Good morning. I represent the American Financial Services Association ("AFSA"). AFSA is a trade association for a wide variety of market-funded lenders, many of whom make both prime and subprime loans to American consumers. AFSA looks forward to working with the Committee to examine the issues raised by the hearings held yesterday and today.
Allegations of predatory lending, particularly in the subprime mortgage market, have received a significant level of attention in recent months. Advocates of increased regulation have claimed that stepped up fraudulent or "predatory" marketing practices have persuaded vulnerable consumers to mortgage their homes in unwise loan transactions. Some consumer advocates have gone considerably farther and asserted that various loan products and features common to the mortgage market are "predatory" and should be outlawed.
Most of the regulatory changes sought have a common, very troubling, approach. They impose significantly restrictive new regulation on all mortgage loans, or all loans over a designated interest rate or points threshold, even if there is no evidence of fraudulent marketing. This approach confuses the symptoms with the causes and its adoption would be a serious mistake, because it fails to recognize or address the real causes of the problem, and would seriously undercut the important goal of maintaining the availability of credit for working American families.
Much of this proposed regulation seeks to control credit prices, directly or indirectly, by limiting or discouraging points, fees, and higher interest rates. Some proposals also restrict credit terms or require burdensome new compliance steps, such as extended new disclosures. Several others aim at restricting marketing methods, particularly when refinancing is involved. Finally, several proposals have urged turning the already strong remedial and penalty provisions of present law into extremely broad punitive provisions.
These proposals, taken as a whole, would dramatically reduce loan revenue, increase the risk, and/or increase costs the lender must bear. While initially the resulting burdens fall on the lenders who continue to make loans subject to new regulation, in the long term, the effects will almost always be felt directly by working American families, either because of decreased loan availability, higher credit prices or less flexible loan administration.
Thus this call for increased regulation, well intended as it undoubtedly is, strikes at the very heart of the efforts over the last quarter century of Congress, many States, consumer advocacy groups and the lending industry to make efficiently priced consumer credit available to working American families, including minorities, single parent families, and others who for so long were unable to obtain credit. In testimony before this Committee in 1993, Deepak Bhargava, Legislative Director for ACORN, spoke of "a credit famine in low- and moderate-income and minority communities in urban and rural areas" demonstrated by "[a]bundant anecdotal and statistical evidence [pointing to] "massive problems of credit access in many communities around the country, particularly in minority and low-income areas". He also pointed out that "[l]ack of access to credit thwarts community development efforts, and the creation of employment and housing opportunities for millions of American families."
In 1993, subprime credit was a very small part of the credit market. Today, subprime credit is approximately 25% of home equity credit outstanding, and a very significant part of purchase money credit. Yet some of the legislative proposals advanced by consumer advocates this year would unwisely impose stringent new regulations and disclosures, including what amounts to strict price and terms limitations, on virtually all of that credit. Even the pending Federal Reserve Board proposals would impose heavy additional regulatory burdens. A study of AFSA member loans originated over the last 5 years suggests that the pending Federal Reserve Board proposal would increase the number of first mortgages covered by HOEPA from 12.4% today to 37.6%, and second mortgages from 49.6% to 81.1%.. The effect, if not the goal, of these proposals will likely be to substantially shrink the subprime mortgage market, a point underlined by Freddie Mac's announcement in the Spring of 2000 that it would not purchase any HOEPA loan, a policy now mirrored by Fannie Mae.,
Subprime lenders, spurred on by Congress, have been enormously successful in delivering efficiently priced consumer credit to working American families, regardless of race, ethnicity or background. Such families use mortgage credit for many purposes, among them acquiring homes, working their way out of credit difficulty by consolidation and refinancing, making home improvements, and college education. We are proud to report that during the last five years, 96% of those who have borrowed from AFSA members using subprime mortgage loans have used the credit successfully. 85% of those subprime borrowers paid in full and on time. The remaining 11%, in varying degree, may have missed a payment here and there, but ultimately used the credit successfully. It is true, of course, that subprime lending does experience higher losses than conventional lending. That is why it is priced as it is. But the basic point is that most Americans who use subprime credit use it successfully. Under what policy prescription would government deny to Americans with less than first class credit access to all the benefits of credit that middle class Americans enjoy? The 96% of Americans who use the credit extended by AFSA members successfully are not asking for that interference.
There are some people who have been the victims of fraudulent, deceptive, illegal and unfair practices in the marketing of mortgage loans. Advocates have mistakenly focused on loan products and features as the reason why these victims experienced such adverse outcomes, and reached the faulty conclusion that if regulation just barred certain loan features, the harm would have been avoided. Pursuing that mistaken reasoning, they have tried to label as "predatory," highly regulated loan products and features, which are entirely legal (such as credit insurance, prepayment penalties, balloon payments, arbitration, and higher rates and fees). However, most of the loan features called "predatory" are not generally known as "predatory" practices – they are legitimate, legal, and common in mainstream prime and subprime lending. Any legitimate consumer good or service can be marketed fraudulently. Indeed, the scam artist prefers to use legitimate products, like loans, as a cover because consumers want and need the product. The illegality comes in the fraudulent marketing of the good or service, not in the good or service itself.
We urge that Congress not confuse the loan products that consumers want and need, with the fraudulent marketing practices that a few isolated operators have used to prey upon the unfortunate. Predatory lending is fundamentally the result of misleading and fraudulent sales practices already prohibited by a formidable array of federal and state law, including section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, criminal fraud statutes, state deceptive practices statutes, and civil rights laws. Aggressive enforcement efforts by the FTC, HUD and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, as well as by the States' Attorney Generals are underway. The existing array of state and federal regulation of fraudulent practices is already sufficient to deal with the deceptive, fraudulent and unfair practices that make up "predatory lending", and we suggest that there is no better deterrent to this type of behavior than successful prosecution. On the other hand, the subprime market is already very heavily burdened with restrictions and requirements imposed at the State and federal levels. Additional regulation of the type advocates have proposed will hurt the vast majority of working American families by raising credit prices and reducing credit availability. That is simply not a desirable policy outcome, particularly when it is not likely to deal with the real problem.
If fraudulent and deceptive practices are the root of the problem, what is the appropriate policy to address predatory lending?
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Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee, and I look forward to any questions you may have.
American Financial Services Association
Statement of Voluntary Standards
For Consumer Mortgage Lending
December 12, 2000
The American Financial Services Association (AFSA) has examined the market environment for mortgage lending as defined in the Home Ownership Equity Protection Act (HOEPA) and has adopted the following voluntary standards, effective upon its release, for the conduct of lenders in this market. AFSA rejects abusive practices, and uniformly condemns violations of law, fraud and unfair and deceptive practices by anyone in the marketplace. In furtherance of this position members will ensure that their employees are appropriately trained and that their customers have access to effective complaint resolution channels.
HOEPA Standards. Uniform standards and triggers embodied in HOEPA represent a level playing field for these mortgage transactions in the United States. Adoption of differing standards and triggers in state legislation are not recommended and could reduce the availability of credit to consumers who need it.
Ability to Repay. The ability of the customer to repay the loan obligation should be the primary focus of underwriting standards. AFSA members will not extend credit to any customer who does not demonstrate the ability to pay when the application is made. Underwriting may be done on a manual basis or with a system that is empirically derived (statistical), and these underwriting decisions consider many factors. However, the amount of equity in the mortgaged property should not take precedent over the borrowers ability to repay the loan.
Credit Insurance Products. Credit life, credit disability, and credit IUI insurance represents a high value to consumers in mortgage lending. Consumers have recognized this value to retire debt or to provide payment continuity in the case of death, disability, or unemployment. Providers of credit insurance must make full and accurate disclosure of credit insurance terms in accordance with state or federal law as the foundation for the customer making an informed decision. Finally, existing law regarding the optional nature of credit insurance provides effective protection to consumers. The AFSA Code of Ethics provides that the offering of any insurance must be done in a clear and informative manner. The purchase of such products must reflect a voluntary.2 choice by the consumer and must never be a condition to the extension of credit. To further strengthen this position, AFSA member companies will offer customers who choose to buy credit insurance the choice of single premium or monthly premium insurance products on mortgage loans as state law and data processing systems enhancements will allow for such choices in the future. AFSA members will provide a full refund of single premium insurance charges within 30 days of the loan closing, for those customers who choose to cancel their insurance, thereby providing a 30-day "free look". AFSA members will refund the unused portion of any single premium credit insurance premium upon cancellation.
Prepayment Penalties. Costly administration of higher risk mortgages often demands that multiple components be included in the risk based pricing of mortgage loans. Prepayment penalties should not be assessed if a loan is to be refinanced by the same lender. If the borrower repays the loan through other sources, the original lender may recover costs through application of a prepayment penalty. The AFSA standard is a maximum of 5 years for the duration of a prepayment penalty clause in a mortgage loan agreement.
Balloon Loans. AFSA recognizes that balloon loans may be beneficial for some borrowers, provided that either the balloon date is at least 7 years from the date of loan origination or the borrower has provided information in connection with the application indicating that the borrower’s financial plans anticipate the need for the loan for only a period shorter than the length of the balloon (e.g. the borrower expects to be transferred within three years and wants a three year balloon). Each AFSA member will agree with its customers that it will refinance a balloon loan at maturity, upon request of the borrower, at its then-available rate, fees and terms, provided that (a) the member still owns the loan, (b) the member still has products that can be offered to the customer, (c) neither governmental nor market forces have restricted the ability of the member to require the rate, fees, and terms it deems necessary and appropriate to the credit involved, (d) the customer has performed well on the balloon loan, and (e) neither the customer’s financial situation nor the value of the property has deteriorated.
Call Provisions. AFSA members do not support the introduction of call provisions into consumer mortgage loan contracts.
Refinancing. In the event an AFSA member refinances its loan (or the loan of an affiliate) within 12 months of the refinanced loan’s origination, it will either refund pro rata the points on the old loan, or it will charge points only on the new money in the new loan. "New money" is the amount by which the new principal exceeds the payoff amount of the old loan. As a matter of principle AFSA members will only refinance an existing loan if there is a reasonably anticipated present or potential benefit to the customer of the refinance. AFSA members support prohibition of the refinancing at higher rates of unique, non-conventional, below market-rate loans that are characterized as publicly assisted, non-.3 profit, or government subsidized. If such a transaction is identified in a member portfolio the AFSA member creditor will cure the finance charge differential, regardless of the origin of the transaction.
Foreclosures. Foreclosure is a remedy of last resort in consumer transactions. It is not the intention of AFSA members to derive profit from the unfortunate circumstances involved in the foreclosure process. In the unlikely event of a foreclosure on property securing a loan, lenders should return to the consumer any net surplus inclusive of transaction, carry, and direct costs, derived from the sale, upon final sale of the property by the AFSA member company from it’s inventory of real estate held as assets.
Home Improvement Lending. Members support the current AFSA voluntary standard on home improvement contracts, which include the following key points: Loans are restricted to those used to finance improvements for the borrower’s principal residence.
· Lenders shall have a standardized completion certificate signed by both the seller and customer before a home improvement retail installment contract can be purchased, or before the final progress payment is made on a direct home improvement loan.
· For any home improvements of $7,500 or more, lenders shall arrange, prior to the purchase of a home improvement retail installment contract or prior to the final progress payment on a direct home improvement loan, for a property inspection by any person who knows the basic parameters of the work contemplated by the customer and who is equipped to visually ascertain that such work has been substantially performed.
· For home improvement retail installment contracts and direct home improvement loans less than $7,500, the lender shall confirm with the customer that the financed home improvements have been completed.
· Lenders will provide disclosures encouraging consumers to contact their lender if they cannot resolve problems with their contractor. In addition, lenders shall respond to a written complaint from a customer under a home improvement retail installment contract or direct home improvement loan regarding problems the customer may have with the contractor within 20 business days, by acknowledging, in writing, receipt of the inquiry. Within 60 business days of receipt of the customer’s inquiry, the lender shall investigate the complaint and notify the customer in writing of the lender’s determination and proposed course of action.
· Lenders will cooperate with law enforcement agencies in an investigation or prosecution of the perpetrator of any fraudulent acts in connection with any home improvement project.
· Customers under a home improvement retail installment contract or direct home improvement loan shall be provided with a disclosure by the contractor (before initiating any work), and by the lender at the time of application, which clearly and concisely explains the customer’s rights and protections under federal law.
Brokers. AFSA recognizes that many lenders use brokers in originating real estate loans. Broker honesty and skill are important elements in the smooth functioning of the real estate lending market. These principles are embedded in the AFSA Code of Ethics. At the present time real estate mortgage brokers are often not licensed. AFSA supports the licensing and regulation of mortgage brokers. Mortgage brokers are expected to comply with the AFSA voluntary standards.
Consumer Counseling and Education. AFSA actively supports consumer education through the AFSA Education Foundation. AFSA fully supports the availability of voluntary independent credit counseling as one of the many tools available to help consumers understand responsible use of credit. AFSA recommends that lenders take steps to support initiatives for consumer education to improve the financial decisions that consumers make, and to ensure effective use of information.
Credit Reporting. AFSA supports the current voluntary standard on credit reporting. AFSA members shall not selectively report credit information on certain customers and withhold credit information on other customers for the purpose of preventing data on customers from becoming available to other lenders. Compliance with this voluntary standard on credit reporting will improve fair and complete credit reporting and benefit consumers as they seek credit in the future.
Default Advice. AFSA believes any practice of encouraging consumers to withhold mortgage payments or to default while awaiting a refinance is irresponsible and unethical.
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