Ben Bernanke says mortgage underwriting standards are too tight

In his speech at Operation HOPE Financial Dignity Summit yesterday on the challenges of the housing market and mortgage lending, FOMC Chairman Bernanke expressed concerns that mortgage underwriting has become “overly tight”. 

“…Some tightening of credit standards was an appropriate response to the lax lending conditions that prevailed in the years leading up to the peak in house prices. Mortgage loans that were poorly underwritten or inappropriate for the borrower’s circumstances ultimately had devastating consequences for many families and communities, as well as for the financial institutions themselves and the broader economy.

However, it seems likely at this point that the pendulum has swung too far the other way, and that overly tight lending standards may now be preventing creditworthy borrowers from buying homes, thereby slowing the revival in housing and impeding the economic recovery.’

Borrowers who have recently purchased a home or closed on a non-streamlined refinance would most likely agree with Ben Bernanke’s views on underwriting guidelines. And for the most part, I do too. Today’s home buyer will often find every aspect of their income, assets and credit scrutinized. For example, Form 4506 (which was once used primarily for stated or no-income verified loans) is now pulled on every mortgage in process to obtain a copy of the tax transcripts for the the past two years. Any discrepancies between the 4506 and income supplied must be addressed, which often leads to the borrowers having to provide complete tax returns instead of just their W2’s. If a borrower has deposits on their bank statements that are not easily identified, they can expect to show proof of where that deposit came from. Credit reports may disclose information that the borrower may need to address as well beyond the good old “inquiry letter”. Now they disclose information about activity associated to a borrowers address that may or may not relate to the borrower. Don’t get me wrong, loans are closing however the process for some can require a great deal of patience and paperwork.

“When lenders were asked why they have originated fewer mortgages, they cited a variety of concerns, starting with worries about the economy, the outlook for house prices, and their existing real estate loan exposures. They also mention increases in servicing costs and the risk of being required by government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) to repurchase delinquent loans (so-called putback risk).”

“Putbacks” are also referred to as “buy-backs”. And buy-backs tend to roll down hill to the source that originated the mortgage, including  banks and correspondent lenders like Mortgage Master Service Corporation. This happens when the loan (borrower) is not performing. The lender will go over the loan documents with a fine tooth comb to try to find fault in the underwriting so they can justify sending the loan (forcing a buy-back) to the originating lender. This is why many borrowers are having to over-document their finances.

The Federal Reserve’s Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices indicates that lenders began tightening mortgage credit standards in 2007 and have not significantly eased standards since.

Ben Bernanke and the Fed cannot control the underwriting guidelines and overlays that banks have for mortgage lending. I certainly do not want to see the loose underwriting of the subprime era return. However I do agree that for the most part, underwriting has become pretty tight and I would welcome more “common sense” for well qualified borrowers.

Mr. Bernanke needs to brush up on Frank Dodd and how it will continue impact the mortgage industry and underwriting guidelines.

Your thoughts?

Why getting a mortgage is more challenging today

Typically when I hear media say that it’s difficult or impossible to get a mortgage, my hair stands up on the back of my neck. Often times, they’re misstating mortgage programs and saying something like “you need 30% down payment and 760 credit scores to buy a home” which simply is not true. However something that I cannot argue is that it is more challenging to go through the mortgage process today.

The process is tedious as borrowers are asked to provide more supporting documentation to prove they’re qualified for the mortgage. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. If you’re a long time reader of my blog, you know I was never a fan of stated income mortgages. However it’s to a point where home buyers and home owners wanting to refinance are having to do things like document and prove where a large deposit from a month ago came from…even if they have plenty of funds for the transaction. Underwriters are calling for additional documentation.

This is partly happening because of tougher guidelines to make up for the sins of the subprime era of mortgages. Loosey goosey underwriting guidelines allowed just about anyone to obtain a mortgage with no regard to if the borrower would actually be able to make the mortgage payments. 

What’s also impacting guidelines are buy backs. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are pushing back loans that are not performing back to the banks.  If that loan was not originated by a bank (for example, a correspondent lender, like us), the bank will try to force the originating lender to buy back that loan. This is one reason why many banks prefer working with correspondent lenders over mortgage brokers – correspondent lenders have skin in the game.  From Reuters:

Historically, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have taken banks at their word when they said loans were eligible. If later there were problems (because the borrower’s income was not properly verified, for example), then Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could ask banks to buy back the mortgages at face value and absorb any losses.

Those repurchase requests are increasing as Fannie and Freddie apply more scrutiny. Both companies have hired more staff to comb through loans and determine which can be sold back to banks.

In the second quarter, outstanding repurchase requests at Fannie Mae grew by 20 percent to $14.6 billion from the first quarter, according to a filing last week.

In order for a bank or lender to have a fighting chance in not buying back the loan, they need to be able to show they had a complete and strong loan package with all of the borrowers supporting documentation to illustrate they qualified for the mortgage program.

You’re probably thinking that this sounds pretty fair. If a loan is not performing, then the originating lender should have to buy it back and deal with the losses. Banks are arguing that some loans that are not performing may be caused by the economy (loss of employment) and not due to the quality of the loan. A lender has to consider what are the odds the borrowers will be able to make the mortgage payments in the future.

As Fannie and Freddie increase scrutiny on mortgages and force more buy backs, banks will lend to fewer borrowers and toughen up guidelines. It’s already happening – just ask any HARP 2.0 borrower who’s trying to go back to their bank to refinance. Odds are, unless the refi has no pmi or lpmi, the bank may refuse it. Some banks have turned their backs on FHA streamlined refi’s as well.  Many banks are “cherry picking” mortgages…and with all the current volume, they can easily afford to. 

NOTE: If your bank has turned down your HARP 2.0 or FHA streamlined refinance on a home located anywhere in Washington, I’d love to see if I can help you. We work with several lenders who offer HARP 2.0 mortgages – even if you have LPMI. We are also still doing FHA streamlined refinances on Washington homes as well. One of the benefits of working at a correspondent lender is that we have several lenders to work with – we are not limited to one set of programs and guidelines. Click here for a mortgage rate quote. Okay… commercial over.

Watch for guidelines to continue to become tougher and expect to be asked for more and more documentation from your lender if you are considering a mortgage… we still have the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fine tuning “the ability to repay”.  More mortgage fun coming your way soon!

With a little patience and cooperation with providing requested documentation to your mortgage professional, you will survive the mortgage process with success.

Why I Don’t Like Stated Income Loans

Let me start by saying, I prefer a “No Income” over a “Stated Income” loan.  If you Riskybusiness_2 have to “state” an income, you’re potentially setting yourself up for committing fraud.  A “no income” verified loan (where your income is blank on the loan application) does come with a slightly higher rate than a stated income loan, however, there are no questions about what is questionable…your income!

Recently, a home buyer contacted me for a second opinion on their good faith estimate.  They had just made an offer that was accepted on a home.  After reviewing his information, he revealed that the loan was stated income.   I did not have all of their documentation needed for self employed borrowers (2 years complete tax returns, for starters) since I was just looking at closing costs and the rate.   So I asked why they were going stated income.   Here is his actual response:

“Let’s just say it’s income we’re hoping to achieve, but higher than what is on our tax return.”

Does that sound a wee bit concerning to you?   For one, they are stating income they don’t make in order to qualify for a mortgage.  When  you’re self employed your income can vary quite easily.   What happens if they don’t make the income they “hope to achieve” and they cannot swing their new mortgage payment?   

I asked if his Loan Originator was going to have him sign a 4506 or 4506T.  These forms are sent to the IRS so the lender (and what ever company your loan is sold to) can verify the income you are stating on the loan application by accessing your tax transcripts directly from the IRS.

“I did ask [our LO] about that, and she said it’s basically a formality – that they don’t actually pull the tax return…it’s just put [the 4506 form] in the file.”

Often times, the 4506 may stay “in the file”.  However, if the borrower defaults on the loan, you can bet the first thing the lender will do is to grab the 4506 to compare what was stated on the loan application to the actual income reported to the IRS.   


“Since I certainly don’t plan on defaulting, I’m going trust [the LO] and the bank on this one. She’s got an interest in this as well!”

The LO certainly does have an interest in the loan.   She’s going to get paid and keep her real estate agent happy.   Stated income and no-income verifiers are very easy loans to do as compared to doing a full document loan for a self employed borrower where you have to review and average incomes for the past two years.   Yikes…the LO might actually have to pull out their calculator and do some hard math and go through someone’s tax returns.  Oh dear!

Let’s assume worse case scenario for this borrower who is all ready admittedly overstating income at what he hopes to achieve…what he suffers a loss with his business and and is not able to keep up with his mortgage?  As a self employed person,  your income and costs are not secure or stable.   This could quite easily happen to the best of people.  Now you’re in a mortgage that you could not afford to begin with because you had to over state lie about your income.   Should your mortgage go into default, will the LO who put you into this loan stand by you?  I doubt it.  Plus, she’ll probably state something like “I had no idea they didn’t make that income.”   She won’t go down holding the borrower’s hand in this case, far from it.

If you are considering a mortgage where you “state” your income on the loan application, you should know:

  • Stated income loans are not created to exaggerate your income so you can qualify for a mortgage.   
  • Your stated income should compare to what you have reported on your gross income tax returns.
  • Consider a “No Income Verified” loan vs. a “Stated Income”.  The difference to rate, with good credit, is often not that significant.   With no income stated, there are no figures to lie about.   You’re qualifying on credit and down payment alone.   
  • Don’t lose sight on whether or not you can actually afford the mortgage payment.    Qualifying for a mortgage does not mean that you should have the mortgage if you cannot make the payments.

Lying about your income, or anything on the loan application, is mortgage fraud.  There are many other types of documentation available so that borrowers do not need to go this route (unless it makes sense–ie they actually have the income).

Still thinking about stated income?  Watch this video from CBS.