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.