Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Qualified Residential Mortgage Harms Home Buyers With Good Credit and Housing Recovery

In the midst of a very fragile housing recovery, the government is throwing a devastating, unnecessary and very expensive wrench into the American dream. First time homebuyers will have to choose between higher rates today or a 9-14 year delay while they save up the necessary down payment. And 25 million current homeowners would be locked out of lower refinancing rates because they lack the required 25 percent equity in their homes.
High down payment and equity requirements will not have a meaningful impact on default rates. They will, however, require millions of consumers, who are at low risk of default, to either put off buying a home or pay unnecessarily high rates. The government is penalizing responsible consumers, making homeownership more expensive or simply out of reach for millions. Regulators need to develop a final rule that encourages good lending and borrowing without punishing credit-worthy consumers.
As part of the financial reform legislation, Congress designed a clear framework for improving the quality of mortgage lending and restoring private capital to the housing market.  To discourage excessive risk taking, Congress required securitizers to retain five percent of the credit risk on loans packaged and sold as mortgage securities.  However, because across-the-board risk retention would impose significant costs on responsible, creditworthy borrowers, legislators also created an exemption for “Qualified Residential Mortgages,” defined to include mortgages with product features and sound underwriting standards that have been proven to reduce default.
Unfortunately, regulators have drafted proposed Qualified Residential Mortgage (QRM) rules that upset the important balance contemplated by Congress.  Rather than creating a system of penalties to discourage bad lending and incentives for appropriate lending, regulators have developed a rule that is too narrowly drawn.  Of particular concern are the provisions of the proposal mandating high down payments.  Other aspects of the proposal – such as the proposed debt-to-income ratios and credit standards – will also raise unnecessary barriers for creditworthy borrowers seeking the lower rates and preferred product features of the QRM.  
The proposed QRM exemption requires a high down payment – proposed at 20 percent, with even higher levels of minimum equity required for refinancing – despite the fact that Congress considered and rejected establishing high minimum down payments because they are not a significant factor in reducing defaults compared to other underwriting and product features.  In fact, the three sponsors of the QRM provision have sent letters to the regulators saying that they intentionally did not include down payment requirements in the QRM.
Requiring down payments of 20 percent or more is deemed by some as “getting back to basics.” However, well-underwritten low down payment home loans have been a significant and safe part of the mortgage finance system for decades.   The proposed QRM exemption ignores these data and imposes minimum down payments of 20 percent, and equity requirements for refinancing borrowers of 25 percent or 30 percent.  
As a result, responsible consumers who maintain good credit and seek safe loan products will be forced into more expensive mortgages under the terms of the proposed rule simply because they do not have 20 percent or more in down payment or equity.  In other words, the proposal unfortunately penalizes qualified, low-risk borrowers. The QRM should be redesigned to align with Congressional intent: encourage sound lending behaviors that reduce future defaults without harming responsible borrowers and lenders. 

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