Bankers bridle at new mortgage rules

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Posted: Friday, December 20, 2013 12:00 am

Lenders say new federal rules that stress a cookie-cutter approach to who qualifies for a mortgage are about to make it more difficult and time-consuming for many homebuyers to get financing.

The rules, which take effect in January, are intended to ensure borrowers can repay their loans.

Certainly nobody wants a repeat of the mortgage lending excesses and irresponsibility that led to the financial crisis five years ago, bankers say. But they contend the standardized rules issued as part of Congress’ financial reform package are an overreaction that will make it tough for some loan-worthy consumers to get a mortgage — perhaps enough of them to affect the housing market recovery.

“This is going to really affect consumers,” said Thomas J. Pamperin, chief executive of Premier Community Bank in Marion, Wis., and chairman of the Wisconsin Bankers Association.

An industry analyst, however, says lenders’ fears about the new rules are overblown. While dealing with the rules probably will cause some delays in the mortgage application process until the industry gets used to the new ways, creditworthy people will be able to obtain mortgages, said Polyana da Costa, senior mortgage analyst for the personal finance firm Bankrate.com.

“I don’t think it’s as bad as many lenders make it sound,” she said.

One key concern of bankers is what the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is calling a “qualified mortgage.” Under a rule that takes effect Jan. 10, a borrower’s debt expenses must be no more than 43 percent of total gross income to be eligible for a qualified mortgage. A qualified mortgage has the bureau’s “safe harbor” protection, meaning a lender is protected from lawsuits by homeowners who claim their foreclosure resulted from flawed underwriting.

The new rules say mortgages that exceed the 43 percent debt-to-income cap won’t have the stamp of approval by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and wouldn’t have the same legal shield if the loan ever went bad.

Mortgages underwritten to the standards of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and other federal agencies also will be considered qualified mortgages.

Bankers argue that a one-size-fits-all standard takes away their discretion regarding who is a good loan candidate and puts them at greater legal risk if they issue a mortgage to a consumer with a higher debt-to-income ratio than the government has deemed appropriate.

Pamperin said the rules don’t take into account that banks in many smaller communities know their customers and whether they can make their monthly mortgage payments — even if their debt-to-income ratio is greater than 43 percent.

“There’s a lot of people who are self-employed. There’s a lot of people who make their living from the land in some manner. When you start talking about income ... these people really know how to make a dollar go a long way,” Pamperin said.

Lenders aren’t required to comply with the 43 percent debt-to-income standard. But they note that in addition to forfeiting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s legal shield, making loans outside the new rules probably would subject them to more analysis from bank regulators.

If nonqualified mortgages are judged riskier by examiners, banks could have to put more money into reserves to cover potential bad debt.

Under the new rules, qualified mortgages — called QM in the industry — can’t be interest-only loans or have balloon payments, can’t have a term longer than 30 years, and can’t have points and fees that amount to more than 3 percent.

“Ironically, one of the unintended consequences of the new QM rules is that it will make it difficult and in many cases impossible to provide smaller mortgages — say, in the $30,000 to $40,000 range — because of the fee limit,” said Brian Wickert, president of Accunet Mortgage in Butler, Wis. “The irony is that the QM rules are intended to protect the ‘little guy,’ but it will prevent some borrowers with modest loan balances from getting mortgages, or at least reduce their choices.”

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