Understanding The Ability To Repay Rule

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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.

Troubles with TRID

"The Trouble with Tribbles" Stark Trek Episode

Law360 quoted me in Rule-Driven Home Sale Slump Could Be Temporary. It reads, in part,

A slump in existing home sales in November can be traced to the implementation of a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau mortgage closing regime, although experts say that most of the closing delays could ease as the industry and consumers get more comfortable with the new rules.

The National Association of Realtors released a report Tuesday saying that while a continued lack of inventory of existing homes for sale and other factors helped drive down the number of completed home sales in November, the number of signed contracts for home purchases remained relatively constant. With that in mind, the Realtors pointed to the CFPB’s TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure rule, which combined two key mortgage disclosure forms and went into effect in October, as the reason for the slowdown.

That slowdown was anticipated because real estate agents and lenders had reported difficulties in complying with the rule, which combined closing forms required by the Truth In Lending Act and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, prior to it coming into effect. However, experts say that the closing delays are likely to decrease as the industry understands the rule better and technology to comply with it improves.

“It’s like a python swallowing a boar … the boar has to work its way through the python,” said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School.

The National Association of Realtors reported that existing home sales slumped to 4.76 million nationwide in November from 5.32 million in October, a fall of 10.5 percent. That October figure was also revised down from an initial estimate of 5.36 million.

The November figure was also down from the 4.95 million existing sales figure from the same period last year, and put total existing home sales 3.8 percent behind the total from last year, the National Association of Realtors said.

While the real estate industry group cited the usual factors of tight supply and inflated prices in many regions of the country as a reason for the slowdown in existing home sales, it also cited the TRID rule’s implementation as a reason for the slump.

*     *     *

Most lenders, real estate agents and other market participants had already begun to factor in the new TRID requirements in the closing process, adding 15 days to the usual 30-day closing process, said Richard J. Andreano, a partner at Ballard Spahr LLP.

“When I saw the November drop, I thought that was a natural consequence of correct planning,” he said.

Despite the slowdown, Yun said in the NAR release that because contracts were signed and the problems came down to issues with closing.

“As long as closing time frames don’t rise even further, it’s likely more sales will register to this month’s total, and November’s large dip will be more of an outlier,” he said.

The CFPB, Reiss and Andreano all agreed that at least some of the delays will work out of the system as the industry gets more accustomed to TRID’s changes.

“The ones that have adjusted have done it by adding a lot of staff, either reallocating or hiring and assigning them to the closing process to get it done,” Andreano said.

And the delays that remain may not be a bad thing, Reiss said.

“It really keeps consumers from being surprised at the closing table. This gives a little bit more time to the consumer where they’re not getting waylaid,” he said.

CFPB Mortgage Highlights Fall ’15

Mike Licht

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released its Fall 2015 Supervisory Highlights. In the context of mortgage origination, the CFPB found that

supervised entities, in general, effectively implemented and demonstrated compliance with the rule changes, there were instances of non-compliance with certain [rules] . . .. There were also findings of violations of disclosure requirements pursuant to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), implemented by Regulation X; the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), implemented by Regulation Z; and consumer financial privacy rules, implemented by Regulation P. (9, footnotes and sources omitted).

Specifically, it found that one or more entities failed to

  • “fully comply with the requirement that charges at settlement not exceed amounts on the good faith estimate by more than specified tolerances.” (10)
  • comply with the regulations governing HUD-1 settlement statements because of fees on the HUD-1 did match those on invoices; improper calculations on the HUD-1; and fees charged for services that were not provided, among other things.
  • provide required disclosures.
  • reimburse borrowers for understated APRs and finance charges, as required by Regulation Z.

In the context of mortgage servicing, the CFPB found that while it

continues to be concerned about the range of legal violations identified at various mortgage servicers, it also recognizes efforts made by certain servicers to develop an adequate compliance position through increased resources devoted to compliance. . . . Supervision continues to see that the inadequacies of outdated or deficient systems pose considerable compliance risk for mortgage servicers, and that improvements and investments in these systems can be essential to achieving an adequate compliance position. (15)

This is all well and good, but as I have noted before, it is hard to estimate how much of a problem exists from such a report — one or more entities did this, we are concerned about a range of legal violations of that . . .. I understand that the CFPB’s primary audience for this report are CFPB-supervised entities concerned with the CFPB’s regulatory focus, but this approach barely rises to the level of anecdote for the rest of us.

Supreme Take on Truth in Lending

The United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., No. 13-684 (Jan. 13, 2015).  Jesinoski resolved a circuit split regarding notice requirements under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) that apply when a homeowner is rescinding certain types of home mortgage loans.

Justice Scalia wrote the short opinion for a unanimous Court. The Court held that a “borrower exercising his right to rescind under the Act need only provide written notice to his lender within the 3-year period, not file suit within that period.” (syllabus at 1) Countrywide had argued that the borrower had to file suit within that 3-year period. In finding for the borrowers, the Court found that the language of the statute was “unequivocal.”

While some have said that this result will lead to borrowers walking away from their loans, that is unlikely to occur in all but a handful of cases. That is because in order to rescind the loan, a borrower would need to tender back the original loan proceeds. Hard to imagine too many borrowers being able to do that.

The opinion is important because it resolves a significant circuit split, but its unanimity reflects that this case was perceived by the members of the Court as a straightforward question of statutory interpretation. As such, it does not appear to be signaling much about the Court’s approach to consumer protection jurisprudence more generally.

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.

Dodd-Frank Mortgage Rules Readiness Guide

The CFPB issued Version 3.0 of its 2014 CFPB Dodd-Frank Mortgage Rules Readiness Guide “to help financial institutions come into and maintain compliance with the new mortgage rules outlined in Part I of this Guide. . . .. This Guide summarizes the mortgage rules finalized by the CFPB as of August 1, 2014, but it is not a substitute for the rules.” (2)

The Guide provides a helpful overview of the Dodd-Frank rules that relate to the mortgage market, noting that they “amend several existing regulations, including Regulations Z, X, and B.” (3) The guide provides summaries of “rules required under Title XIV of the Dodd-Frank Act” and “the Integrated Mortgage Disclosures under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) and the Truth in Lending Act (TILA).” (3) These summaries include:

  • Ability to Repay
  • Qualified Mortgage
  • TILA Escrow Requirements
  • High-Cost Mortgage and Homeownership Counseling
  • Mortgage Servicing
  • ECOA Valuations for Loans Secured by a First Lien on a Dwelling
  • TILA Appraisals for Higher-Priced Mortgage Loans
  • Loan Originator Compensation Requirements
  • TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure

While this Guide is directed at financial institutions to help them “come into and maintain compliance” with these rules, it also provides a useful overview for everyone else who is trying to understand what the current regulatory environment for the mortgage market looks like. (2)

Reiss on Supreme Court Mortgage Case

Law360 quoted me in Supreme Court Takes Up Mortgage Rescission Timing Case (behind a paywall). It reads in part,

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to weigh in on whether federal law requires borrowers to notify creditors in writing of their intention to rescind their mortgages or file a lawsuit making a similar claim within three years.

The petitioners in the case, Larry and Cheryle Jesinoski of Eagan, Minn., are seeking to overturn a September ruling in the Eighth Circuit that they were required to sue Countrywide Home Loans Inc. to have their mortgage financing rescinded within three years of the transaction closing. The Jesinoskis argue that the Truth In Lending Act only requires that they provide notice of rescission in writing within those three years.

But the case goes beyond a ruling in the Eighth Circuit. A Supreme Court ruling would resolve a circuit split that has seen the Third, Fourth and Eleventh circuits rule that borrowers have three years from closing to notify lenders in writing within three years of their intention to cancel their mortgages, while the First, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth circuits have found that a lawsuit must be filed within that three-year period, according to the Jesinoskis’ December petition for certiorari.

“The resulting rule does violence to the statutory text, manufactures legal obstacle for homeowners seeking to vindicate their rights under a law that was enacted to protect them, and risks flooding the federal courts with thousands of needless lawsuits to accomplish rescissions that Congress intended to be completed privately and without litigation,” the petition said.

TILA provides two different rescission rights to borrowers who apply for and receive a mortgage refinancing. The more common process allows such borrowers to rescind their mortgage within three days of closing and before any money is disbursed.

The law also provides a more expanded rescission right in situations where borrowers do not receive mandated disclosures. There, the law provides three years from the closing date to provide such notice, but with proof that the documents were not provided.

Prior to the 2007 financial crisis, such expanded rescission claims were rare, said Reed Smith LLP partner Robert Jaworski.

“A lot more people were in trouble on their mortgages and couldn’t make payments and were subject to foreclosure. That caused a lot of these claims to be made, much more than previously,” he said.

And that has made the need for resolving the circuit split that much more important.

“It’s kind of ambiguous. It’s not stated as a statute of limitations,” said Brooklyn Law School professor David Reiss.