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Speeches and Testimony
Mr. Chairman, Congressman LaFalce, and Members of the Committee, I appreciate the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation on predatory lending and related issues. My testimony today will discuss the distinction between subprime and predatory loans, describe what the FDIC is doing to address predatory lending, and provide some comments on legislative proposals to address predatory lending. As your letter of invitation suggests, abusive lending practices in the home mortgage industry are often directed at low-income and elderly borrowers. We believe that federally insured depository institutions have a good record of avoiding involvement in such activities. Nonetheless, the FDIC recognizes that predatory lending practices raise a number of consumer concerns as well as safety and soundness issues. Predatory lending can:
Mr. Chairman, Congressman LaFalce, and Members of the Committee, I appreciate the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation on predatory lending and related issues. My testimony today will discuss the distinction between subprime and predatory loans, describe what the FDIC is doing to address predatory lending, and provide some comments on legislative proposals to address predatory lending.
As your letter of invitation suggests, abusive lending practices in the home mortgage industry are often directed at low-income and elderly borrowers. We believe that federally insured depository institutions have a good record of avoiding involvement in such activities. Nonetheless, the FDIC recognizes that predatory lending practices raise a number of consumer concerns as well as safety and soundness issues. Predatory lending can:
The Distinction between Subprime Lending and Predatory Lending
So that there is no misunderstanding, let me clarify two terms that are sometimes confused: "subprime" lending and "predatory" lending. Although a precise definition of "subprime" lending remains subject to debate, the "Interagency Guidance on Subprime Lending" issued by the federal banking agencies on March 1, 1999, defines subprime lending as "extending credit to borrowers who exhibit characteristics indicating a significantly higher risk of default than traditional bank lending customers." Subprime lending is linked to the credit status of the borrower. That is, subprime lending serves the market of borrowers whose credit history would not permit them to qualify for the conventional "prime" loan market. A well-managed subprime lending program, with appropriate capitalization and loan pricing, provides an important source of credit for these borrowers in a manner consistent with safe-and-sound banking. Consequently, the FDIC does not want to inhibit subprime lending which meets these criteria. Lenders should have the flexibility to effectively manage their risk without reducing credit availability for those who must rely on "subprime" products to obtain the financing that they need.
While most predatory loans are made to subprime borrowers, predatory lending is product-driven. We would describe as "predatory" those loan products that use certain marketing tactics, collection practices, and loan terms that, when combined, deceive and exploit borrowers. Practices and terms that in combination are commonly found in predatory lending, principally home equity lending, include:
One example of how predatory lenders strip equity from homeowners is through repetitive refinancing. In some instances, a loan may be refinanced two or three times in a single calendar year. The lender convinces the borrower to do so ostensibly to get lower interest rates and/or lower monthly payments. However, at each refinancing, new points and fees are charged and made part of the loan balance, so that the loan payment savings that the borrower hopes to realize are lost. This repetitive process dips into the owner's equity in the home and may ultimately lead to foreclosure.
Predatory lending is more successful in reaching its targets in the subprime market as these borrowers have fewer options for getting credit and are often less financially sophisticated. Predatory loans can also be marketed to conventional borrowers, such as elderly homeowners or low-income borrowers, who may have been unfairly steered to high cost products by lenders who are well aware that these borrowers could qualify for reasonably priced credit, but who do not offer it. Some of these individuals may have had the misfortune of previously doing business with a lender that failed to report their sound credit performance to the credit bureaus.
FDIC Efforts to Address Predatory Lending
The FDIC has not uncovered evidence that indicates insured depository institutions are actively originating loans with predatory features. However, the FDIC is concerned that banks and thrifts, like other institutional investors, may be involved in the predatory loan market in an indirect fashion.
One indirect form of funding predatory loans is through the relationships that banks may have with mortgage brokers. Brokers, who often function as the primary point of contact for borrowers during the application phase of the loan process, have a substantial influence on the terms of the loan products eventually received by lenders. This influence can be either positive or negative. When negative, such influence may encompass deceptive or misleading practices which deny borrowers the opportunity to be fairly informed of the true costs of their loans and which encompass compensation arrangements which drive up these costs. Lenders should not encourage predatory practices by supporting brokers who misuse their influence over borrowers.
Another indirect method of funding involves banks and thrifts purchasing loans or securities backed by predatory loans, or by offering credit lines to nonbank predatory lenders. These indirect means of funding predatory lending may subject an institution to increased credit, reputation and legal risk because the institution does business with predatory lenders or mortgage brokers.
The FDIC is addressing the issue of predatory lending in a number of ways. We are writing guidance for insured depository institutions describing effective practices to keep them from inadvertently acquiring loans (or securities backed by loans) that have predatory features. Second, we will work on an interagency basis to revise Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) examination practices so that a bank's purchase of loans (or securities backed by loans) that have predatory terms or features cannot be used to improve the bank's CRA rating. Third, we are giving positive CRA consideration to bank sponsored programs which combat predatory lending by fostering financial literacy. Fourth, we are working on an interagency basis to review other consumer laws and regulations to determine whether regulatory changes may be warranted. Fifth, we are holding several public forums across the country in which community organizations, government officials, and members of the financial community can meet and explore effective means to protect consumers. Finally, the FDIC is working on a financial literacy campaign to educate consumers about the risks of predatory lending.
Suggestions to Address Predatory Lending
The FDIC is tracking the efforts of various states and cities that are pursuing predatory lending efforts. I would like to highlight some of these initiatives to provide you a broader perspective on this issue.
At the federal level, several laws and regulations prohibit fraud and certain misleading or deceptive sales and marketing practices. Federal fair lending and consumer protection laws, such as the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Truth in Lending Act as amended by the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (HOEPA), and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act also provide substantive protection to borrowers. These laws provide disclosure requirements, define high cost loans, and contain anti-discrimination provisions. However, current law does not fully address a number of predatory practices found in some loans in the mortgage market - especially in the markets for refinancing and for home equity loans, such as unrealistic balloon payment terms likely to lead to foreclosures or inappropriately folding certain fees into the loan balance.
The FDIC is evaluating alternatives to current laws and regulations that might curb predatory lending. Our evaluation of those alternatives will be guided by the following principles:
As you know, several proposed predatory lending bills are aimed at providing consumer protection against abusive practices in connection with mortgage loans. Some proposals ban such practices as balloon payments and prepayment penalties while others prohibit the charging and/or financing of certain fees. While well-intended, outright prohibitions of such practices could unduly limit credit availability or increase the cost of credit to the same consumers that we are trying to protect. For example, a loan amortized over 30 years with a balloon payment due after five years may provide a borrower with a reduced interest rate as well as an opportunity to rehabilitate his or her credit record in order to refinance the loan later at a better rate. Improved disclosure or required credit counseling might be better options than an outright ban on balloon mortgages.
Some of the current legislative proposals include legislative and regulatory changes that are intended to protect consumers, preserve informed consumer choice, and preserve lenders' ability to make use of appropriate risk-management techniques. These ideas include:
The FDIC does not believe these suggestions would materially impede the credit markets that serve lower income, minority, and elderly individuals, nor would they impair bank competitiveness.
The financial services industry as a whole must also take an active role in addressing the issue of predatory lending. Any remedies should be a collective effort between the industry, government, and community groups and would likely include better disclosures and more consumer education. As regulators, we need to: 1) make sure that all loan terms are fair and fully disclosed so that any lending does not cross the line into predatory lending; 2) help prevent banks from unwittingly purchasing or funding loans from predatory lenders; and 3) increase customer awareness.
Once again, the FDIC commends the Committee for focusing attention on this important issue. We look forward to working with the Committee to attempt to craft a balanced solution to combat predatory lending practices.
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