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Regulators took a big step today in reshaping the nation's mortgage market. The FDIC introduced a new rule that could force borrowers to make larger down payments.
NPR's Tamara Keith reports this is the latest attempt to rein in the excesses that inflated the housing bubble.
TAMARA KEITH: At the height of the housing bubble, lenders made a lot of really questionable mortgages. But the companies that wrote the loans didn't have to worry about poor quality, because they were just going to sell them off to someone else, companies that bundled the loans up into securities and sold them off to investors. And so none of the companies that were responsible for the loans had to hold on to any of the risk. They didn't have any skin in the game, so they didn't really care if people ultimately couldn't pay their mortgages.
This new rule from the FDIC and five other agencies aims to change that. It says, in short, if you're going to bundle loans into securities, you need to hang on to some of the risk. And the only way to avoid that is to work exclusively with super-safe loans, known as qualified residential mortgages.
Ms. SUZY GARDNER (Senior Examination Specialist, FDIC): The proposed QRM underwriting standards focus on borrowers' ability and capacity to repay by relying on verified and documented income.
KEITH: What FDIC staffer Suzy Gardner is saying is these loans will have very high standards. Among them: Borrowers would have to come up with a 20 percent down payment.
But regulators want to be clear. They don't think the qualified residential mortgage should be the new national standard for mortgages.
Here's FDIC chairman Sheila Bair.
Ms. SHEILA BAIR (Chairman, FDIC): I think it's important for people to understand the QRM rule is going to be a small slice of the market. It doesn't mean that everybody is going to have to comply with these standards to get a mortgage going forward.
KEITH: But there are a whole lot of people in the mortgage industry today saying that may be what regulators want, but that's not what they're going to get.
Steve O'Connor is with the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Mr. STEVE O'CONNOR (Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Industry Relations, Mortgage Bankers Association): As it's currently proposed, it's very restrictive, and I think it will limit credit options for borrowers and make products more expensive for a lot of borrowers.
KEITH: Or in other words, companies that securitize loans aren't going to want to have skin in the game, so they're going to stick with these super-safe mortgages. And for borrowers who don't qualify, it's going to be harder and more expensive to get a loan.
This is all very discouraging for Sarah Schroeder. She's 29 years old and lives in Warren, Michigan, with her husband and two young children.
Ms. SARAH SCHROEDER: Our dream is to get into a home before our oldest child starts kindergarten so that we can live there for at least the next 18 years, till both of them finish school and decide to move on on their own. We want permanence. We want to be a part of a community.
KEITH: They've been saving for a down payment for years, but don't have nearly enough.
Ms. SCHROEDER: That 20 percent down payment is this almost mystical object that I'm just not sure that my family will be capable of saving.
KEITH: And John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, is convinced that if the rule goes ahead as proposed, a whole lot of low- and middle-income people won't be able to buy homes.
Mr. JOHN TAYLOR (President and CEO, National Community Reinvestment Coalition): Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater by eliminating qualified responsible would-be homeowners because they simply don't have the wealth accumulation to be able to plop down substantial amounts of money to get into homeownership.
KEITH: It's important to point out, though, that none of these changes will be immediate. The rule likely won't be final until later this year. And even then, loans backed by the government aren't subject to the rule. And at the moment, the government is behind 90 percent of the mortgage market.
Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.