Mortgage key part of Obama reform
|By Holden Lewis Bankrate.com
If the Obama administration has its way, your next mortgage is likely to be "plain vanilla."
Mortgage lenders will be required to offer "'plain vanilla' products that are simpler and have straightforward pricing," according to a proposal circulated by the White House. A new regulatory agency would "require all providers and intermediaries to offer these products prominently, alongside whatever other lawful products they choose to offer."
To extend the administration's metaphor, next year's mortgage marketplace might resemble an ice cream shop in which the salesperson's first words to you are, "Would you like a single dip of low-fat, plain-vanilla ice cream?" If you want a double dip, or desire a flavor that's more fattening, you have to sign a form opting in to less-healthy ice cream, then read a warning label about the perils of rocky road.
In short, the administration proposes a reform of banking regulations that would nudge consumers into taking fewer risks when they borrow. The new regulations would require financial disclosure documents to be easier to understand. Rules would push mortgage companies into competing on rate and price rather than competing by developing newfangled loan types.
The Obama administration wants to reform a lot more than mortgages. It's asking Congress to make a multitude of changes affecting the entire financial system to prevent another meltdown. The proposal addresses everything from credit cards to hedge funds. It blames much of the financial crisis on the deterioration in lending standards for mortgages, so mortgage regulatory reform takes a prominent place in the 85-page proposal.
All in one
The administration proposes creating a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, or CFPA. Right now, a constellation of agencies regulates mortgages, depending on who originates them. States regulate mortgage brokers. Savings and loans are regulated by one agency and national banks are regulated by others. The Federal Reserve oversees one set of disclosures you get when you apply for a mortgage, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development oversees another batch of disclosures. The CFPA would gather all of these oversight activities under its umbrella.
The new agency would define the plain-vanilla home loans, including adjustable-rate mortgages. Lenders that offer these loans would have to get full income documentation, collect escrow for taxes and insurance, make monthly payments predictable, and could not charge prepayment penalties. Mortgage lenders would have to offer these simple mortgages. They would be allowed to offer more complex loans, too -- but consumers would have to jump through some hoops to get them.
"The CFPA should be authorized to use a variety of measures to help ensure alternative mortgages were obtained only by consumers who understood the risks and could manage them," the proposal says. The agency "could impose a strong warning label on all alternative products; require providers to have applicants fill out financial experience questionnaires; or require providers to obtain the applicant's written 'opt-in' to such products."