this market has been challenging.

The lower inventories pushed sales in July down by 3%, according to the National Association of Realtors, a Chicago-based trade organization. The decline has resulted in sales falling back to levels in March and April with an annualized pace of 5.39 million, bringing the sales pace down by 2% from July 2015. The level of inventory of homes for sale has declined by 6%.
As the faster summer buying pace has moved into the fall phase when there are fewer buyers, consumers have a greater advantage as homes are on the market longer. For both May and June, the listings stayed on Realtor.com a median of 65 days. By July, that figure rose to 68 days and August brings even more options and should end at 72 days. The reduction of inventory has occurred for 47 consecutive months, helping sellers, but restricting options for buyers.

For homebuyers who want to nab their dream house in the neighborhood they have been eyeing, they still have leverage, but here are some tips to improve the process.

Home Buying Tips

Before consumers start shopping, they should work on improving their finances and avoid making any large purchases such as a car. After finding out your FICO score, the goal is to find ways for it to rise above 700, which means you will qualify with more lenders and obtain a lower interest rate, saving you thousands of dollars, said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company.

Determine how much you can carve out of your savings for a down payment, but still maintain six months of emergency funds, especially if you are buying an older home which may have unexpected repairs.

The average down payment in 2016 is 11% across the U.S., but it depends vastly on the market and loan you are seeking.

“If you are struggling to come up with a down payment necessary for your market or type of mortgage, research down payment assistance programs,” he said. “Get all of your financial records organized, including recent bank and financial statements, the last two years of income tax filings and pay statements.”

There are many opportunities available since mortgage rates remain near historic lows and are unlikely to see substantial moves soon.

“The buying opportunity is still substantial and now the annual cycle means you will face less competition on homes that are on the market,” Smoke said.

Sellers want to see serious buyers, so getting pre-approved from a lender is important.

“A pre-approval letter as part of an offer will communicate to the seller that you have the ability to close,” he said.

Sellers still have an advantage and even though there are fewer potential buyers with fall right around the corner, the existing inventory remains low, so getting a house under contract can still be problematic, Smoke said.

“Don’t expect sellers to feel desperate,” he said. “Sellers may still act like it is the spring. Listen to the advice of your realtor on the composition of the initial offer so that you are more likely to keep the conversation going rather than face complete rejection.”

While you continue to search for another home, maintain your savings and increase the amount of your down payment and keep paying down your credit cards and student loans. Consumers who will be receiving a bonus in December should include these funds it into their down payment. If the interest rates for your credit card rates are fairly low, consider bulking up your down payment since mortgage rates are very low, said Colby Sambrotto, president of USRealty.com, a New York-based online real estate broker. said. These measures will help increase your odds as you house hunt.

“Ask your lender to recalculate your loan preapproval to reflect your updated debt-to-income ratio and the greater amount you can put down,” he said. “That can reframe your search parameters.”

Down payment assistance is available through employer and community group programs. Some companies will offer loans if you remain employed there for a certain number of years, said Sambrotto. A good source for more information about various programs is Down Payment Resource.

“The loans are usually geared to encourage employees to buy around a certain area, usually within walking distance of the employer,” he said.

Location is Key

Transportation can emerge as a “hidden cost” if your commute includes costly tolls or you want quicker access to cultural and sporting events, schools for children, shopping districts and professional education opportunities.

“Narrow your search to neighborhoods that offer economical options for commuting and routine errands,” Sambrotto said. “Look for neighborhood groups on Facebook and ask to join the conversation so you can quiz current residents about the true cost of living in that area.”

While homeowners might prefer a standard standalone house, a two-family duplex might be a better option, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in New York. These homes have a clear advantage because they generate investment income along with various financing, tax and capital gains advantages which the traditional single-family house does not have.

“Think through your preferences and then take a fresh look at the market,” he said. “You might have that idealized picket-fenced house in mind, but a duplex will expand the number of houses you can look at. They also bring along all sorts of additional maintenance responsibilities with them, so they are not right for everyone.”

Student Debt And Homeownership

student-loan-debt-1160848_1280

The National Association of Realtors, along with SALT, a consumer literacy program provided by American Student Assistance, released the results from a joint survey about student debt and homeownership. They found that “Seventy-one percent of non-homeowners repaying their student loans on time believe their debt is stymieing their ability to purchase a home . . ..” They have also produced a cool infographic to illustrate their main points:

  • Nearly a third of current homeowners (31 percent) in the survey said student debt is postponing plans to sell their home and purchase a new one.
  • A little over a majority of those polled (52 percent) expect to be delayed by more than five years from purchasing a home because of repaying their student debt. One in five anticipates being held back three to five years as well as over 60 percent of baby boomers. Not surprisingly, those with higher amounts of student loan debt and those with lower incomes expect to be delayed the longest.
  • Mirroring other recent data on young Americans being more likely to live with their parents than in any other living situations, almost half (46 percent) of young millennials polled currently live with family (both paying and not paying rent).
  • 42 percent of respondents indicated student debt delayed their decision to move out of their family member’s home after college.

I am not convinced that SALT President John Zurick is right when he says, “It is imperative to the nation’s economy that we find immediate and practical solutions to financially empower the 43 million Americans with student debt.” I think SALT and NAR are also overselling their findings somewhat in their press release headline, New Evidence Links Student Debt with Inability to Purchase a Home, because the survey reports subjective beliefs and does not offer any kind of baseline from which we can measure this current snapshot of consumer sentiment.

That being said, there has been a lot of concern about the relationship between student debt and household composition recently. It is certainly worth trying to understand the relationship between all different forms of debt and how they expand and limit choices available to households. And whatever the limitations of this NAR/SALT study, I have no doubt that the system for financing higher education needs an overhaul for its own sake as well as for the impacts it has on other choices that households make.