Congress offers relief from financial regulations – Part 2

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Jun 232017

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By G. Steven Bray

Yesterday, we reviewed how the Financial Choice Act, recently passed by the House, would affect banking regulations. Today, we’re going to look at how it would change the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The bill would have three major effects:

– It would change the name of the bureau to the Consumer Law Enforcement Agency and change its mission to enforcing existing consumer financial regulations rather than creating new ones. In this sense, it would function more like other independent federal agencies.

– It would allow Congressional oversight through the appropriations process.

– It would change the leadership from a single, unaccountable director to one who serves at the pleasure of the President.

Democrats seem most exercised about this provision as they view the current untouchable director as a way to maintain their preferred regulatory scheme across presidential administrations.

As I said yesterday, the bill’s fate in the Senate seems dim, but three additional developments offer hope to those favoring change:

– A Congressional Budget Office analysis indicates the Choice Act will reduce the deficit by $33 billion, which makes it possible Republicans could use the reconciliation process to pass reforms with only 51 Senate votes.

– Second, the courts seem poised to decide that the CFPB current structure is unconstitutional, but the final decision still may be a couple years away.

– Finally, it seems likely the CFPB’s current director will resign to run for governor of OH, which would allow President Trump to appoint a reformer to the position.

Congress offers relief from financial regulations – Part 1

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Jun 222017

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By G. Steven Bray

President Trump came to office promising to cut regulations that are stifling job growth, and one of his top targets was the Obama-era Dodd-Frank Act that put tough regulations on consumer lending and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Congressional Republicans recently offered an assist by passing the Financial Choice Act that repeals major aspects of Dodd-Frank. Based on a Congressional Budget Office analysis, the bill offers regulatory relief to community banks and credit unions in exchange for greater capitalization, which should make them safer. Larger banks are unlikely to meet the capital requirements needed for relief.

Large banks do like provisions of the bill that would streamline and reduce the frequency of exams and that would repeal the Volker Rule. The bill also would classify some loans banks hold in portfolio as “qualified mortgages,” which could loosen up bank lending a bit.

Democrats unanimously oppose the bill, but most of their statements so far have been fear-mongering claims that the bill’s passage will lead to another financial crisis. Given the opposition, the bill’s prospects in the Senate are dim for now. Senate Banking Comm Chair Crapo said the Choice Act is a good starting point, but he will craft his own bill with input from Senate Democrats. However, those favoring major change can be cheered by the fact that the Choice Act stakes out a very strong starting point.

Tomorrow, we’ll dig into how the bill changes the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

TX home equity loans on the ballot in Nov

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Jun 142017

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By G. Steven Bray

Texans will have a chance to vote this fall on important changes to lending rules for home equity loans. The changes will allow those with lower-valued homes and rural homes to gain access to their home equity.

Texas has strong homestead protections that are written into the state constitution. Thus, changes to rules governing home equity require voter approval.

Currently, fees associated with a home equity loan are capped at 3% of the loan amount. While a cap on fees sounds great, it doesn’t take into account that certain fees, such as the appraisal and survey fees, don’t vary by loan size. This has prevented many homeowners of lower-valued homes from accessing their equity because the fees would exceed the cap. The new rules cap the fees at 2% but exclude fees associated with the appraisal, survey, and title policy.

The new rules also will allow owners of homes on agricultural land to apply for home equity loans. While this is a favorable development, it will be interesting to see which lenders will be interested in these loans. I suspect conventional lenders will shy away because the loans will be difficult to package with other home equity loans.

A final change will particularly benefit homeowners who used higher-rate, home equity second mortgages for things like remodeling their homes. Previously, a home equity loan only could be refinanced with another home equity loan. The change allows the homeowner to refinance their first and second mortgages into a new conventional loan that is free from the home equity restrictions.

Click here for more information about the amendment.

Oh, no! Trump dismantling consumer protection

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Feb 202017

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By G. Steven Bray

Despite the hysterical headlines that President Trump was dismantling consumer financial protections by executive order, the truth is much less exciting.

Trump has called Dodd-Frank, the recession-era law that created the current regulatory structure, a disaster and pledged major reforms. Earlier this month, he ordered his financial team to review the law and develop a plan to overhaul it. This starts a likely many-month process to modify Dodd-Frank and other financial regulations that are stifling lending and driving community banks out of business.

While Trump conceivably could rewrite or reverse some financial regulations once his appointees take charge at various federal agencies, he cannot change statutory rules, such as those enacted through Dodd-Frank, without Congressional action.

Unfortunately for those hoping for quick action, that appears unlikely. While the House already is moving legislation to rewrite the law, Senate Republicans need help from Democrats. Senate Banking Comm Chair Mike Crapo says, “The climate right now in the Senate is as toxic as I’ve ever seen it.” Crapo hopes he can get some Democratic support for changes that will promote lending by easing rules for smaller and community banks.

The eventual changes could be significant, but the pace of change will allow for serious consideration and certainty doesn’t justify the silly headlines.

Could spot condo approval return for FHA?

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Oct 242016

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By G. Steven Bray

We talked a couple weeks ago about the changes FHA adopted to make it easier to get FHA financing for condos. Unfortunately, the changes are temporary, but FHA is trying to rectify that by proposing new regulations that take these changes a step further and make them permanent.

The biggest news is FHA is proposing the reinstate spot approvals for condos. Typically, a condo project must be FHA-certified for its units to be eligible for FHA financing. A spot approval allows a lender to seek approval for a single unit in an otherwise uncertified project.

Another proposed change that’s receiving mixed reviews would establish a range within which FHA could set the minimum percentage of units that must be owner-occupied. Currently, the minimum is 50%. The proposed range is 25% to 75%. FHA says this would give it flexibility to respond to market conditions. Congress has suggested 35% is appropriate, and the housing industry would prefer the certainty of the fixed, lower number.

FHA also is proposing to establish a range for the maximum commercial space within a mixed-use development. The current maximum is 50%. The proposed range is 25% to 60%.

You can find the proposed rule on HUD’s Web site,, and FHA invites your comments.

The possibility of better flood insurance

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Jun 062016

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By G. Steven Bray

Congress is diddling with flood insurance again, and if you’re in a flood zone, you may want to pay attention. The House passed a bill about a month ago that would authorize state insurance commissioners to approve flood insurance policies that would be accepted for conventional and government mortgage loans. This means you would have a private insurance alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which for many is currently the only game in town.

Obviously, the idea is that more competition will lead to more consumer choice. Consumers will be able to shop for an insurance product that meets their particular needs rather than be stuck with the current one-size-fits-all government product.

One interesting twist in the bill is that it would allow homeowners who switch to private insurance to switch back to the NFIP if they aren’t satisfied. Their NFIP insurance rate wouldn’t change as long as they don’t allow coverage to lapse.

The Senate is considering a similar bill that has bipartisan support, so it’s quite possible private flood insurance will become a reality this year.

Why are appraisals so expensive? – Part 2

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Jan 202016

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By G. Steven Bray

Yesterday, we started discussing why appraisal costs have soared. We identified regulations requiring that lenders order appraisals through middlemen. Let’s look at a couple other factors.

– Regulators have increased appraisal requirements. Appraisers not only have to estimate the property’s value but also have to assess the strength of the area’s housing market. FHA appraisers now have to crawl into a home’s attic or crawl space among other new requirements.

– Finally, the new integrated disclosures regulation requires lenders to quote appraisal fees exactly at loan origination. Given that little is known about the property this early in the loan process, appraisal companies that provide the quotes must consider the risk that the property has complexities. Thus, their quoted prices have risen.

– The new regulation also has virtually eliminated the market for appraisal orders. When you eliminate market competition, you get higher prices.

The added workload and lower pay pushed a number of appraisers out of business, and the inability to control appraisal fees because of appraisal company middlemen makes the profession unattractive for potential new appraisers. As a result, a number of housing industry experts is warning of a coming appraiser shortage. For homebuyers, this initially could mean delayed closings. Eventually, it probably means even higher appraisal prices as that may be what’s necessary to attract new people to the profession.

Why are appraisals so expensive?

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Jan 192016

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By G. Steven Bray

“Back in the day, I could order an appraisal for $350.” So began a conversation with a couple other “old-timers” in the mortgage industry about the current high cost of appraisals. The only problem is “back in the day” was only a couple years ago. Today, a typical conventional loan appraisal costs $500 and an FHA appraisal can cost $600. Why has the cost increased so much in such a short time?

Several factors are to blame, and we’ll examine them today and tomorrow.

– After the financial crisis, regulators decided that because a few loan officers at Washington Mutual Bank had leaned on appraisers to falsify values that all loan officers should be punished. (Reminds me of elementary school, but then again, so do a lot of things the government does.) As a result, appraisals now are ordered through an appraisal company middleman. And, of course, the middleman charges a fee.

Initially, the middlemen just took their fee from the appraiser’s fee, meaning appraisers received less. However, recent legislation required that appraisers receive their usual fee, so middleman fees forced appraisal prices to rise.

Tomorrow, we’ll examine a couple other factors and the effect these may have on the broader housing market.

Flood insurance surprise if you refinance

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Jan 082016

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By G. Steven Bray

If your home is in a flood zone, and you have a mortgage, you need to be aware of regulatory changes that took effect on Jan 1st. The changes implement part of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 and require lenders to escrow flood insurance premiums for most new residential loans.

So, what does this mean for you? If you’re currently paying for flood insurance, and you refinance your home, at closing your lender will set up an escrow account, and you will pay the flood insurance premium as part of your monthly mortgage payment. The change applies even if you do not escrow for property taxes and hazard insurance. This likely will mean more money due at closing because when you escrow, you pay in advance of the bill coming due.

The new regulation has one interesting twist that may be appealing to homeowners who currently pay their own flood insurance premiums. As of Jan 1st, your loan servicer must give you the option to escrow flood insurance premiums. So, if you don’t like paying that flood insurance bill each year, the change allows you to spread the payments out as part of your monthly mortgage payment.

Government says no worries; your financial data is safe

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Nov 072015

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By G. Steven Bray

I’ve never considered myself much of a conspiracy nut, but the government’s latest data gathering plan has me concerned for my privacy. As part of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s crusade to discover housing discrimination (even where it doesn’t exist), it will start collecting far more intrusive data about every mortgage, including your income and credit score.

Do you really trust the government with your information? This is the same government that had data breaches at the Office of Personnel Management, the State Dept, the Defense Dept, the IRS, the Federal Reserve – the list goes on. Why in the world would I be comfortable with the CFPB holding this data?

What’s more, do you really trust the government to behave? Think the IRS might want to look the income you reported to your lender?

This seems to be a done deal at this point unless Congress steps in. Fortunately, the data collection doesn’t start until 2018, so we have a chance. However, if the rule doesn’t change, the only way to avoid the government collecting your sensitive information is to pay cash for your home.