Demand better consumer financial protection

consumer financial protection
Consumer Financial Protection and Dodd-Frank (infographic from CreditUnionTimes www,cutimes.com)

In an effort to reform the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (consumerfinance.gov) to become a better steward of consumer protection, H.R.5983 – Financial CHOICE Act of 2016 was introduced during the last congress.  The effort to compel oversight on the now embattled agency, as well as provide for a panel of decision makers (in lieu of a single chairperson), is unfortunately highly politicized.  As financial consumers, we should demand a better and fair protection agency serving without political motive.

From the Executive Summary of the The Financial CHOICE Act
Creating Hope and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers and Entrepreneurs:

SECTION THREE: Empower Americans to achieve financial independence by fundamentally reforming the CFPB and protecting investors.

  • Change the name of the CFPB to the “Consumer Financial Opportunity Commission(CFOC),” and task it with the dual mission of consumer protection and competitive markets, with a cost-benefit analysis of rules performed by an Office of Economic Analysis.
  • Replace the current single director with a bipartisan, five-member commission which is subject to congressional oversight and appropriations.
  • Establish an independent, Senate-confirmed Inspector General.
  • Require the Commission obtain permission before collecting personally identifiable information on consumers.
  • Repeal authority to ban bank products or services it deems “abusive” and its authority to prohibit arbitration.
  • Repeal indirect auto lending guidance.

Some have hailed the CFPB because it was created out of good intention. There is no question that the CFPB has done a great job in collecting and publicizing consumer complaints.  The announcements of consumer complaints seem to be a public airing of consumer grievances, which sometimes signaled forthcoming action from the agency in a specific financial sector.

However, critics contend that the CFPB rules have made lending more burdensome for both lenders and consumers by increasing bureaucratic red tape.  It has also increased the cost of lending to consumers by adding levels of compliance measures that are now embedded within the lending process.  Critics have also complained that the CFPB’s enforcement is not fair and unequal in focus.

Critics are becoming increasingly vocal, not only because of the sometimes invasive rule making, but more recently of how offenders are chosen and penalized.  Jacob Gaffney’s article for HousingWire (Former CFPB attorney pretty much just confirmed the worst fears of the mortgage industry: housingwire.com; January 3, 2017) earlier this year discussed two genuine concerns about the CFPB:

1) “The CFPB targets lenders for enforcement action based on opaque internal decisioning;” and

2) “Monetary penalties seemed determined by revenue, not equalitarian application of said enforcement action.”

Gaffney quoted Ronald Rubin, a former enforcement attorney at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, (from a December 21st 2016 piece “The Tragic Downfall of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” published online nationalreview.com) as confirming these concerns.  For example, the Wells Fargo fake consumer account scandal, one of the most egregious consumer scandals post financial crises, was not addressed by the CFPB (until it was too late) because Wells Fargo was allegedly “not a target of the agency at that time.”

Referring to the complaint database, Rubin stated:

The CFPB’s complaint database contained grievances against almost every financial business. Enforcement targeted the companies with the most revenue…rather than those with the most complaints.”  He further stated: “Targets (of the CFPB) were almost certain to write a check… Even the size of the checks didn’t depend on actual wrongdoing — during investigations, Enforcement demanded targets’ financial statements to calculate the maximum fines they could afford to pay.

The recent PHH Corp v Consumer Financial Protection Bureau case highlighted some of the alleged abuse of power by an agency with no oversight.  US Appellate Judge Kavanaugh wrote in his opinion:

That combination of power that is massive in scope, concentrated in a single person, and unaccountable to the President triggers the important constitutional question at issue in this case

…This is a case about executive power and individual liberty. The U.S. Government’s executive power to enforce federal law against private citizens – for example, to bring criminal prosecutions and civil enforcement actions – is essential to societal order and progress, but simultaneously a grave threat to individual liberty.”

We’ve followed the career of the CFPB since it was established in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.  Shortly after the financial crisis, we eagerly anticipated the new agency to help those who were the target of abusive lending and foreclosure practices.  Since its inception, however, controversy has embraced the agency.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Make housing great again

make housing great again
“Dodd-Frank Has Imposed Regulatory Costs of $310 Per Household” (infographic from americanactionforum.org)

When President Trump was campaigning, one of his talking points was to “dismantle” Dodd-Frank.  And after a couple of weeks in office, it seems that it’s next on his “to do” list.  While many are already touting the move as controversial and partisan, the reality is that it’s a bipartisan issue.  Even Barney Frank was seen on CNBC this past Sunday admitting that his namesake legislation needs reform (video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000590611).  Reforming Dodd-Frank will make housing great again.

Dodd-Frank is the nickname for Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.  The purpose, as described in its title, was to “To promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end ‘too big to fail’, to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and for other purposes.

Dodd-Frank changed the housing industry dramatically.  Besides altering the process of financing and buying homes, critics have claimed that the legislation has also restricted lending.

Dodd-Frank created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; which creates and enforces rules and regulations for consumer financial markets.  Besides adding new home buyer and seller disclosures as well as timelines, the “Know Before You Owe” rule changed the home buying process by creating a new level of bureaucracy embedded within the mortgage lending process.

Many critics of the CFPB also claim that it has too much power with little oversight, and point to last year’s Appellate opinion on PHH Corp v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as confirmation for necessary reforms., where Judge Kavanaugh wrote:

“…the Director of the CFPB possesses enormous power over American business, American consumers, and the overall U.S. economy. The Director unilaterally enforces 19 federal consumer protection statutes, covering everything from home finance to student loans to credit cards to banking practices. The Director alone decides what rules to issue; how to enforce, when to enforce, and against whom to enforce the law; and what sanctions and penalties to impose on violators of the law…That combination of power that is massive in scope, concentrated in a single person, and unaccountable to the President triggers the important constitutional question at issue in this case.”

One of the unintended consequences of Dodd-Frank was the restricted lending atmosphere in the mortgage industry.  Besides the overwhelming increase in rules and regulations as a result of Dodd-Frank, there has also been insufficient private portfolio and securitization of mortgages; which further limits access of funding to many home buyers.

Prior to the financial crisis, private mortgage securitization was prevalent; which provided a multitude of lending products, including “Alt-A” and subprime.  The wide access to private mortgage funding contributed to the homeownership rate to peak close to 70 percent (The most recent homeownership rate reported by the US Census was 63.7 percent, a forty year low).  Since the crisis, a majority (estimates were as high as 95 percent) of mortgages are insured or purchased by the government.

Before the financial crisis, Alt-A and subprime mortgages were widely available to give home buyers options to finance their homes, especially when they didn’t fit the underwriting guidelines for a conventional loan.  Many of these home buyers were self-employed or small business owners, whose financial picture was outside of the box of the requirements for a conventional mortgage.

Of course, FHA is an alternative to conventional mortgages.  FHA has lenient underwriting guidelines, like subprime mortgages; but is insured by the government.  However, the upfront and annual mortgage insurance premiums can be hefty.  Alt-A and subprime can seem more attractive when purchasing a home beyond the FHA loan limits, and/or when documentation becomes onerous.

Back in 2001, Federal Reserve Board Economist Liz Laderman wrote about the growth of subprime through the 1990’s (Subprime Mortgage Lending and the Capital Markets; FRBSF Economic Letter; December 28, 2001).

“An increase in access to the capital markets through loan securitization also contributed to growth in subprime lending in the 1990s. Securitization is the repackaging, pooling, and reselling of loans to investors as securities. It increases liquidity and funding to an industry both by reducing risk—through pooling—and by more efficiently allocating risk to the investors most willing to bear it. Investors had already become comfortable with securitized prime mortgage loans, and subprime mortgage loans were among various other types of credit, such as multifamily residential mortgage loans, automobile loans, and manufactured home loans, that began to be securitized in the 1990s. Through securitization, the subprime mortgage market strengthened its links with the broader capital markets, thereby increasing the flow of funds into the market and encouraging competition.”

Of course, Dr. Laderman also points out that the increased competition in the subprime market was a concern due to reported abusive lending practices.  However, she concluded:

“…subprime mortgage lending grew rapidly in the 1990s to become an important segment of both the home purchase and home equity mortgage markets. Evidence pertaining to securitization and pricing of subprime mortgages also suggests that the subprime market has become well linked with the broader capital markets, an important first step in the development of a fully competitive environment.”

A 2006 article by Souphala Chomsisengphet and Anthony Pennington-Cross (The Evolution of the Subprime Mortgage Market; Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review; Vol. 88, No. 1) described the history of subprime mortgages.  The authors stated:

“..Because of its complicated nature, subprime
lending is simultaneously viewed as having great
promise and great peril…”

Through it’s history, subprime lending has had crises where this lending sector took pauses to reflect on missteps.  Chomsisengphet and Pennington-Cross described a “retrenchment” of subprime lending in the late 1990’s; but during that time, the facts point to huge losses in the subprime sector due to seemingly rampant illegal flipping and fraud.

Private mortgage funding isn’t entirely Alt-A or subprime mortgages, although there’s a place for responsible Alt-A and subprime lending.  Prior to the growth in securitizing these types of mortgages, banks and financial institutions privately held (portfolio) these loans which increased their institutional risk and provided incentive for originating performing loans.

How can Dodd-Frank be reformed?  One only has to look back to the S&L crisis of the 1980’s and listen to William K. Black.  Black was the Director of Litigation for the Federal Home Loan Bank Board in the aftermath of the S&L crisis.  His conclusions included a list of “Lessons not Learned.”  The focus of his list was fraud and ethics.  Black discussed curbing “control fraud” (fraud perpetrated by CEOs as well as those who are in power) and other types of fraud.  He wrote The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One: How Corporate Executives and Politicians Looted the S&L Industry  first published in 2005, but was recently updated.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Black reemerged after the financial crisis to provide testimony to Congress, including testimony in 2010 to the Committee on Financial Services United States House of Representatives regarding “Public Policy Issues Raised by the Report of the Lehman Bankruptcy Examiner.”  In a 2010 interview with Bill Moyers (pbs.org/moyers/journal/04232010/transcript1.html), Black discussed CDO’s (collateralized debt obligations), fraud, and their role in the recent crisis.  And although many, including the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, cited failures in the financial system as cause for the financial crisis; they all fall short in seeing William K. Black’s “control fraud” in action – Fraud was the vehicle that drove the unrelenting greed in the CDO and mortgage markets.

With regard to housing, there is much potential for reform within Dodd-Frank.  However, maybe begin with SEC. 941 “Regulation Of Credit Risk Retention” of Dodd-Frank.  SEC.941 requires a securitizer of residential mortgages to have skin in the game by retaining some of the risk of any asset or mortgage backed security that is sold, transferred, or conveyed.  Additionally, the securitizer is prohibited from hedging or transferring their credit risk.  Exceptions to this section include federal programs insuring or guaranteeing mortgages; which includes FHA and VA mortgages, as well as mortgages from institutions supervised by the Farm Credit Administration (including the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation).  However, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not exempt.

The President can make housing great again by incentivising private investment in the mortgage industry either through increasing portfolio and/or private securitization in the mortgage markets – along with reducing fraud (and control fraud) while ensuring responsible lending practices.  Private investment in mortgage funding will open the doors for many home buyers and increase homeownership rates.

Copyright © Dan Krell
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It’s Mr. Trump’s housing market now

Trump's housing market
Dodd-Frank regulation (from uschamber.com)

Change is not always easy.  Sometimes we choose to change and other times we are forced to change.  The Great Recession forced massive change to many aspects of our lives – mostly financial.  Many found themselves out of work because of the recession, and many home owners lost their homes to foreclosure; while the rest of us searched for ways to cope.  It’s Mr. Trump’s housing market now.

As a result, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was quickly pieced together and signed into law in 2010.  “Dodd-Frank”, contained over two-thousand pages of regulations and rules, many of which were to be created at a later time by many agencies and unelected bureaucrats.  Dodd-Frank also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which took over RESPA, lending and consumer finance markets enforcement responsibilities.  The CFPB created the “Qualified Residential Mortgage” and “Know Before You Owe” rules that significantly impacted the mortgage and housing industries.

The purpose of Dodd-Frank and the CFPB was well intentioned as Congress sought a solution to prohibit future crises.  In the uncertain financial atmosphere that ensued, consumers wanted accountability from Wall Street and mortgage lenders.  While some continue to generally blame Wall Street and the mortgage industry for the financial crisis, the reality is that the dynamics that created the financial crises were complex.  And one can surmise from the many hearings, books, dissertations, and working papers that the crux of the financial crisis was widespread fraud that took advantage of a hot real estate market and easy money.

Six years after Dodd-Frank, the rules and regulations keep coming.  Writing for the US Chamber of Commerce’s “Above the Fold,” J.D. Harrison pointed out that Dodd-Frank has created over 27,000 new federal regulations by thirty-two federal agencies impacting many industries (Dodd-Frank’s Regulatory Nightmare in One Rather Mesmerizing Illustration; uschamber.com).  Compared to the previous Wall Street reform in 2002, which had two agencies issuing regulations to only five industries.  Harrison stated that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act “basically sought more corporate transparency and accountability.”

Many have associated Dodd-Frank with the ongoing slow economic recovery, citing increased consumer costs and restricted lending – which effects the housing market, home buyers and sellers.

An example of increasing consumer costs is the CFPB’s TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure.  The Mortgage Bankers Association (mba.org) recently reported that compliance with TRID costs on average $210 per mortgage, some of which is recouped from the consumer.  The rule is also responsible for “slower application to closing times.”

A recent appellate case highlighted some of these Dodd-Frank outcomes.  The CFPB sought fines against a mortgage lender for their years of compliance with HUD’s interpretation of a rule; the fines were imposed retroactively for not complying with a new CFPB reinterpretation of the same rule. Additionally, the court focused on the CFPB’s unilateral ability to impose rules and fines without oversight.

It’s Mr. Trump’s housing market now.

Repeal and Replace is a talking point that is not exclusively for the Affordable Care Act.  Shortly after Donald Trump’s election as the forty-fifth President of the United States, many industry insiders and pundits are already anticipating the future of Dodd-Frank and the CFPB.  Mr. Trump’s plan for financial services is posted to the President-Elect’s site (greatagain.gov) stating: “The Dodd-Frank economy does not work for working people.  Bureaucratic red tape and Washington mandates are not the answer.  The Financial Services Policy Implementation team will be working to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act and replace it with new policies to encourage economic growth and job creation.

Copyright © Dan Krell

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Liberty, housing, private citizens

Liberty, housing, private citizens
Liberty, housing and private citizens (infographic from anthem.edu)

Since its inception, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (consumerfinance.gov) has had many advocates and many critics.  While many point to the CFPB’s staunch protection of consumers, some have argued that the independent agency has too much power with little oversight.  And this week’s opinion from the United States Court of Appeals in the case of PHH Corp v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau seems to side with CFPB’s detractors – and highlights liberty, housing, private citizens.

As you know, the CFPB was created in the aftermath of the financial crisis by the passing of Dodd-Frank in 2010.  Dodd-Frank (also known as the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act) came at a time when politicians wanted to reign in financial institutions and businesses.  In order to carry out financial reform, Dodd-Frank created a number of oversight boards and agencies in an expansive piece of legislation that covered many areas spelled out in over 2,000 pages.  And even in its behemoth size, Dodd-Frank left much of the reform regulations to be written by agencies and its unelected officials – including the CFPB.

The CFPB has issued many new rules and have fined many banks and lenders.  Some of the new rules have fundamentally changed the relationship between the consumer and the bank.  For example, the TRID (TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure) rule that went into effect this year which not only changed how settlements are conducted but can levy stiff a penalty for each violation.

The case PHH Corp v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, appeared as if a seemingly “bad” mortgage lender was pushing back against fines and penalties for doing wrong.  (PHH Corp was fined $108 million by the CFPB for mortgage re-insurance deals with company affiliates, even though it claimed to have followed HUD’s previous rule of paying a reasonable market rate.)  But there’s more to this story, and it highlights exactly the what the CFPB’s critics have complained about – the CFPB’s independence from oversight and guidance.  The case is about the CFPB’s authority to change the rule and retroactively apply it to PHH Corp.

Judge Kavanaugh wrote: “This is a case about executive power and individual liberty. The U.S. Government’s executive power to enforce federal law against private citizens – for example, to bring criminal prosecutions and civil enforcement actions – is essential to societal order and progress, but simultaneously a grave threat to individual liberty.”

He continued to say that “…the Director of the CFPB possesses enormous power over American business, American consumers, and the overall U.S. economy. The Director unilaterally enforces 19 federal consumer protection statutes, covering everything from home finance to student loans to credit cards to banking practices. The Director alone decides what rules to issue; how to enforce, when to enforce, and against whom to enforce the law; and what sanctions and penalties to impose on violators of the lawThat combination of power that is massive in scope, concentrated in a single person, and unaccountable to the President triggers the important constitutional question at issue in this case.”

The result is that the CFPB will continue to operate and go after bad actors in the financial world.  However, the recent appellate ruling will likely change the scope and focus of its operations, as the CFPB will be under the “ultimate supervision and direction of the President.”  This case and the opinions of the Court can be found here (https://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf).

Copyright © Dan Krell

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Coming this summer – A new real estate settlement experience

real estateFor many, August 1st will be like any other summer day. However for those in the lending and real estate industries, August 1st is when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) new lending, closing disclosures and rules go into effect.

Know Before You Owe” is a project that began before the official opening of the CFPB (which officially opened July 21st 2011), and undertook the remaking of mortgage disclosures to make them more consumer friendly. You might say the project started with the passing of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, which mandated the creation of the CFPB as well as amends the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). Sec 1098 of Dodd-Frank states that the Bureau “shall publish a single, integrated disclosure for mortgage loan transactions” in a “readily understandable language” so as to help borrowers understand the financial aspects of their loan clearly and to be nontechnical.

A change in industry disclosure and compliance to enhance consumer protection is not new. RESPA and the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) were both devised as consumer protections, and amended over the years. RESPA was enacted in 1974 as a protection for consumers from abusive and predatory lending practices to help home buyers better shop for services related to the home buying process. Enacted in 1968, TILA provided guidelines for which lenders are required to inform consumers about the cost of their loan; which includes the disclosing the Annual Percentage Rate (APR), finance charges, amount financed, and the total amount paid as scheduled. The new integrated disclosure forms replace the Good Faith Estimate (GFE) and Settlement Statement (HUD1) required by RESPA and the Truth and Lending Disclosure Statement required by TILA with a Loan Estimate and a Closing Disclosure.

RESPA and TILA require disclosures to be provided to you within three days upon making your mortgage application, as well as not having changed prior to your closing of the transaction. Changes to these regulations and disclosures have often been made to keep up with the industry as well as to enhance consumer disclosure and education; the most recent revisions being made immediately after the financial crisis. Although redesigned to be more efficient and accurate, the most recent revision of the GFE and the Truth in Lending Disclosure Statement remained technical in nature. Many claimed the forms remained confusing making it difficult to compare mortgage costs between lenders; costs were not always labeled consistently and sometimes changed prior to closing.

By combining these disclosures into two forms in a clear and understandable language, the forms present important information conspicuously to help consumers decide if the mortgage is affordable and warn about loan features that they may want to avoid. The new forms seek to standardize fee and cost disclosures so as to make shopping easier; with standard cost and fee disclosures, comparisons will be more like comparing two apples rather than an apple to an orange.

One of the more important aspects of the new rules is that the new Closing Disclosure be given to the borrower three days prior to settlement. During the three days prior to closing, changes to the Closing Disclosure that increase charges are prohibited (unless allowed by exception). You can find more information about the CFPB and view the new disclosures at the CFPB website Know Before You Owe (consumerfinance.gov/knowbeforeyouowe).

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.