Recently the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a much anticipated rule that finally gets the ball rolling on reform of the mortgage finance industry. Investors fled the market following the housing bust, reducing the flow of financing to borrowers. Likewise, many homebuyers were sold mortgage products that were untenable, resulting in damaged credit and lost savings. Transparency, verification and documentation are keys to restoring confidence from investors and homebuyers. The majority of the market will benefit from the new QM rule, but a subset of the market will likely face higher prices or lose access to financing all together.
The Qualified Mortgage rule, or QM, lays out basic requirements for lender underwriting. In short, the originator of the loan must verify all sources of income and assets and verify that the borrower has the ability to repay the mortgage (ATR). A number of loan types are prohibited from receiving the QM statu,s including those with negative amortization (balloon payments), interest-only features, as well as those with durations greater than 30-years. Finally, there is a cap on fees that lenders can charge of 3% (with an exception for loans under $100,000) and the back-end debt to income ratio (DTI) must be less than or equal to 43%.
Mortgages that qualify as a QM will be further bisected by those that have a rate 1.5% above the prime borrowing rate and those that do not. Loans below the 1.5% will receive special legal status known as a safe harbor, where the borrower in default must first prove that their loan was not affordable when originated in order to sue the lender. If the loan is QM and above the 1.5% rate threshold, then there is a rebuttable presumption where the lender must prove that the borrower had the ability to repay. Under the rebuttable presumption, even if the lender can prove the loan met the ATR, the lender incurs legal costs making the case of $70,000 to $110,000  according to some industry analysts, while others analysts argue that the incidence of claims would be extremely low . However, if the lender cannot demonstrate that the borrower had the ability to repay, then the lender faces new enhanced legal fees. Furthermore, the borrower’s ability to fight the foreclosure applies for the life of the loan, which would extend foreclosure timelines, increasing costs to banks. Lending outside of either definition of a QM may be sparse as the lender would have to raise rates further to compensate for litigation risk since these would fall outside either definition of a QM loan; these higher rates might then reach HOEPA limits.